Photo by Gregory Cowley.
There are few trial lawyers in the exclusive world of Silicon Valley high-tech circles as trusted as Daralyn Durie, name partner at Durie Tangri in San Francisco. The founder of the 18-lawyer litigation firm has a client list that includes Facebook, Google, Genentech, Twitter and LinkedIn. In addition to her intellectual property practice, Durie defends class actions and represents law firms on liability matters. Fellow litigators, including opposing counsel, admire her and call her a “lawyer’s lawyer.”
Durie has also been recognized in the legal community for her business savvy. When she co-founded the firm in 2009 with Keker & Van Nest fellow colleague (and longtime romantic partner) RageshTangri, it was the height of the recession. From its modest beginnings with only a handful of former Keker partners and onetime Boalt Hall classmates, including famed IP lawyer and Stanford Law School professor Mark Lemley, the firm has grown to a 32-person operation and taken on numerous high-profile cases. The entrepreneurial operation has been willing to work out alternative billing arrangements, including capped fees and flat fees on appeals.
Lawdragon: In the last six years since you’ve founded your own firm, you’ve handled some of the most cutting-edge cases in the area of intellectual property and high-tech law. Is that by design or is it because you have companies like Google as clients?
Daralyn Durie: We are fortunate that companies like Google have trusted us with great cases. I don’t think that’s really something you can design, but we were lucky to start working for some of these companies before they were big: I handled Google’s first patent case, when the company had two lawyers. So some pretty senior people got to know us and trust us early on.
LD: What’s the most challenging case you’ve handled so far in your career?
DD: A meth case representing a defendant who had shown his driver's license to buy all the relevant precursor chemicals in the correct ratios and was then caught on the wiretap saying that he had 9.7 big shirts. At least I didn’t have the guy who threw the 4 pounds of meth into the bushes when he got pulled over. That case taught me that even when you have some really bad facts, you still have to figure out how to do the best job that you can for your client. In that case, it was moving to suppress the wiretap and then negotiating a plea that got my client out much earlier than would otherwise have been the case.
LD: What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned in founding your own firm?
DD: That we could do it! When we started, we really didn’t know whether it would work. Lawyers tend to be very conservative by nature, but sometimes it’s worth it to take the plunge.
LD: You’re one of the few lawyers who actually get to practice with former law school classmates and friends. It sounds like fun, but how is it really? Do you think it gives the firm an edge over other law firms?
DD: I do think it gives us an edge because we understand each other’s strengths and we don’t have to worry about turf or maintaining appearances. We can just focus on the work. And we can hand stuff back and forth with a lot of confidence in the final work product.
LD: In your case, you not only get to practice with former classmates and friends but also your life partner. Are there any unique challenges in separating the personal and professional side of things?
DD: I don’t think that we really do separate the personal and the professional. But I think it’s important for people to realize that just because we’re a couple, that doesn’t mean that we agree about everything, and we’re fine with that. We encourage healthy debate in general and that extends to the two of us as well. We just have to make sure that if we do disagree, we resolve it and move on, and that’s worked pretty well.
LD: What was your favorite class in law school?
DD: I was incredibly fortunate to have Mel Eisenberg as my contracts professor. His class made me fall in love with the law. I had a seminar with Richard Post on Hannah Arendt that was a close second.
LD: Any advice for lawyers just starting their career in this tough job market?
DD: I think the most important thing when you are starting out is to learn to think of yourself as a professional with clients, not an employee who works for other lawyers. You have to own it.
LD: Aside from going to work with your friends, what do you do for fun?
DD: We go to the theater a lot, locally as well as in Ashland, New York and London. We once flew to Denver to watch a 12-hour play called Tantalus based on the story of the House of Atreus. It was awesome. I love to cook and I am also really enjoying hanging out with my teenage daughter before she heads off to college in a couple of years.