People who work with Shantanu Surpure aren’t surprised he flew around the world to woo his wife. His energy and focus — and remarkable tolerance for jet leg — also propel his India-centric corporate practice at Pillsbury Winthrop.
Licensed to practice on three continents, Surpure could be seen as the latest status symbol for today’s globalizing megafirms: the truly global lawyer. Although multinational practices are still rare and foreign licenses often carry restrictions, firms are racing to recruit young lawyers with well-traveled resumes who can comfortably cross cultural borders.
Morrison & Foerster has been plucking dual-license lawyers from Asia and planting them among their offices there and at home. A spokesman for Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe said the firm is hoping that its underwriting of a Columbia scholarship for Chinese lawyers will help lure one to the firm.
Still, holding dual licenses remains a distinction. Squire, Sanders & Dempsey partner Noriyuki Shimoda, for example, estimates that he is one of only five members of both the Japanese Bar and California Bar.
Surpure, who is Indian-born and Oklahoma-bred, joined Pillsbury’s Silicon Valley office July 1 after practicing law in Asia for five years. A self-described Anglophile who spent part of his childhood and junior year abroad in England, he paved his path to Indian licensure via the U.K. After earning a bachelor’s degree at Brown, he snagged a solicitor’s degree at Oxford and then dashed to India to take the bar exam. Due to historical ties, degrees from top British law schools are accepted in India while American ones aren’t.
Surpure, 34, returned stateside in 1995 to get a U.S. J.D. at Columbia Law School. He sat for his bar exam in New York, and later took the exam in California.
“You actually have to plan this way ahead of time,” said Surpure, whose desire to “do deals and bring people together” in addition to his love of reading and writing led him to corporate law. Interest in practicing in his native land arose as he saw its socialist economy reforming in the 1990s.
“I could see things were growing. It’s like being in China in the 1980s; it’s just a matter of time.”
After finishing school, Surpure jumped from a large firm in London to another in Singapore. In 2001, he was hired as general counsel of a Softbank venture capital fund in Bombay. When the fund fizzled, he moved to Hong Kong to spend time with his new wife.
“I came to Hong Kong at the worst time ever. There was SARS, the economy was down, there were protests — and in the Valley, people were getting fired left, right and center,” he said.