From Apple to Netscape to HP to YouTube, Larry Sonsini has been the most important lawyer in the most important industry for 30 years. But is he too close to the companies he represents? A report from “Fortune”.

“I first remember hearing Larry Sonsini’s name probably in 1986 or 1987,” says Dave Roux, who co-founded Silver Lake Partners, a private-equity firm in Menlo Park Calif., focusing on technology investments.

Back then, when Roux lived on the East Coast, he was at a meeting of the board of Lotus Development in Boston, when someone suggested they find the “East Coast Larry Sonsini” to act as their lawyer.

Larry Who? Roux asked. “They explained to me that he was the Larry Bird of Silicon Valley,” he says. “The go-to guy when you need the thing to work. The ice-in-his-veins, blue-collar, scramble-for-the-ball, great-teammate, no-ego, championship-caliber guy.”

Twenty years later everybody in the tech business knows Sonsini. He is the most influential and well-connected lawyer in the industry. But he’s more.

Sonsini, 65, is an integral part of Silicon Valley’s history and culture. He’s the unflappable, low-key business advisor everyone trusts, which is saying a lot in a community of super-smart, hyperaggressive egomaniacs. He’s the behind-the-scenes player to whom the executives at the most innovative companies of the Digital Age take all their toughest business problems.

This year, though, Sonsini’s 40th with the Palo Alto firm of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, he’s found himself shoved uncomfortably into the spotlight. Some newspaper readers first learned his name in July, when it appeared in articles about the options-backdating scandal. Many of the implicated companies were tech firms, and a high percentage of them were his clients.

Scroll to Top