October 06, 2023

As Venable San Francisco Turns 10, Founding Partner Jim Nelson Reflects on the Office’s Evolution and on What Lies Ahead

5 min

With Venable San Francisco celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, Jim Nelson, SF partner in charge and one of the office’s three founding partners, looks back on how the office has grown since its founding and shares his thoughts on what’s to come.

Q: The San Francisco office opened 10 years ago with just three partners; now it has more than 10 times as many lawyers. Did you expect to see that much growth in such a short time?

A: I had been a partner in the New York office before relocating to San Francisco, and our approach was guided largely by what we had achieved there, which was growth driven by quality opportunities that fit with the candidate and with Venable. When I was in New York, I was one of 38 attorneys; now there are more than 170 lawyers in that office. At the end of the day, building an office is a person-by-person exercise—it’s all about finding good partners who are terrific lawyers who add to what is already a great firm and growing from there. When we started, we were driven by the need to reach a critical mass in key areas to be able to serve our clients locally and from across the firm. Once we got there, we were able to focus on building out locally on a group-by-group basis, which was always the plan for this office. All of that starts with getting out into the community, meeting people in person, and getting to know them. We continue to build our office with local talent who have chosen to join us. We are and want to be woven ever more deeply into the local bar and the local community.

Q: As the office grew, how did you go about integrating the new hires with the firm at large?

A: That’s one of the parts of my job that I enjoy the most—finding talented attorneys, and then making sure they get the opportunity to connect with valuable connections across the firm, whether they are built on common relations, common opportunities, or common services. Bill Sloan and Tyler Welti, environmental law practitioners, are great examples of that. When we hired Bill and Tyler, the firm already had a strong national EPA practice led by Doug Green. So, marrying Bill’s and Tyler’s practices in San Francisco, which were active across the state and nationally, with what Doug was doing in DC was a win for all concerned and led to all sorts of new opportunities. Similarly, when Angel Garganta came to us, he joined an already strong advertising and class action practice. He made it even better and leveraged a broader team, such that when his long-standing client had an unfair competition case in New York State, he connected with Marci Ballard and other IP litigators in the New York office who had the experience and local presence to deliver great results for the client as part of a cross-country team. It’s a simple formula, really. Hire great people, introduce them to other great people across the firm where there are common skills or opportunities, and the rest takes care of itself.

Q: San Francisco is known for being a hub of innovation. How do you keep up with the evolving needs of clients amid the technological advances of the past few years?

A: A big part of keeping up with client needs in all of the areas that are most impacted by technological advances is establishing and building connections across the broader partnership. One of Venable’s core strengths is that we are always drawing on the deep subject-matter knowledge of colleagues in various practice areas. For example, throughout my career the integration of technology with financial service products has been a constant, as various new applications democratized access to credit and so on. Figuring out the technology side of these new developments is one thing. But to efficiently represent clients in these areas, you need to also understand how a new product will be regulated, what’s permitted, what privacy laws apply, etc. So being able to rely on our government colleagues or people like Ellen Berge and Andrew Bigart, who really know their stuff when it comes to financial services regulation and related areas, makes a huge difference. Clients need that specific knowledge when they are designing technological solutions that are to be leveraged in regulated areas.

Q: There’s been a lot of growth in the first 10 years. How do you see the office evolving in the next decade?

A: We’re still adapting to the post-pandemic new normal, so a big priority for us is to keep connecting with people and cultivating new relationships. There’s really no substitute for getting out there and meeting people, when it comes to both client service and building relationships. We’ve established a great foundation of talented practitioners and high-performing practice groups. So now we’re looking to add more strength in those areas like litigation and tax, while adding local folks who work in practice areas that are very strong in the firm, such as real estate, data security and privacy, intellectual property, and life sciences.

Q: And last, you had to leave your office in New York to help launch and build the San Francisco office. Any regrets about that?

A: None! It’s been great to watch the New York office go from strength to strength, particularly this past year, as it moved into its new location at 151 W. 42nd St. My old New York colleagues remain dear friends and important teammates. It has been great to watch the way that office has grown, which has really informed our experience out here. But to have been given the opportunity to come to San Francisco as a group and build a new office from the ground up with the support of a great firm and a great group of partners is not something that happens every day. So I’m very grateful to have been part of that.

See other stories in our San Francisco office series:

Sarah Hoffman on How to Be an Effective Environmental Lawyer and Why She Feels at Home in California

Amit Rana on Empowering Innovative Consumer Goods Clients in a Challenging Regulatory Space

Becca Chappell on the Benefits of Supporting Other Women Attorneys and Engaging with the Bay Area Community

Build It, and They Will Come: Ten Years On, Three Venable Partners Reminisce About Opening the San Francisco Office