The new managing partner at the London office of San Francisco firm Morrison & Foerster (MoFo) looks absolutely terrified when faced with a journalist.
Kristian Wiggert is a bright young thing, dressed in chinos and an open-necked shirt, and seven years out of law school, he still comes across as a nervous teenager.
Trying not to look me in the eye, he shyly insists that MoFo’s plans for London are about more than just him. He is clearly, though, the firm’s blue-eyed boy: he joined five years ago as an associate and now finds himself at the helm of one of the firm’s most important offices.
Drafted in from Silicon Valley to an office without a partner (after the previous head Gary Rincke left in July to become head of legal at the Pearson Group), Wiggert lives and breathes his work with the start-ups. “The thing that really drives me is to be able to work with energetic and entrepreneurial companies and watch them develop,” he says. “To become part of that and to learn about different areas of technology, it’s like a second chance at school.
“You get exposed to an incredible range of ideas, and that’s really interesting – to watch and see which ideas succeed and which ones fail. The feeling you get from watching a company develop those ideas is to me very powerful, and it’s a feeling that gives a real meaning to my practice.”
Starting to relax and lean back in his chair, Wiggert says he was tempted by offers to join dotcoms with the lure of their share options, but chose the London office instead for the opportunity to build a practice.
Subtly ambitious, he has been at MoFo for only five years, after spending his first two years out of law school at Jones Day Reavis & Pogue in Washington DC. Moving to the west coast after working closely with start-ups in Washington, he has decided to stick with the firm that he must now secretly hope will make him a star.
He says: “There was some temptation [to join a dotcom], but the reason why I didn’t in the end – and there were opportunities – is because of the working environment here. You can have a life and still be a good lawyer, and they are people that I want to be around, both outside the office as well as in.”
Wiggert is characteristically modest about the plans for London. “There is a strategic commitment on behalf of the firm that we are going to be here to stay. But it’s not our plan or our style to say that we’ve come over from Silicon Valley and we’re going to take over things. We’ll build the practice as the needs demand.”
The idea is to develop an English and US law group, with integrated IT/IP and corporate practices to service technology clients, both companies and investors.
The firm’s international clients include Netscape, Blockbuster Entertainment Corporation and NBC, but the office will market not only to global clients with businesses developing in London, but will also target purely domestic work.
Wiggert says: “We have always, particularly in the last several years, thought seriously about expanding here. We had been in discussions with some firms here about a potential merger, but one of the things that’s important to MoFo as a whole is to maintain a certain culture.
“In the end, we felt that the firms we were speaking with didn’t have the right fit with MoFo, so we’ve decided to put our resources into an organic growth of the firm.”
Talking about the prospect of building and leading a team brings a sparkle to Wiggert’s eye. He will leave San Francisco as an of counsel, and land in London as a partner-in-charge – and you get the feeling he won’t stop there.
He has already recruited Weil Gotshal & Manges telecoms lawyer David Naylor to the office as a partner who, as the more outgoing of the two, will become Wiggert’s right-hand man. Naylor sits next to him throughout our meeting, clearly won over by his new managing partner’s understated brand of ambition.
Naylor says: “The firm’s intention is to be the world’s leading technology firm, so we don’t expect Europe to be a quiet backwater. The investment of time and resources in the US and Asia means that we now come to Europe with a significant set of advantages, ones that a number of firms in the technology sector could only dream about.”
The pair, though, will have to confront the sceptics. MoFo has been in London for 20 years but has yet to make an impression – the new double act joining only two of counsel in what still appears to be a fledgling operation.
Wiggert says: “We’ve had a presence here since 1980, but the size has fluctuated. We’ve been building up in the Pacific Rim, and our strategy has been to concentrate our energy and resources on one place at a time. We are here to stay – we have a track record of doing just that. We opened Tokyo and then there was a massive economic crisis, but we never had a thought of packing up and leaving. Although it was tough during the early years, we stuck with it.”
Wiggert’s practice is a general corporate and securities one, including a lot of M&A work. He most recently represented Verio, the world’s largest operator of websites for businesses, in NTT’s $5bn (£3bn) tender offer for, and acquisition of, the company.
He is a techie lawyer through and through. He balks at the idea of putting a suit on to have his photo taken, and wherever possible, he uses the word “space”.
“I’m not an intellectual property specialist, but I know enough about the space to work with our IP and IT guys to make sure the buyer gets his money’s worth. We shouldn’t forget our New York practice. We’ve put a fair amount of effort into that and it has grown quite rapidly – we’re getting into the technology space there, which had been somewhat ignored by the large firms.”
Wiggert will be in place from October, hoping to add the London office – or should that be ‘space’ – to his list of successful start-ups.
Morrison & Foerster