October 5, 2009 2:36 PM
Venture Law Group Founder Craig Johnson Dies at 62
Posted by Ed Shanahan
By Zusha Elinson, The Recorder
Craig Johnson, the visionary Silicon Valley lawyer who founded Venture Law Group and more recently Virtual Law Partners, died Saturday after suffering a stroke. He was 62 and had just returned from a European honeymoon with his wife and law partner Roseann Rotandaro. The two had married on Aug. 15.
Johnson is perhaps the most quintessential Silicon Valley startup lawyer. He had an unbridled enthusiasm for new ideas. Just like his entrepreneurial clients, he pushed the boundaries of traditional business models in law practice. And he was always onto the next big thing.
"He was constantly innovating, constantly thinking of new ideas and new systems dealing with startup law," said Larry Sonsini, chairman of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. "Every time I saw him he was working on something new--it was very much an 'on the back of the napkin' type of thing."
Johnson inspired a loyal following of lawyers and clients at Wilson Sonsini, where he started his career in 1975. But when he set out to found Venture Law Group in 1993, there was great skepticism that a law firm focused only on corporate startup work would succeed. The firm exploded with the tech boom, growing rapidly to more than 100 lawyers, and raking in millions with its investments in clients like Yahoo and Hotmail.
"Craig was a pioneer in Silicon Valley, and his vision helped drive the growth of the technology industry," said Jerry Yang, co-founder and former CEO of Yahoo, in an e-mail.
Venture Law Group stumbled when the bubble burst and was acquired by Heller Ehrman in 2003. After a few years outside the practice of law as a venture capitalist, Johnson again had a new idea: a virtual law firm on a grand scale. Last year, he launched Virtual Law Partners. His idea again met with skepticism, but in just a year, the firm has grown to 40 lawyers. And it has been hailed as the law firm of the future.
"He may have been a lawyer, but he was an entrepreneur at heart," said John Dean, a close friend and venture capitalist at Startup Capital Ventures.
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