Louis Lehot | Leader of New Boutique Blends BigLaw & Silicon Valley Experience to Serve Clients of All Sizes

Louis Lehot

Many major companies absolutely must have large, big-name law firms offering them legal and business advice — or at least many businesses think they do. But increasingly corporate clients are finding that they can get equally sound legal counsel from smaller firms, particularly if lawyers at these partnerships have BigLaw experience and a keen understanding of high-tech systems and how to use them strategically.

Newly launched, Palo Alto-based L2 Counsel seems to have those two requirements covered and are indeed serving major global corporations as well as small firms that start up with “two founders and a laptop,” to borrow terminology from the firm’s website.

Louis Lehot founded the corporate law boutique in January and serves as its managing partner. Clients are drawn to Louis Lehot for his years of national and international businesslegal experience at some of the nation’s most highly regarded megafirms. They also value his knowledge of the inner workings of both Silicon Valley and Wall Street, and according to one client, his ability to impress c-suite executives and his dependability.

“Louis has been my first call since we first worked together in 2005,” says Steve Droll, a chief finance officer. “That was four companies ago for me, but no matter where I go, one of the first things I do is get Louis involved as counsel. I do this for two principal reasons. One: It makes me look good to the company I just joined, because invariably they’ve been impressed with Louis. And two: I trust him to give me a broader perspective on the challenges that come up. In short, I call Louis because he delivers.”

Recently Of Counsel talked with Louis Lehot about his career, the benefits and drawbacks of practicing law at large firms, his international work, the use of technology in the legal environment, and other topics. The following is that edited interview.

Of Counsel: Was there a time when you thought or even knew that you were going to become a lawyer?

Louis Lehot: I grew up in a French– American household. My father is French and my mother is a local gal from Oakland. I was born in the early 70s and so my first formative memory is what was going on in the world with the American hostage crisis in Iran.

My grandmother had a lot of traditions. One of them was blowing a candle out and wishing something at Christmas dinner. And that night, I guess it would have been 1979, all of our hostages were stuck in an embassy in Iran at gunpoint, and I announced that I was going to be a lawyer when I grew up because I was going to be able to negotiate their release. I had no idea that, years later, I would become a corporate lawyer rather than a diplomatic lawyer or a trial lawyer. But I knew at a very young age that I was going to be a lawyer.

The French Connection

OC: You went to college across the continent in Washington, D.C. What did you do after that?

Louis Lehot: Yes, I was an undergraduate at Georgetown University, and I did a year abroad in France to kind of discover my roots. Then I met my now-wife and needed a part-time job to help pay for my expenses and to keep up this relationship. So I started working at Shearman & Sterling at the Washington D.C. office as an undergrad and the partners quickly discovered that I had a French passport. They had a Paris office, and they shipped me off to Paris to help all of these French companies that were accessing the US capital markets by doing IPOs on the New York Stock Exchange.

They wanted me to help French people understand the corporate governance requirements of the NYSE and NASDAQ, the cultural requirements, the disclosure, and financial reporting requirements. So I did that and translated all of the U.S. concepts into the French language and in a way that French executive directors and shareholders would understand. That was the genesis of my legal career, which has always been very international in scope and practice and clientele.

OC: You mentioned Shearman & Sterling. You’ve worked for several large law firms. Could you talk a little bit about the pros and the cons of your BigLaw experience and also why you decided to start your own firm?

Louis Lehot: I feel so fortunate to have had as many experiences as I’ve had. I went to Georgetown School of Foreign Service with the intention of entering the United States Foreign Service and doing what I said I was going to do, which is to be somebody involved in foreign relations and foreign affairs and advancing the interests of our country in the government. When I graduated, I had loans, and I looked at the compensation of the positions available and it didn’t seem very feasible at the time. So instead of entering into the government foreign service, I entered into the foreign service of American business. I spent 15 years of my career working mostly in Europe helping U.S. companies access the European markets and helping European companies raise capital in the United States and giving U.S. investors exposure to the great businesses that exist in Europe.

I came back to Silicon Valley in 2005 to another big international law firm, Simpson Thacher, where some Shearman & Sterling folks had recently decamped and opened up a Simpson Thacher office. I was there for a number of years and we completed some great transactions, from Google’s IPO to Facebook’s IPO. I enjoyed working in the epicenter of technology and life science in Silicon Valley and, of course, it’s become a global Silicon Valley. I very much believe in being able to serve clients wherever they are and being able to help them in whatever they’re doing and not being constrained by borders. So DLA Piper, Shearman Sterling, these were fabulously international law firms where they built big platforms to serve business wherever it may go.

One of my favorite memories was a couple of years ago at DLA Piper when I had [as a client] a medical diagnostic company that had a cancer oncology test for women to be able to diagnose ovarian cancer. Up to now, these tests have been pap smears, which are expensive, require intervention, they’re invasive, and they’re not exactly as accurate as one would like if the conditions of the testing aren’t perfect. So my client, called Arbor Vita, had developed a test that didn’t require doctors or invasive intervention.

We got a lot of traction in Africa as these countries had not already adopted the leading pap smear test and were being required by the World Bank and the OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] and other global organizations to make sure they were testing their populations for all sorts of diseases. We went into Ethiopia and negotiated a joint venture with the government. As a condition of the purchase of our test, they required that we fabricate the test in the country with a local partner. At DLA Piper I was able to work with the local office in Addis Ababa and document the joint venture. And that’s a testament to the amazing platform that my former partners built over there.

Legal Boutique-ing

OC: That must have been very exciting. Can you talk about your new firm?

Louis Lehot: Yes, it’s really amazing to be able to go with your client wherever they can go to help enable their business wherever it may be. Over time you realize that it’s not necessarily a law firm that you need, it’s just a way of thinking.

I bring that way of thinking into my new firm, L2 Counsel, which is designed to serve a gap in the market for innovators, disruptors, and entrepreneurs who are investors with personal and technology-enabled strategic solutions that make sense. Whether your company is just two people getting off the ground or a large publicly traded company, I want to be able to bring my experience and my expertise to bear in the interests of those clients. And having spent 20 years practicing in all of these places, I have a pretty deep network of people I know. I’m fairly effective at getting things done wherever it’s needed.

OC: I’m sure there are a lot of benefits to being with a big firm? Is there anything about BigLaw that didn’t suit you or is there anything that you’re glad you’re away from?

Louis Lehot: At some point in the life of a man you’re consumed by your job. At a big firm, there are lots of roles. I had many, many clients and lots of people to manage. I got a little bit farther away from the clients than I wanted to be. I don’t want to criticize any law firm in particular or conceptually. I just think the last nine months [he took some time off from practicing law to plan the launch of L2 Counsel] have given me the time to come to the market with a different solution and with a renewed passion to be an advocate for the client. I’m really enjoying that in my new firm.

OC: Speaking of your new firm, when I look at the people you’re practicing alongside of and I also look at some of the testimonials of your clients, I see diversity. How important is diversity and to what extent does that help you serve your clients?

Louis Lehot: That’s a good question. What I really enjoy most about my law practice is being able to help people, whoever they may be. I don’t think I necessarily look for people who have gender diversity or ethnic diversity. I look for people who I engage with and who engage with me at a human level and reach out to me in a way that allows me to connect with them. I gravitate to people I feel I can accelerate and who accelerate me. I constantly surround myself with those people and it so happens that they are often people from very diverse backgrounds.

That’s one of the things I really loved about DLA, that we attracted people from all over the world to practice in the technology and life science areas. I believe that I embody that as well, and I really enjoy working with people who have diverse backgrounds.

OC: What sort of challenges have you been presented, given that the pandemic hit just after you opened your firm?

Louis Lehot: I launched this as an elite boutique law firm at the end of January, just before the pandemic. And the pandemic has obviously been an enormous challenge for all of us in every aspect of our daily lives.

I would say the silver lining in the cloud is that it really gives you the time and the focus of attention to launch on a really solid foundation and present educational materials, written articles, webinars, video blogs. I really have been trying to — and the circumstances required it — come up with a technology-enabled platform that would allow me to communicate and reach clients wherever they are. I’m working with companies on all continents right now, and that’s so exciting and it’s enabled by technology.

Whereas, a year ago a lot of things had to happen based on personal relationships that could only be formed in face-to-face meetings. But I’m now working on transactions where people have never met each other in person, and the personal bond has all occurred through virtual interaction. And that’s an evolution. I don’t want to say that it’s necessarily a good evolution, that physical interaction isn’t possible right now, or that it’s severely curtailed, but for somebody who really thrives on multicultural interactions it’s allowed me to work with people without having met and talked with them in person or to be in the same time zone.

Adding High-Tech Value

OC: This is a broad question. What is it that you really enjoy about the legal profession here in the 21st Century and what is it that you’d like to change or that you don’t like?

Louis Lehot: One of the great challenges that comes with the opportunity of being someone’s lawyer, and I am so honored by the trust and the confidence that that represents, is the cost aspect of it. How do you make something that a client views as a win–win situation? One of the challenges of practicing in a large international law firm is that you’re responsible for so many people. You have to make sure that their livelihood is satisfied and taken care of while at the same time ensuring that the client feels like they’re getting value. In my small boutique obviously, I’m completely free to judge that win–win by myself and with a much smaller group of people that I’m responsible for. And so I greatly enjoy that.

I think technology is going to solve a lot of these problems where clients feel like, Geez why am I paying for this or why am I paying for that? Technology is enabling lawyers to spend their time on much higher value-add work. Technology tools are taking away work that once would have been performed by a secretary or a paralegal or a junior lawyer and in some instances even a senior lawyer.

Now of course, some software is in essence replacing lawyers and other professionals, and this trend is accelerating. Some people are scared of it, but I really welcome it because it’s replacing these discussions that you used to have with clients about, “Well, does it really require three different people to intervene for the printing of this stock certificate?”

“Actually yes, because we’ve got to draft a board resolution and somebody has to check the cap table and then make sure that the stock certificate number and the number of shares is correct and par value is correct.” Now all of that can be done not only by a technology program but in the cloud with 100% accuracy in a nanosecond.

And that’s great because it frees up the client’s budget to spend their money on the work that is really value-added. It allows you to do more for your clients because the technology is doing the grunt work, and you’re free to be creative or spend time with your client thinking of ways to win, whereas before you just had to be processing the grunt work.

So I think the big challenge of lawyering is going to be handling the evolution of technology, creating new products to be more efficient, and finding the happy medium and the value point where the lawyers are feeling like it’s a responsible way to spend their time and the time of their employees — and the client feels like it offers value. And that’s really gratifying. Every year I find that it gets better and better.

OC: Speaking of technology, I think your website is one of the best law firm sites I’ve seen. It seems like you’re doing everything right with it. I’m sure that’s helping you launch your office and your law firm. I wanted to ask you about the future of your firm. Do you expect to add more lawyers, or do you like the size it is? When you look towards the horizon what do you see?

Louis Lehot: I would like to be able to continue to work on matters and transactions for clients that are really important to the world and for my clients. At the same time, I don’t want to become a manager of other people, again, rather than a lawyer. I have done that and I’ve moved away from that. So I think the challenge for any boutique is: When you have some success, people want you to grow and then at some point somebody has to manage that growth, and somebody has to manage the lawyers. I don’t want to be a manager; I want to be a lawyer.

Original published on Of Counsel.