Pillsbury is a full-service law firm with an industry focus on energy and natural resources, financial services including financial institutions, real estate and construction, and technology. Based in the world's major financial, technology and energy centers, Pillsbury counsels clients on global business, regulatory and litigation matters.
It has approximately 700 attorneys operating from 18 offices in the U.S., London, Asia, and the Middle East. The firm has connections to the two main political parties in the United States.
The law firm's two oldest predecessor firms were founded in New York in 1868 and in San Francisco in 1874, following the California Gold Rush. The San Francisco firm, generally known as Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro, helped create a number of new West Coast businesses including Chevron and Pacific Bell (now known as AT&T). In the 2000s, Pillsbury has become an advocate of labor outsourcing as a means of firms cutting costs by offering services to both buyers and providers of outsourcing services.
Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman
Predecessor firm Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro opened in San Francisco in 1874, making Pillsbury the oldest “powerhouse” law firm in California. In 1900, Pillsbury incorporated Standard Oil of California—the company would later become Chevron, which has remained one of the firm’s longstanding clients. Pillsbury managed Chevron’s then-record $13.2 billion cash merger with Gulf Oil in 1984 and its 2005 acquisition of Unocal Corp.
Pillsbury is the result of several law firm mergers. In 1990, Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro merged with Los Angeles-based Lillick & McHose, and then in 1996 with Washington, D.C.-based Cushman Darby & Cushman. In 2001, the firm merged with Winthrop, Stimson, Putnam & Roberts of New York City (Winthrop Stimson's predecessor was founded in 1868 by future Secretary of State and Nobel Peace laureate Elihu Root; another past partner was statesman Henry L. Stimson). The firm changed its name to Pillsbury Winthrop.
In 2005 Pillsbury Winthrop merged with Shaw Pittman (formerly Shaw, Pittman, Potts & Trowbridge), a 300-lawyer Washington, D.C.-based firm working in global sourcing, energy, real estate, technology and communications.
Pillsbury was involved in the drafting of the 1952 Patent Act, which serves as the basis for patent law today, and launched the first nuclear energy law practice in the U.S. in 1966. In 1968, the firm handled the formation of Intel Corporation, and in 1970, it served as counsel on the first public offering by a member of the New York Stock Exchange. In 1980, Pillsbury advised on the then-largest foreign acquisition of a U.S. bank, and in 1994, the firm registered the first trademark for a dotcom.
In 2012, the firm entered into merger discussions with Washington, D.C.-based Dickstein Shapiro, but those talks ended by early 2013.
Pillsbury currently has offices in:
- Successfully defended against $7.6 billion claim surrounding the manufacture of steam generators for the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.
- Counseled Global Cash Access Holdings in its $1.2 billion acquisition of Multimedia Games in September 2014.
- Represented the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) in its D.C. appeals court win against the U.S. Department of Energy. The appeals court panel ordered the DOE to suspend $750 million a year in nuclear waste fees until it comes up with a permanent facility for depositing the waste.
- Advised Synnex in its $505 million acquisition of IBM’s customer-care outsourcing business in September 2013.
- Represented Aerostar Airport Holdings in 2013 in arranging a $2.6 billion, 40-year deal creating that is the first public-private partnership for a major U.S. airport. Pillsbury helped the client obtain FAA and TSA approval to lease and operate Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
- Advised Mission West Properties Inc., owned by Carl Berg, on its sale of a portfolio of real estate valued at $1.3 billion. Silicon Valley Business Journal named this the biggest commercial real estate deal in the Valley in 2012. “The [Mission West sale] was so massive, its total sale price alone is equivalent (or pretty close) to the other top four sales combined on our list,” wrote the Journal.
- Represented Nicira, a cloud network software startup, on its $1.26 billion sale to VMware in 2012. Billionaire investor Ben Horowitz who has backed Nicira with venture funding, told TechCrunch that being part of VMware gives the company a great foundation to becoming the biggest networking technology in the world, in a market that is expected to be $37 billion to $40 billion in size over the next few years.
- In 2012, advised Lenovo on a new partnership with EMC, which will allow Lenovo to resell machines made by EMC and include a joint venture to sell storage equipment to small and mid-sized companies. Analysts told the Wall Street Journal that the deal will help Lenovo diversify and boost sales outside of Asia, while EMC will benefit from better access to China and other developing markets.
- Represented the Government of the United Arab Emirates in its establishment of a civilian nuclear program.
- Represented Mitsui in its role as a minority partner with BP in the Deepwater Horizon drilling accident and oil spill.
- Advised Tesoro Corporation in 2012 on its $2.5 billion purchase of BP’s refinery in Carson, California
- Represented J.P. Morgan Securities and Bank of America Merrill Lynch as the lead arrangers on the $2.225 billion financing of AMC Network’s spinoff from Cablevision in 2011. The transaction created AMC as a stand-alone company and was a major milestone in its development as a leading content broadcaster and distributor, according to AMC chief executive Josh Sapan.
- Won a major patent infringement case for the University of Kansas Center for Research concerning work that two of its researchers had done which led to the development of blood cancer drug Velcade. Pillsbury was able to get both researchers listed as co-inventors on two patents owned by the National Institutes of Health covering the drug, which generated $623 million in sales in 2011.
- As Guantanamo Bay attorneys, lead counsel on Al Odah v. United States, one of the two lead cases arguing for the habeas corpus rights of Guantanamo Bay detainees. On June 12, 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that Guantanamo Bay detainees have rights under the Constitution to challenge their detention in U.S. civilian courts.
- Co-authored a key amicus brief on a pro bono basis on behalf of more than 60 Asian-American Bar Associations and community groups in California's historic same-sex marriage case, In re Marriage Cases. The California Supreme Court overturned California’s ban on gay marriages on May 15, stating that depriving gays and lesbians of the same rights as other citizens is unconstitutional.
Awards and recognition
- For 2015, earned its 10th-straight perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index.
- Named “Law Firm of the Year” for Environmental Law in 2014 by Best Lawyers/US News & World Report.
- In 2014, Pillsbury’s Insolvency & Restructuring Practice was named to the 2014 International Financial Law Review’s IFLR1000.
- The International Association of Outsourcing Professionals (IAOP) named Pillsbury to the 2014 list of the World’s Best Outsourcing Advisors.
- Recognized by Working Mother magazine as one of the 2014 100 Best Companies for the ninth year in a row.
- Ranked 59th by The American Lawyer in its 2014 AmLaw 100 ranking of law firms by gross revenue.
- Ranked 67th by the National Law Journal in its 2014 ranking of largest law firms by attorney headcount.
- Ranked 23rd in The American Lawyer’s annual survey measuring summer associates’ satisfaction.
- Named to the National Association for Female Executives’ 2013 list of Top 50 Companies for Executive Women.
- Voted “Best Trade Law Firm in North America” in 2013 by Trade Finance Magazine.
- Named by Corporate Counsel in 2013 as a “go-to firm” in four areas: Corporate, Intellectual Property, Litigation and Securities.
- Named the “Corporate/Strategic Acquisition of the Year” at the 2013 HFMWeek US Hedge Fund Services Awards.
- Named 2010 Best Investor Counsel of the Year in China at the 2010 TopCapital Investment and Investor Awards.
- Named Best Government Affairs/Regulatory Law Firm of the Year at the 2012 International Legal Alliance Summit & Awards in Paris
- 2009 Best Corporate Counsel of the Year in China according to Top Capital, for the firm's work in the private equity and venture capital sector
- Asian-Counsel's 2009 UAE Energy Firm of the Year
- Winner of a 2008 InnovAction Award from The College of Law Practice Management for its patented business process, ValueChain
- 2007 Black Book of Outsourcing's #1 Global Sourcing legal advisor
In April 2006, Pillsbury had a round of layoffs. These layoffs were in connection with the merger with Shaw Pitman in April 2005. The layoffs included its unofficial mascot, Martin Macy. Macy, who had started with the firm at the age 17, had been in the San Francisco office for 41 years prior to his dismissal. He was terminated from his position as messenger to save his annual salary of $34,000. At the time, the combined revenue for the partners at the firm had dropped from $780,000 to $760,000 and the firm's assets were over $6 million. To assist Macy, the legal community created a trust fund to which former co-workers, clients and other members of the legal community donated money. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that "His dismissal has become something of a cause celebre in the San Francisco legal community." By April 2007, over $230,000 had been gathered for Macy. Macy died in his sleep on February 2008.
In 2009 a United States federal judge found misconduct by a number of lawyers regarding the conflict of interest disclosure failures by Pillsbury Winthrop in the SONICblue bankruptcy case stating "The reorganization of SONICblue, Inc. has been tragically marred by the misdeeds of professionals". Pillsbury was forced to disgorge $10 million in fees for filing a false affidavit and hiding their conflict of interest for the debtor in the bankruptcy case of SONICblue. The federal judge ordered the firm to step down citing the "complete breakdown of creditor confidence" due to the firm's failure to make a required disclosure of a conflict of interest involving a number of hedge funds. Counsel for the official creditors committee gave tacit approval of the conflict as neither law firm brought the matter to the attention of the court. Sequential conflict disclosure misconduct in the SONICblue bankruptcy case has escalated the possible consequences to Pillsbury. The lawyer representing the successor to SONICblue subsequently learned that in addition to the failure to disclose the conflict, the firm also failed to disclose their own withdrawal of funds from the Debtor during the pre-petition preference period and had petitioned the Federal Judge to refer the firm's responsible lawyers for criminal prosecution and sought $30 million in damages from Pillsbury Winthrop and associated parties on the official creditors committee as well as their counsel.