As internet activists and the government wrangle over whether the National Security Agency can access emails and other digital information stored by U.S. firms overseas, the Washington area is abuzz over how tech companies will cope with the sprawling regulations driving such changes.
The answer is, lots of tech firms are doing everything they can to adapt. Eager to put themselves in the center of the legislation, Silicon Valley is casting about for smart rules.
Companies, including Amazon and Microsoft, last year began recruiting lawyers for courts around the country, according to recruiters who work in the field. This year, the companies are going a step further. Many seek both engineering and legal talent at the same time. And many are investing resources in drawing recruits from each other’s ranks.
“It used to be hiring an engineering executive, you hired one, and the technical executive kind of followed him off the island,” said Carl Rosengren, the senior vice president of global programs at Bracewell, a global law firm. “But now you’re hiring a government affairs person, and maybe hiring a lawyer at the same time, and they’re like partners.”
While such brain-drain efforts can help guide legal strategy, Ms. Rosengren said the growing number of lawyers has prompted companies to court one another to hire partners.
Potential Silicon Valley recruits, including the firms and firms with tech clientele, are drawn by potential hourly pay rates of up to $300,000, said Jim Gastineau, the co-head of technology business litigation at Mayer Brown, which is also an adviser to Amazon.
“The talent pipeline is just flush with wealth right now,” Mr. Gastineau said.
Plans are in the works for a new class of attorney with not only experience in technology but also ethics and government matters, in addition to traditional legal chops.
Others want to combine aspects of the two worlds. In recent years, Indian tech executives have set up a dozen Washington operations that focus on both legal and business issues, and companies, as diverse as Salesforce.com and Google have launched research centers.
Gina Corbello, a Yahoo executive, said she expected to see more job applications this year from people who have never worked in tech.
“You’ll have those that are getting their first taste of tech, and those that are at a certain level,” she said. “And you’ll also see someone who has worked in politics, or in a law firm, but also worked in tech.”
For all its other strengths — the valley likes its technical people, and it can attract talented lawyers across the globe — the industry has struggled to attract lawyers with the government chops it craves.
Those who make it through the vetting process may be put to work in corporate legal affairs, ethics, cybersecurity, government relations, labor and employment, and litigation.
Legal fields like those can be particularly attractive as Washington embraces new technology.
“Washington is ahead of Silicon Valley when it comes to thinking about this kind of rulemaking,” said Howard A. Arkin, an Amazon vice president and general counsel, who oversees public policy.
With its bottomless political fund, Washington doesn’t have to worry about long vacancy lines for its legal jobs. But tech firms do face pressure to hire government and political consulting expertise, as well as software and data skills, to set themselves apart.
Bradford P. Campbell, the head of Uber’s Washington office, said the company was attracted to the hiring goals of the administration and Hill staffers, but also thought the sudden move toward rulemaking would reduce the need for lawyers from outside government.
“Legal talent is willing to come to Silicon Valley and do what is required, rather than jump on a tech startup that’s trying to figure it out,” he said.