Hewlett-Packard released its first product - the Model 200A audio oscillator - from a garage in Palo Alto in 1939, and California has been at the heart of the company’s growth ever since.
HP’s early development was boosted by fellow Californian company Walt Disney Studios, which used the Model 200B to develop and test the innovative new sound system it would use for the film Fantasia (1940). In 1980 the company produced its first personal computer, and in 1987 the HP garage at 367 Addison Avenue was recognised by the state as a historical landmark, and dedicated as the "birthplace of Silicon Valley".
Today HP is the world’s largest technology company, ranked fourteenth overall in the Fortune 500, and second only to Chevron as the largest company in California. Current estimates place the total number of HP employees at 320,000 in 170 countries worldwide, though with the acquisition of EDS in August 2008 and recently announced plans to develop a new facility in the Chongqing region of West China, the company’s expansion looks set to continue in spite of current market turmoil.
"HP jobs will still exist after the recession", insists general counsel Michael Holston, adding that his 1000-strong government and legal affairs department has recently been recruiting new talent. "I see this downturn as an opportunity to strengthen the legal department," he says, "as there is an added pressure on our lawyers to really master the business environment."
Holston joined HP from Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP in 2007, after spending over a decade supporting the company as external counsel. He was attracted to the "fascinating business space" of the Californian hi-tech sector, and it is the challenge of maintaining a comprehensive understanding of a constantly evolving business that gives him the greatest satisfaction. "I will always think of myself as a trial lawyer: a guy who solves problems," says Holston, who served as a prosecutor in the criminal division of the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania prior to joining Morgan Lewis, "but now I can help a business to develop and avoid problems".
One way in which he pursues this is through the "culture of partnership" the department enjoys with outside counsel. "The size and breadth of the legal team means we can focus on talent management" he says, and this is particularly true of California, which is HP’s largest legal base. Holston is also unafraid to get his hands dirty in executive policymaking, and since joining HP he has rewritten the legal department’s standards of business conduct literature.
This latter role as overseer of HP’s compliance, government affairs and ethics operations is also a significant part of Holston’s work. He stresses the function of corporate counsel isn’t just to "help the company get business done, but to effectively manage risk - be it financial or as regards the company’s reputation as a member of a global citizenship." It is in this latter responsibility where Holston feels his experience as a prosecutor has particular utility.
While Holston maintains the relative security of the hi-tech sector in a time of financial uncertainty, he is awake to the risks of today’s climate. "Business needs to be nimble" he says, arguing that his department needs to cultivate the atmosphere of a self-contained law firm, in which ideas can be exchanged quickly and effectively. "Our goal is to become the best government and legal affairs department in the world. We should be better than any law firm."
Role: Executive vice president, general counsel & secretary
Company: Hewlett-Packard Company
Number of employees: Approximately 1000
Where were you previously employed?
Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP, between 2005 and 2007; Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, from 1987 to 1990, and from 1993 to 2005; and US Department of Justice between 1990 and 1993.
How big is Hewlett-Packard’s legal department?
More than 350 attorneys. There are approximately 1,000 employees in the Legal and Government Affairs Department.
What percentage of your work is performed by in-house lawyers?
We do not track hours for HP attorneys. Approximately two-thirds of HP’s legal spend is for outside attorneys and consultants.
What are the advantages of doing work in-house?
The opportunity to work closely with clients in shaping and driving a company’s business strategy, as well as the legal strategy. The performance of HP attorneys is measured by the value delivered to the legal department and to the company, and not based upon billable hours.
What qualities make a good in-house lawyer?
First and foremost, an attorney must have the ability to provide expert legal advice that helps clients achieve the company’s business objectives in a lawful and ethical manner. At Hewlett-Packard, we expect our attorneys to be closely aligned with the clients and to be problem solvers, not problem identifiers.
We emphasise the importance of finding ways to say "yes" to clients when it is legally and ethically appropriate. However, when the answer is "no", it is the legal department’s responsibility to work with the clients to find a legal and ethical alternative solution to the issue.
Is the role of the in-house lawyer changing (eg, becoming more specialised)?
In certain areas of practice the law has become more specialised and HP, like other companies and law firms, has areas of the law where it needs highly specialised attorneys who have focused their careers in a particular area. That said, career development is a priority at Hewlett-Packard, and we focus on providing HP attorneys with opportunities to fully develop their range of skills. As the largest technology company in the world and as a leader in technology hardware, software and services, at HP a lawyer is able to find a vast array of challenging positions within the legal department.
What qualities make a good private practice lawyer?
As with in-house attorneys, outside counsel must have the ability to provide expert legal advice that helps a client achieve its business objectives in a lawful and ethical manner. As I said, we expect all attorneys who represent HP to be problem solvers, not problem identifiers.
When will you enlist the advice of external advisers?
We retain outside counsel when we require specialised knowledge or skills for a particular issue or when the volume of work at a particular time exceeds our capacity.
Do you see yourself hiring the firm primarily, or the individual?
Hewlett-Packard hires individual attorneys or a team of attorneys on a matter-by-matter basis, we do not hire law firms. However, we do look to develop longer term relationships with attorneys and law firms where possible, and we value loyalty from and display loyalty to our attorneys and law firms.
Do you have a regular external corporate firm?
Not one law firm. We do have a number of attorneys and law firms that have represented Hewlett-Packard for a number of years.
When dealing outside your home jurisdictions, how do you find
As a global company, Hewlett-Packard’s legal department spans the globe, enabling us to have relationships with external advisers everywhere.