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Musk Divorce Lawyer Top Counsel at Tesla as Legal Woes Mount

Elizabeth Olson BigLawBusiness.com

Its lawyers, led by general counsel Todd A. Maron, have grappled with selling cars directly to consumers, the consequences of fatal crashes, complaints about manufacturing workplace conditions, and shareholder suits stemming from the acquisition of a solar panel installation company. On top of all that, the electric car maker could face additional tariffs in China, where it has substantial sales.

Tesla, which declined requests for Big Law Business to interview Maron or others in its legal department, has an unusual track record for in-house counsel. The Palo Alto company had three straight in its first three years, but no one had the job when it went public in 2010.

In late 2013, founder and chief executive Elon Musk brought Maron in as deputy counsel. A 2003 graduate of New York University School of Law, Maron spent the prior seven years handling divorce and other family matters at Beverly Hills, Calif., boutique family law firm, Jaffe and Clemens. Musk was a client during two divorces.

Maron’s earlier experience as an associate at Irell & Manella, in Los Angeles, was more typical for the general counsel’s position. During his 2 ½ years at Irell, Maron practiced commercial litigation, focusing on intellectual property and securities issues.

Choosing a General Counsel

Corporations are more frequently selecting lawyers from varied backgrounds to fill their top law job.

“More top legal officers are coming from backgrounds other than corporate, including litigation or labor and employment.

It’s not a one-size-fits-all pattern,” said Ryan Whitacre, managing director of Major, Lindsey & Africa’s In-House Practice Group.

“Chief executives often want to choose their own general counsel. They don’t have to be buddies, but it has to be a good fit culturally,” said Whitacre.

“The general counsel is the most important relationship the CEO will have, and it has to be someone who is not just a good lawyer but also someone who can be a business advisor, can handle the board, someone who is a good communicator and spokesman,” Whitacre. “Oh, and someone who can see around corners.”

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