In 1979, William H. "Bill" Neukom was a young attorney in the Seattle-based law firm of attorney Bill Gates, then known as Shilder, McBroom, Gates & Lucas. The son of the law firm's managing partner had been dabbling in new technologies and had created Microsoft Corporation in 1975. The company needed a regular lawyer and Gates thought to give the retainer to Neukom.

The retainer mushroomed and in 1985, Neukom left the law firm and became a full-time staff officer at Microsoft, general counsel.

Bill NeukomBorn in San Mateo, California in 1942, the 6'4" Neukom received his BA from Dartmouth College in 1964. He graduated from the Stanford Law School in 1967. He joined Shilder McBroom Gates in 1977. His one attempt at politics: a failed bid in a Democratic primary for attorney general in Washington State.

When he retired from Microsoft in 2001, he said:

"Twenty-two years ago, ... my law partner Bill Gates asked me to do a little legal work for his son's fledgling software company."

Under Neukom's bow-tie leadership, the legal department of Microsoft grew to 200 attorneys. Neukom managed exciting cutting-edge legal disputes such as intellectual property disputes with Apple and antitrust complaints brought by be United States Department of Justice.

Neukom had another passion which soon attracted his full attention and his substantial wealth acquired by the dramatic increase in value of his initial Microsoft shares. Microsoft had grown from a $1 million start-up to a corporation worth $28-billion by the time of his departure. Neukom's shares were then estimated to be worth $107-million.

Neukom returned to Preston Gates & Ellis in Seattle (since 2007, K&L Gates) as a partner, rainmaker and mentor to younger firm lawyers.

He donated $20 million to the Stanford Law School and used another, undisclosed amount to purchase a share in the San Francisco Giants. In 2008, he became managing general partner of the Giants.

In 2007, he was elected president of the American Bar Association. One of his pet projects is the World Justice Project for which, as of July 2010, he was president and chief executive officer. The project, based in Washington, D.C., purports to measure a country's adherence to the rule of law.

REFERENCES:

  • American Bar Association, William H. Neukom, Immediate Past President, undated press release (abanet.org/media/neukombio.html).
  • Duhaime, Lloyd, Law's Hall of Fame
  • Duhaime, Lloyd, LawFun
  • Fitzgerald, T. and Said, C., Giants new boss seen as charismatic, competitive
  • Microsoft Corp., Bill Neukom to Step Down After 22 Years of Leading Microsoft's Legal Activities (corporate press release, Nov. 21, 2001)
  • Schmidt, Michael, With a Bow Tie and a Glove, the No. 1 Giant Relishes His Seat, New York Times, July 15, 2010