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Tech lawyer declines NYSE offer

Larry Sonsini, one of Silicon Valley's top power brokers, turns down an opportunity to become the next chairman of the New York Stock Exchange.

For a few hours, Silicon Valley power broker Larry Sonsini was in the national spotlight.

Sonsini had been offered the job of interim chairman at the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday, but he declined later in the evening. The NYSE board of directors was looking to replace former Chairman Dick Grasso, who resigned Wednesday amid controversy surrounding his recently revealed $140 million pay package.

Sonsini's career spans nearly four decades in securities law practice at a technology epicenter where he played a key supporting role in the growth of the personal computing industry in the 1970s, and the commercial Internet in the 1990s. He has been a member of the NYSE board since 2001.

Deep connections within the financial and entrepreneurial communities have made Sonsini a sought-after adviser by start-ups seeking to go public. He participated in the initial public offers of Apple Computer, Sun Microsystems and Netscape Communications, among others.

The Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati partner is also the top legal choice of corporate giants, having served as Hewlett-Packard's lead attorney during the Compaq merger battle. He is now representing J.D. Edwards in its $1.75 billion merger with PeopleSoft.

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based law firm played a key role in one of the most closely watched technology industry trials: Wilson Sonsini lawyer Gary Reback was one of the driving forces behind the U.S. Justice Department's antitrust case against Microsoft. Reback's charges that Microsoft competed unfairly with Netscape ballooned into a sweeping investigation of the software giant's business practices.

Although his career has centered on Silicon Valley, Sonsini is no stranger to Wall Street. Besides serving on the NYSE board, this year he helped craft recommendations for reforms aimed at shoring up confidence in IPOs.

The NYSE itself has been considering an IPO, which would have made Sonsini uniquely qualified for the interim role as chairman. In addition, he would have brought technology connections to the Big Board, which has struggled to keep pace with the technology-focused Nasdaq.

Although Sonsini is a lawyer, he is perhaps better known as a savvy dealmaker, cultivating friendships with venture capitalists such as Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers partner John Doerr. His firm also scooped up many IPO deals underwritten by Credit Suisse First Boston, whose technology banker, Frank Quattrone, now faces obstruction of justice charges in a federal IPO investigation.

Sonsini's ability to move easily between the worlds of law and finance became a model for the generation of technology lawyers who grew up in his shadow. Wilson Sonsini ranks as the 38th largest law firm in the country in 2003, according to The American Lawyer magazine.

The NYSE board was scheduled to meet Wednesday night to name an interim replacement for Grasso and appoint a search committee, according to an NYSE statement.