In Memory Of Craig Johnson

Craig Winfield Johnson, a man who played a big role in the formation of Silicon Valley as we know it, died unexpectedly from a stroke suffered last Tuesday, according to his firm, Virtual Law Partners. He was 62 years old.

Johnson was a graduate of Yale and a former Peace Corps volunteer who served in Ethiopia. After he graduated from Stanford law school, he went to work at Wilson Sonsini advising startups until he was bitten by the startup bug himself.

In the course of his career he founded two law firms: Venture Law Group, which represented Yahoo!, Hotmail, WebTV and other notable startups before it merged with Heller Ehrman in the wake of the dotcom bust, and Virtual Law Partners, a Web-based law firm that cuts down on overhead by letting attorneys share documents and back-office processes and keep 85% of what they bill (compared to the 33% kept by associates at conventional law firms).

In addition, Johnson co-founded the incubator Garage, the online retirement planner Financial Engines and numerous other high-tech Silicon Valley startups, according to his firm.

In an interview a little over a year ago with peHUB’s Connie Loizos, right after he started Virtual Law Partners, Johnson talked about the importance of having an ethical culture that also nurtures people, his plans to promote good citizenship in the firm, and his efforts to maintain balance in his own life by getting in bike rides and parties and movies.

He also said that he didn’t expect most lawyers in the firm to be spending their time on startups as the firm matured. “My main observation about what’s happening today is that you can’t have a situation forever where something goes in goes in and nothing comes out,” he said. “It’s been six or seven years now and except for a few aberrations like Google, there’s been no meaningful liquidity. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a crisis in the venture industry, but…”

If he were building startups now, he told Loizos, he’d focus on clean tech because, “That’s for real. There’s no question in my mind that that’s going to be huge.”

Memorial services are on Sunday, October 11, although details were not available. Virtual Law Partners’ management will appoint an interim committee to take over Johnson’s role until a new CEO can be named, the firm said.