Alumni Spotlight: Dick Rinkema Helps Microsoft Navigate China's Complex Antitrust Laws

It was January 2015 and then-Orrick Senior Associate Dick Rinkema (D.C./Antitrust) and his family were packing their bags.  Dick’s brief Orrick secondment to client Microsoft had almost immediately turned into a full-time offer to work at the company.  The Rinkemas were officially moving to China.

The Asia Expat

Already well-traveled in Asia, Dick wasn’t your average business expatriate; he didn’t have to rely solely on the global lingua franca — English — to conduct business.  In addition to his antitrust expertise and his deep knowledge of Microsoft’s global business, Dick had studied Mandarin Chinese on an undergraduate foreign exchange program in Beijing, before attending the University of Pennsylvania Law School from 2001 to 2004.

“I had long wanted to take advantage of my language background and experience living in China as a college student,” said Dick, “so when the opportunity presented itself, my family and I were not just ready, but excited about living in Beijing. It was going to be rewarding and fun.”

In many ways, however, going to work in-house at Microsoft — in his new position of Senior Director, Competition — wasn’t much of a change.  For most of his career, Dick had cut his legal teeth handling various antitrust cases for the Redmond, Washington-based technology leader. Even before joining Orrick in 2008, Dick was part of Heller Ehrman’s antitrust team. Consisting primarily of Bob Rosenfeld, David Smutny, Russ Cohen and Jay Jurata, the tight-knit group of lawyers worked on a wide range of Microsoft’s most important cases.

Indeed, shortly after Dick joined Heller in 2006, the team was involved in a marathon four-plus-month trial on behalf of Microsoft in Des Moines, Iowa.  As Dick described it, “The case lasted through the long, cold Iowa winter — that experience really bound the team together and helped us collaborate so effectively on numerous cases over the following years.”

Whiteboarding solutions

Fast-forward to 2008, when Heller dissolved during the global financial crisis. Dick joined the bulk of Heller’s firmwide antitrust team when it migrated to Orrick, where it kept refining the integrated team approach that has stood it in good stead in so many ways.

“Our antitrust team at Orrick was made up of what we liked to describe as 'white-board lawyers' — in the very best sense,” Dick described.  “We’d get together and argue, sketch stuff out, erase it and keep at it — diagramming until we arrived at solutions.  It was incredibly collaborative and it allowed us to present innovative, out-of-the-box thinking to the client.” 

What’s more, the Orrick team’s dedication to client service came as the result of a genuine affection and overlap between the team and the people at the companies it served.  Dick pointed out: “A team approach was deeply ingrained in the Orrick culture. The net result was that we had the ability to quickly and deeply grasp the client’s issues and build comfortable relationships. This would lead to the development of approaches and solutions in new cases that we worked on down the road.”

While he was at Orrick, Dick’s relationship with Microsoft continued to deepen, allowing him to take on increasingly broad and complex issues.  In 2011, Dick helped spearhead the defense against allegations from Barnes & Noble — maker of the “Nook” eReader and tablet devices—that Microsoft was stifling competition for its Windows PC operating system by seeking to license certain Microsoft patented innovations that are used in Android mobile devices.  With the assistance of Dick and the Orrick antitrust team, Microsoft obtained a sweeping victory pre-trial on all antitrust allegations made by Barnes & Noble’s Cravath-led team. 

Today, Dick and his former team’s efforts have reaped rewards.  While Orrick remains one of Microsoft’s key antitrust firms, the client relationship has expanded to include a wide variety of different practice areas, from corporate work to employment litigation.

A logical next step

Given Dick’s deep knowledge of the antitrust issues impacting technology companies — and his familiarity with Chinese culture — transitioning to an in-house role at Microsoft in China made intuitive sense, both as a career move for Dick and for the benefit of the client.

According to Smutny, who recently joined AT&T as Executive Director/Senior Legal Counsel, “Microsoft always felt the need to have U.S. lawyers who know the company on the ground in Asia.” In his new role, “Dick connects Microsoft’s China strategy with its Redmond headquarters based on his deep experience working with the company while at Heller and Orrick.” 

“Dick helps Microsoft navigate the complex and challenging antitrust developments and other regulations impacting companies doing business in China,” David continued. “He’s trying to create a road map for how the company operates in the technology space throughout Greater China, including the mainland, Taiwan and Hong Kong.”

Microsoft needed a lawyer who would provide leadership to help it make sense of — and forge forward through — enormous legal and cultural complexity. That’s exactly what Dick could help provide.

“Bringing him on board was important for the company.  Chinese antitrust enforcement is wrapped up in a variety of China-based compliance, national security and IP laws, and in macroeconomic and geopolitical issues, that must also be addressed,” David emphasized.

Evolving at digital speed

To Dick, there’s a clear imperative: “Business in the technology space is evolving rapidly and continually — and antitrust law must keep pace.” But how? Such objectives are far easier articulated than achieved.  In short, he explained, “My job at Microsoft is to help the company make legally well-informed business decisions to navigate the marketplace.”

In China, however, the digital business environment is a perpetual work-in-progress. “Government regulatory agencies and the courts are continually responding to keep up with the speed of change in the technology industry,” Dick said. “The law is developing in real time. So I need to help Microsoft understand the total mix of ongoing antitrust issues that can impact it in China.”

Among other things, keeping pace with change for Dick involves constant outreach within the Chinese antitrust legal community. Staying involved in all aspects of the law is the only way he can keep his finger on the pulse of a legal environment in perpetual flux.

“China is just an amazing place to be a lawyer working on competition and technology issues,” Dick said, “and the dedication of Chinese lawyers, enforcers and academics to reform is inspiring. But the pace of reform demands constant attention and thinking.”

Embracing life overseas

There’s nothing like international travel to cement a family bond. Dick’s wife, Kimberly, and two young children, Eliza and Ben, have now journeyed throughout the region — to India, Japan, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam and Cambodia — both for Dick’s work and on family vacations.

But balancing career and family is tricky overseas.  As Dick describes it, “It’s family support that makes such a demanding career move and adventure possible.” Everyone needs to be kept happy. Eliza and Ben attend a British school attended by children of other expatriates. The children often go on play dates and have sleepovers. Kimberly also works, serving part time as the acting recruiting manager for the Asia Pacific region at Bain & Co. in Beijing.

Pointers

What kind of lessons does Dick have for lawyers looking to make their mark? (Get ready for this.)

“Approach everything as if it’s critical,” he said, “because especially for a client like Microsoft, it usually is. This was driven home to me in the midst of that long Iowa winter trial, when the team received an encouraging surprise email from the very top – BillG, as he’s known inside Microsoft. That made it so clear that all our work was visible all the way through the company. Don’t let yourself think that what you’re doing, even if it seems really basic, is less valuable or less deserving of your best than defending a CEO in a trial.”

But while the quality of work you do is critical, how you do it is just as important. “Lawyers sometimes overlook the value of just being nice to people,” he added. “The relationships you make today matter — you don’t know who you will meet or need help from in the future.”

A key part of the people equation is mentors — and Dick points to Bob Rosenfeld as a critical advisor to many young Orrick lawyers.  Indeed, his former protégés populate Microsoft’s legal ranks.

“Sometimes I think we need a Bob Rosenfeld Alumni Group within Microsoft,” Dick said. “Bob is dedicated to helping his people become good lawyers. The standards that Bob and others at Orrick set have stayed with me in my new role. My experience at Orrick prepared me for the work I do today — and it can do the same for others.”

Any other keys to success? “It’s simple,” Dick added. “Dedication to client service and a willingness to put in every effort on behalf of your clients are crucial.”