Tesla's New General Counsel Has a Passion for Clean Energy and A.I.

Tesla announced on Friday that it’s hired a new general counsel, and he has a big interest in artificial intelligence and saving the planet. Dane Butswinkas, chairman of Williams & Connolly, was described by the company in a statement as “one of the world’s top practicing trial lawyers.”

Butswinkas is taking over for Todd Maron, who served as head of the company’s legal team since 2013. He said in a statement that Tesla “presents a unique and inspiring opportunity,” as the company’s mission is “bigger than Tesla — one that is critical to the future of our planet…it’s hard to identify a mission more timely, more essential, or more worth fighting for.” Butswinkas served 30 years as a trial lawyer for Williams & Connolly, where he worked with big names like ABC on “pink slime” meat coverage. In October, Tesla CEO Elon Musk picked Butswinkas to work through his issues with the Securities and Exchange Commission, after Musk controversially claimed he had the “funding secured” to take the company private.

Dane Butswinkas.
Dane Butswinkas.

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Butswinkas is also interested in artificial intelligence. In a Forbes interview in February, when asked which technology his firm was paying attention to, Butswinkas said he was “very intrigued” by A.I. because “you can take a paragraph-long document, and I challenge the computer to figure out a way that I might use that.” Butswinkas noted that “some of the best documents are ones that a mechanical computer program might not identify, but that might be the document that makes a billion-dollar difference in the case if I read it and thought about it a way that a computer cannot.” Through his approach, he pits himself against this new technology to try and improve his work.

While Butswinkas seems an ideal fit for the firm, as it works to develop A.I.-powered autonomous driving and transition consumers onto clean energy, he has big shoes to fill. Maron came to Tesla at a time when it was fighting for its unique business model that bypassed the dealership, fighting legislation that blocked this model. He also previously served as a divorce lawyer for Musk. Maron said in a statement that the firm has “been like family to me, and I am extremely grateful to Elon, the board, the executive team, and everyone at Tesla for allowing me to play a part in this incredible company.”

Maron will remain at Tesla as Butswinkas settles into the new position, ensuring a smooth transition. He started planning his transition away from Tesla in July 2018, and he’s expected to leave the company overall in January 2019.

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