Elon Musk AI Startup Taps Legal Chief Who Knows Aerospace

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Robert Keele
Elon Musk has hired an aerospace-experienced legal chief for xAI Corp. in San Francisco, his artificial intelligence startup that is competing with OpenAI.

Robert Keele posted about leaving his own in-house legal services startup and taking the new job on his LinkedIn profile earlier this week. Neither Keele nor xAI returned messages Wednesday seeking comment.

Keele wrote on LinkedIn that "Keele Law had a good run (~3 weeks!), but I couldn't pass up an opportunity to run legal at xAI. Beyond stoked, and insanely lucky, to help this small but mighty team build the future of synthetic intelligence."

His "3 weeks" reference was to a legal service he started in April and closed in May. His website describes Keele Law as "a fractional general counsel for startups and other companies, focusing on aerospace, AI, autonomous vehicles, green tech, quantum computing, SaaS, and other cutting edge technologies."

Keele's profile said he now "leads legal at xAI, a startup building AI tools to assist in the pursuit of understanding." The startup also has developed Grok, a conversational AI to compete with ChatGPT.

The hire comes just as xAI announced this week that it had raised $6 billion in a new round of funding for the private company.

Keele previously was general counsel or the equivalent for three aerospace companies. He led legal and compliance at Elroy Air for 10 months, until April 2024. Elroy Air is an air cargo system focused on developing unmanned cargo aircraft.

Before that, Keele spent six years at Acubed, part of Airbus SE, including as general counsel and head of compliance. There, he helped with the company's work on a modular airplane and an autonomous air taxi.

Previously he was general counsel for three years at Voom, another Airbus company that provided helicopter taxis.

His in-house work followed nearly three years as an associate at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP and as a managing associate at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP. Keele said on LinkedIn that his law firm work focused "mostly on IP, litigation, transactions, IPOs/M&A."

After earning his law degree at the New York University School of Law, he served over a year as law clerk to U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller in the Eastern District of California.

His profile says he also spent several years as vice president of sales at a software startup before practicing law, "so [he] gets the business side too!"

The website adds that he "likes flying airplanes, riding motorcycles, cooking/grilling, fantasy/sci fi and just about any outdoor activity."

Keele's work with autonomous planes and his love of science fiction apparently appeal to Musk, whose other companies are working on autonomous cars at Tesla Inc. and on a spaceship to colonize Mars at SpaceX.

But Musk does not have a good track record with lawyers. He has churned through more than half a dozen legal chiefs at Tesla and seen turnover at SpaceX. And he is being sued by the chief legal officer and general counsel he fired when he took over Twitter and renamed it X.

Musk also has had his differences with outside law firms, including pulling his business away from Cooley LLP when it refused to dismiss a lawyer who had confronted Musk when the lawyer was at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

More recently, Musk allegedly threatened to take his business from Holland & Knight, which employed a consultant and former law professor who spoke out against Musk's attempt to obtain a huge pay increase at Tesla. The professor said he quit the law firm rather than allow it to be bullied. Tesla denied the allegations.

--Editing by Peter Rozovsky.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.



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