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9
Oct 10
Sat

Embedded lawyering

Alexander Macgillivray, Twitter’s General Counsel, on the role of in-house counsel at a startup:

I think one of the biggest challenges any lawyer has in any situation is the horrible reputation that every other lawyer has created for us.

So what I think a lot about is how do you have the lawyers create value and be part of the company? And that’s everything from superficial things – like I throw a happy hour every 2 weeks where I buy the booze and invite the whole company to come, right? Just so that they have some interaction with lawyers that isn’t us telling them “no.” And similarly it’s being very open. We have open office hours and we do lots of meetings with teams.

Less superficially what it means is that the way I think about lawyers is that they ought to be embedded in teams as early in the process as possible and they ought to view their job as just like any other startup employee as contributing to the user benefit that we’re bringing. Which means that I expect my attorneys to actually contribute product ideas if they have them. To talk about things that are silly not because of legal issues, but because they are plain silly. And I find that that type of engagement with product means that you understand a whole lot better what the product is actually trying to accomplish, which means rather than being a sort of approved, disapproved, stamp on a plan, you can actually impact the plan itself, which is a much better position to be in. And, more than anything else, you may even be able to say to somebody, “Hey, the way you’re planning on implementing – not great from a legal perspective, but you could get even more user bang for the buck by doing this other thing that is also a lot less risky from a legal perspective.”

So to me—and I actually created a group at Google, Product Counsel, that’s now being implemented in some other companies, and that whole purpose of that group was to make sure that we were sort of embedded in the sort of press and wrap [unintelligible] with product teams, so that we were a part of those teams, and we could be more useful to those teams than just, you know, stamp “approve” or “not approve.” And I think that’s really important particularly around where the legal and ethical issues join, where you’re also often looked at in a startup environment, as a lawyer, as being part of the ethical backbone of the company. So making sure that you actually have a voice heard in the development process is extremely important.

Macgillivray manages the User Communications Team (4 people), the Trust and Safety Team (22 people), and the Government Relations and Legal Team (4 people) at Twitter. This is an excerpt from a talk he gave at Santa Clara University on October 6.

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