Thomson Reuters’ Practical Law The Journal – Transactions & Business recently sat down with Allison Lucas, General Counsel, Executive Vice President Legal and Corporate Secretary, of cutting-edge media company BuzzFeed, Inc. and asked her how she measures productivity, how to avoid being the “Office of No,” and what impresses her.
PLJ: How is the legal function structured at BuzzFeed?
Allison Lucas: Each business unit has an assigned attorney (as well as a back-up attorney), with all attorneys reporting to me.
As a media company, our intellectual property matters span across multiple divisions and departments, and almost every attorney has some intellectual property experience. We have a video rights specialist in Los Angeles who reports to one of our attorneys, and a paralegal in New York who supports all of the attorneys. We anticipate adding two more attorneys to the team, including one in London in the next three to six months.
PLJ: How do you measure and improve productivity and success within the law department?
Allison Lucas: Consistently asking for feedback is key to measuring and improving our productivity and success. I make a point of asking the heads of departments and managers whether there is anything that the law department can do to make things smoother or faster for them, while still making sure the legal advice is sound.
I make a point of asking the heads of departments and managers whether there is anything that the law department can do to make things smoother or faster for them, while still making sure the legal advice is sound.
I also check in on how my staff is working with our business partners. If there is any constructive criticism, I make sure we solve for that. Since our company is growing fast and constantly evolving, we evaluate on a regular basis whether we need to shift legal support around to meet those changing needs. The goal is to be a “frictionless department.”
PLJ: How does the law department avoid being perceived as the “Office of No” while still ensuring it helps the client avoid liability?
Allison Lucas: The attorneys at BuzzFeed are not necessarily afraid of saying “no” but if there is a “no” involved, it always should be accompanied by “but what if we did X instead?” Our business partners understand if we cannot do something because of significant liability, but they want to know that there is a solution.
PLJ: How do you align the incentives of external law firms with the objectives of the law department?
Allison Lucas: We constantly impress upon outside counsel our risk tolerance. If they are too conservative, or not conservative enough (which is rare), they need to shift to the right tolerance level, or it is not the right law firm.
PLJ: What three things does a law firm need to do to impress you?
- Be responsive. I aim to make our deadlines reasonable. However, when there is a rush, I need to know that the attorney working with us will be on the other end of the phone or email.
- Be efficient with time. Overbilling and double-billing are my biggest pet peeves. Every person on a call, email chain, or research assignment must add value. If not, they are welcome to be on the call or email chain, but I do not want to be billed for their time.
- Have a good, practical business sense. We need our outside counsel to understand the business and know how to help us get things done. They should be able to provide alternatives as effectively as our in-house legal team does.
PLJ: What one piece of advice would you give to a prospective General Counsel?
Allison Lucas: You are not expected to know everything. Your executive team and your other clients only expect you to be able to find an answer quickly and assess risk, not know everything instantly. The surest way to get into trouble is to act like you know the answer when you do not.
You can read the full interview with Ms. Lucas in the latest issue of “Practical Law The Journal – Transactions & Business.”