How BuzzFeed’s Top Lawyer Does Her Job

Nov. 2, 2017, 8:35 PM

When it came time to train her reporters on the privacy law implications of former professional wrestler Hulk Hogan’s devastating lawsuit against Gawker Media, BuzzFeed’s Allison Lucas did it in the media company’s whimsical fashion.

“We purchased bandanas and made sure to wear them to give a little more color to the situation,” Lucas told Big Law Business in an interview Monday. “We want to make sure they know the lawyers are as fun as everyone else at BuzzFeed.”

“We did not wear tank tops though,” Lucas added, referencing Hogan’s signature ’90s style.

Lucas, who was hired as BuzzFeed’s first lawyer in 2013, now runs a legal department of nine attorneys and five copyright managers. In the four years since she joined, the company has grown from just over 250 to approximately 1,600 employees, and her legal role at the intersection of tech, media, and entertainment has only grown busier.

In January, the news and entertainment company found itself at the center of the national political dialogue after editor Ben Smith published a controversial dossier containing unverified allegations of collusion between then-President Elect Donald Trump and the government of Russia. Lucas declined to comment on the dossier.

The Russia dossier aside, Lucas said BuzzFeed is takinggovernment institutionsto task for their lack of transparency.

“I think getting data from the government is getting harder, so we’re filing more FOIA lawsuits than we have before,” she said.

Lucas said her legal strategy hasn’t changed in the face of increased attacks on the press, but that reporters need to become more aware of some of the legal risks they face.

“The laws are certainly the same,” she said. “We just make sure that [reporters] understand everything, and we feel that’s the best we can do for them.”

Lucas cut her teeth as an associate at Freshfields and Greenberg Traurig before moving in-house in 2006. Before joining BuzzFeed, Lucas was associate general counsel at United Media and at the online retailer Gilt Groupe.

Through those roles, Lucas said she has found a group of peers spanning tech and media law to whom she can go for advice.

“There’s a striking number of women GCs in the New York area who all hold each other up and rely on each other,” said Lucas. She cited women at the legal helm of prominent media companies including Diane Brayton, general counsel of New York Times, Lauren Fisher, chief legal officer at Vox Media, and Anjali Kumar, general counsel of the financial news network Cheddar.

Lucas also gave credit to the women who have sponsored her along the way.

“I’ve been lucky enough to have all female bosses for the last 15 years or so, it’s been pretty phenomenal,” she said. “I think it helped me when I was raising children and I saw women who had done it before me. It put me in a better position to understand what I wanted to do for women who worked for me.”

Lucas wouldn’t disclose any future career plans, and said she plans to grow BuzzFeed’s legal team slowly. “I’m pretty conservative in terms of hiring,” she said.

Lucas said she relies on outside counsel primarily for litigation updates and international support. Outside of the United States, BuzzFeed operates websites in Australia, Brazil, Germany, Spain, France, India, Japan, Mexico, and the UK.

Currently, her in-house team includes experts in corporate, M&A, IP, and entertainment law, many of whom wear “a few different hats.” Two of the company’s lawyers are focused exclusively on supporting the news group, including Freedom of Information Act requests.

Contact the reporter responsible for this story: Stephanie Russell-Kraft at srussellkraft@gmail.com.

Contact the editors responsible for this story: Casey Sullivan at csullivan@bloomberglaw.com and Tom Taylor at ttaylor@bna.com.

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