Facebook makes surprise choice for legal chief

Facebook has hired a Republican party insider as its new general counsel, one of the most highly-coveted in-house roles in the market, reports The Recorder.

Theodore Ullyot – a Kirkland & Ellis partner who has worked in the Bush White House and the Alberto Gonzales Department of Justice – will head Facebook’s legal department, the social networking site announced on Monday (29 September).

“It is a fascinating company – it’s dynamic, it’s innovative,” Ullyot, 41, said. “From a lawyer’s perspective, the legal issues are novel and interesting.”

The position was one of the most sought-after in-house jobs of recent times, with hundreds of lawyers applying for the post. The company overlooked dozens of more traditional Silicon Valley types to hire Ullyot, according to Robert Major, a legal recruiter with Major Lindsey & Africa, who handled the search.

Although many will be surprised by the choice of a political insider, Facebook spokesperson Larry Yu said that Ullyot’s Washington DC connections are important for the young company.

“The tension of how technology is becoming more and more part of people’s lives is going to affect public policy,” Yu said on Monday. “Having a policy background is important.”

Between 2003 and 2005, Ullyot was chief of staff at the Justice Department under former Attorney General Gonzales, and also held various positions in the White House, including associate counsel to President Bush.

Yu also noted Ullyot’s diverse experience as an in-house lawyer and law firm partner, and said he was a “good fit” with Facebook’s management, including 24-year-old founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Like Zuckerberg, Ullyot went to Harvard. He clerked for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia before beginning his legal career at Kirkland & Ellis. He was general counsel for AOL Time Warner Europe for one year, and from 2005 to 2008, he was the top lawyer at ESL Investments before rejoining Kirkland.

One Silicon Valley general counsel was puzzled by the outside-the-industry choice.

“It strikes me as a bit odd to have someone with such acute political experience, but his varied background will serve him well,” the in-house lawyer said.

Recruiter Major said it was one of the most competitive searches he has handled. “Facebook was looking for someone who had a broader skill set; who had a lot of government and policy experience,” he said. “The skill set was just different than most Silicon Valley lawyers – it was not just corporate and securities, it wasn’t intellectual property and licensing, it wasn’t management.”

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The Recorder is a US sister title of Legal Week.