TITLE: Senior vice president, legal affairs, general counsel, and secretary
COMPANY: eBay Inc.
JOINED COMPANY: 1998
'I was generally not viewed as one of the wild-assed entrepreneurial types who would go off and do the wild thing.'
Since its creation in 1995 eBay Inc. has grown into the world's largest online marketplace, with more than 90 million active users buying and selling items around the world. As of October, the company projected 2012 revenues of approximately $14 billion, due in part to a strong showing by its PayPal Inc. subsidiary; as of May, it ranked No. 228 on the Fortune 500. The company has more than 30,000 employees and maintains headquarters in San Jose.
INSIDE AND OUTSIDE COUNSEL
The legal department reflects the company's growth. In 1999, general counsel Michael Jacobson and a lone associate comprised the team. Today, the department employs 350 people, including 185 lawyers plus lobbyists and fraud investigators who also train law enforcement agents about Internet scams.
EBay is split into seven business groups, including three main units: the marketplace unit, which oversees auctions; payments, which runs the PayPal and Bill Me Later Inc. subsidiaries; and GSI Commerce, an online commerce and interactive marketing service designed to strengthen online businesses by connecting them with customers, acquired about 18 months ago. Jacobson works with the head of these groups almost daily, and also with a technology group, which focuses on patents and open-source software and related technology; the corporate group; and the government-relations group. He oversees eBay attorneys in 21 countries.
Formerly a transactions attorney, Jacobson has become more familiar with litigation since joining eBay in 1998. The very business of eBay facilitating sales by millions of small sellers tends to attract lawsuits, primarily allegations of counterfeiting or other violations of intellectual property rights, he said.
Handling these cases are members of the in-house team, but Jacobson hires outside counsel when he needs specific expertise and when the work piles up. "Deals and litigation are classic examples of work that comes in on an irregular basis, and you want to supplement what you can do internally with external resources," he said. He uses Cooley; Hogan Lovells; Paul Hastings; and Weil, Gotshal & Manges for litigation and Sidley Austin for securities work. Sidley and Weil Gotshal also help out on deals.
EBay users have been known to sell almost anything and, sometimes, the legality of these sales is open to dispute. These questions Jacobson refers to outside counsel in the relevant jurisdiction or directly to regulatory authorities. In the U.S., the laws are clear: Guns and prescription drugs, to name two examples, are prohibited. But as eBay's reach extends around the world, the answers become more difficult. "Even if we know what the answer is in the U.S. or in the [European Union], it may not be the answer in India or China or South America," Jacobson said. "So a lot of our outside counsel spend is pretty geographically spread out."