Surprising scores of Silicon Valley lawyers who'd been vying for the hottest in-house gig in town, Facebook has hired a GOP insider as its GC. Theodore Ullyot -- a Kirkland & Ellis partner who has worked in the Bush White House and the Gonzales Department of Justice -- will head Facebook's legal department, the social networking site announced Monday.
"It's a fascinating company -- it's dynamic, it's innovative," Ullyot, 41, said Monday. "From a lawyer's perspective, the legal issues are novel and interesting."
The position was one of the most sought-after in-house jobs in recent memory, with hundreds of lawyers sending in resumes. The company passed on 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 Valley lawyers scratched their head at the choice of an inside-the-Beltway lawyer, Facebook spokesperson Larry Yu said that Ullyot's capital connections are important for the young company.
"The tension, if you will, 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 Alberto 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 embarking on 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.
At least one Silicon Valley general counsel, who didn't want to be named, 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.
THE JOB EVERYONE WANTED
Recruiter Major said it was one of the most competitive searches he's handled, and ticked off the evidence: "The sheer number of talented people; the number of people who continued to follow up despite being gently dissuaded," Major said. "The number of people that used back-channel efforts to get in; and the number of people who said 'I would not be interested in any other position.'"
Although many Silicon Valley lawyers tried to throw their hats in the ring, they weren't what the company was looking for, Major said.
"They really looked 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 wasn't [just] corporate and securities, it wasn't IP and licensing, it wasn't management."
The search took 10 months, Major said, and was headed inside the company by CFO Gideon Yu, who joined the company from YouTube last year.
Facebook representatives have said in the past that previous General Counsel Rudy Gadre left to move to Seattle and spend more time with his family. Gadre has not returned repeated e-mails, and Facebook spokesman Yu, who was hired after Gadre's departure, said Monday he did not know why the former GC had left.
Eric Sinrod, an Internet lawyer from Duane Morris in San Francisco, said it makes sense for a company like Facebook to get someone with experience in Washington, D.C., especially when it comes to issues like privacy.
"I think, as companies grow and gain traction, it's very common to want to be heard and have presence vis-a-vis the government," he said. "Facebook is in a new space where the rules of the game are evolving quickly, and probably wants to make sure that it's not only being listened to, but that it understands what's going on as the rules of the game do evolve."
THE ROAD AHEAD
There will undoubtedly be many legal issues facing Ullyot, but at least he won't have to deal with the nasty founders litigation that plagues every successful startup.
Facebook recently settled lawsuits from Zuckerberg's college pals at Web site ConnectU, who claimed that he stole their idea when he started Facebook. The company also settled a dispute in California's Santa Clara County Superior Court with Eduardo Saverin, a Facebook co-founder.
Also settled is who Facebook uses for outside corporate counsel. The company dumped Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe's corporate lawyers in favor of Gordon Davidson's Fenwick & West last year. The company does still use Orrick, as well as other firms, on litigation.
Asked whether he'd be tossing his pals at Kirkland some legal work, Ullyot said he'd used Kirkland in the past, but wasn't coming to Facebook with any agenda.