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Facebook Promotes Colin Stretch to GCMoves
Social networking giant Facebook named a new head of its legal department Thursday, promoting Colin Stretch from deputy GC to vice president and general counsel.
2013-06-21 05:30:44 PM
SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook has tapped deputy general counsel Colin Stretch to serve as its next top lawyer.
Stretch, a former partner at Kellogg Huber Hansen Todd Evans & Figel in Washington, D.C., will head up the legal and security departments starting July 5, taking the reins from outgoing general counsel Theodore Ullyot.
In recent weeks, Ullyot has been out in front as the company has sought to quell a firestorm over its alleged participation in the National Security Agency's PRISM program. But Stretch has put out his fair share of fires, too.
Since joining Facebook as deputy general counsel for product, regulatory and litigation, Stretch has shepherded the company through a series of high-profile legal challenges. He led negotiations with the Federal Trade Commission over data sharing, landing a settlement in 2011, and also notched an appellate victory in the battle with the Winklevoss twins. Outside the courtroom, he has been perched at the frontier of Facebook, leading the team that assesses the legal issues raised by new products.
"Colin has been an instrumental leader on the Facebook legal team and has earned the trust and confidence of management, the Board of Directors and our entire company," Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, said in a statement. "We are very excited to have him as our new General Counsel."
Stretch, 44, echoed the excitement about his appointment.
"Helping advance Facebook's mission of connecting the world is at the center of our team's work, and I look forward to the opportunity this new role represents," he said in a statement. "This is an extremely talented group of lawyers, and an awesome responsibility. I can't wait to get started." A company spokesman said that Ullyot and Stretch were not immediately available for comment Thursday evening.
Stretch looks a lot like his predecessor. A pair of Washington-trained lawyers with roots in the Bay Area, Ullyot and Stretch both clerked at the U.S. Supreme Court — Ullyot for Justice Antonin Scalia and Stretch for Justice Stephen Breyer. Ullyot recruited Stretch, an old friend, about two years into his tenure as general counsel, and is said to have had a hand in his successor's selection.
"He's cut from the same cloth as Ted in many ways," said Major, Lindsey & Africa's Robert Major, who handled the search that resulted in Ullyot's selection.
Stretch posted a video on Instagram Thursday that captured the pair's chemistry. Ullyot approaches Stretch to congratulate him on his selection as general counsel, and Stretch thanks him graciously.
"Just do me one favor," Ullyot says in the video. "Don't screw it up."
"When's your last day again?" Stretch asks.
Comedy aside, legal watchers predict that Stretch's selection will make for a smooth transition. Orrick litigation partner Neel Chatterjee — who collaborated with Stretch on dozens of matters, included the Winklevoss suit — thinks the company has found the right general counsel in Stretch.
"He brings really exceptional judgment on difficult questions where there isn't a clear answer," he said.
Cooley partner Michael Rhodes, who represents Facebook in IP litigation and privacy class actions, praised the choice as well.
"Facebook has a very unique culture, and I think it's a healthy thing to promote from within," Rhodes added. "The challenge for these types of companies that are so innovative and so disruptive is how to find someone from outside."
And continuity may well be a virtue for the legal department now. The appointment comes at a sensitive time for Facebook as the company grapples with the revelations about the PRISM program. The issue has underscored the importance of having a legal team with policy savvy, as Ullyot recently has been called upon to navigate a delicate space between consumers' calls for information and the government's mandates. In this regard, Stretch's experience in Washington may prove relevant.
"I think that it's an important tool to have in your kit, the ability to deal with Washington issues," said Wilmer Hale partner Reginald Brown, who attended Harvard Law School with Stretch.
Ullyot brought a dash of D.C.'s buttoned-up culture to the Valley company. Early on, he got rid of the legal department's ping pong table, according to a person familiar with the department.
As the social networking site has matured, it has increasingly turned an eye toward matters on the Hill out of both necessity and interest. Its chief executive officer, Mark Zuckerberg, has become an impassioned proponent of immigration reform. And the road between the Beltway and the company runs both ways: According to The New York Times, Max Kelly, the former chief security officer at Facebook, who left the company in 2010, is now at the NSA.
Legal recruiter Major recalled that Facebook's selection of a Washington insider raised eyebrows five years ago. He expects few to question the wisdom of another Washington-trained lawyer now.
But especially in the wake of Sandberg's public campaign to advance women in corporate America, some in the legal department had hoped a woman would be picked to lead Facebook's legal team, a source familiar with the department said. That probably would have required the company to look outside its own ranks — all four of Ullyot's direct reports are men. Five in-house recruiters contacted by The Recorder said they had not heard of the company contracting a search firm to carry out an external hunt for Ullyot's successor.
The company did not disclose who will take Stretch's deputy general counsel post.
Stretch is a native of San Francisco, and he lives in the Bay Area with his wife, Alyse Graham, a lawyer whom he married in 2000, and children. His parents, Nancy and Joseph Stretch, both practiced law, and his brother, Brian, is the first assistant U.S. attorney in San Francisco.
Wilmer Hale's Brown recalled that Stretch's decision to head West came as a surprise to some. He seemed poised for a secure and distinguished career at Kellogg.
"It was obviously a risk to go join a non-public company," he said. "It turned out to be a really wonderful and interesting adventure, and now he's on to a new adventure.
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