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Neal Jackson is vice president for legal affairs, general counsel, and secretary of National Public Radio. His department has seven other lawyers, some part time, as well as one executive assistant and one contracts clerk. What does your company do? NPR, a 501(c)(3) D.C. corporation, principally produces and distributes noncommercial educational audio programming and Web site content. In addition, NPR provides its public radio station members with trade association representation before the Federal Communications Commission, other relevant federal agencies, and Congress. It also manages the assets of the Public Radio Satellite System, which distributes public radio and other programming to broadcasters and others within the United States. How did you come to this job? In 1996, I looked in the mirror and saw a guy who had been in law firm practice for 26 years. I decided a change was needed. After I mentioned my decision to a few friends, within a week one of them called to say that NPR was advertising in Legal Times for a new general counsel. About a dozen interviews later (getting consensus is important in nonprofits), I was offered the job. Although my salary is a lot less than my partnership share was at Bell, Boyd & Lloyd, I honestly think I have one of the best legal jobs in Washington — maybe the best (excluding perhaps Supreme Court justices). NPR is involved in a host of really interesting legal issues, and working with attorney and management colleagues here to solve them is a real treat. And I can always wander down to the News Division and shoot the breeze with a correspondent or editor (if they’re not on deadline). By the way, there is a high wall between the journalistic activities of NPR’s News Division and senior managers like me. This is to protect the independence of the product of the News Division, something that is sacred around here (and which I totally support). So I never get the chance to go on the air, though I do occasionally get teased on-air by the rascals on “Car Talk.” What’s top of mind for you in your job right now? What’s in those folders piling up on your desk? Any paper on my desk is likely to get neglected because we try to avoid paper folders by doing everything on the computer and other electronic tools. This has increased the office’s productivity substantially. It is one reason why we can survive with a single assistant for eight lawyers. I spend most of my time working with the seven specialist attorneys in the office (and with our client units) to develop strategies and tactics for dealing with legal issues. The most important issues these days involve copyright and other intellectual property, the Web, employees, regulation and legislation, media issues, real estate, and business transactions. As the head of the legal department, what are your top administrative issues and challenges? I personally assign most of the work, trying to make sure matters go to the particular lawyers with the best expertise to handle them, taking into account their workload and deadlines. I also do the hiring and evaluating, which has really been a pleasure. Most attorneys here are truly committed to the mission of the organization, so there has been little turnover. The biggest challenge is controlling our office’s use of NPR’s resources, so that more money can go to program production. I’m continuously scrambling to make sure our costs are kept as low as possible, to the point where I am known generally as a “cheapskate,” a moniker I proudly wear. On the other hand, our attorneys’ salaries are now more in line with other nonprofit institutions than when I arrived. What kind of work do you send out? One reason our office is relatively large is to enable us to keep as much work as possible in-house. Our attorneys are often as expert in their specialized fields as any outside counsel we could hire. They all have been in practice for at least 10 years, mostly in big law firms or corporate departments. Notwithstanding that, we usually send out matters such as litigation and antitrust. We frequently seek pro bono assistance from outside counsel, and a number of firms have been particularly generous in this regard. Where we engage paid counsel, we usually do so by means of a competitive RFP, though a firm’s fees are by no means the only criteria for selection. Which outside counsel do you turn to in various substantive areas? Hale and Dorr has done excellent work for us on antitrust issues (John Christie) and insurance coverage (Meghan Magruder). We recently also used Mary Azcuenaga at Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe on an antitrust project. Labor union work has recently been led by Mike Murphy at Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart. We also are very happy with the quality of some employment law work done recently by Leslie Arrington at Nixon Peabody.

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