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Google has taken a new approach to managing its legal affairs with the hiring of its latest general counsel, John Kent Walker Jr., formerly deputy GC of eBay. David Drummond, Google’s senior vice president of corporate development, had been serving as the company’s general counsel. Now, in addition to supervising the company’s corporate development, governmental affairs, and mergers and acquisitions departments, Drummond will become Google’s “chief legal officer,” said Google spokesman Jon Murchinson. At many companies, the general counsel also fills the role of chief legal officer. But at Google, Walker will manage the legal department’s day-to-day affairs, Murchinson said. Up until now, all the other departments under Drummond’s leadership have had a similar day-to-day manager, so Walker’s hiring brings the legal department into that model, Murchinson said. “His 20 years of experience and his expertise in the legal issues of importance to a global Internet company will be great assets to Google,” he said. Neither Walker nor Drummond was available for comment Tuesday. “I suspect what they’re doing is freeing some of David Drummond’s time up to focus on bigger strategic issues for the company,” said Newport Beach-based law firm management consultant Peter Zeughauser, who noted that Google is in a period of incredible growth. “It’s not a common model but I have seen it occasionally, and it does work very well.” Walker has an extensive background in Silicon Valley legal affairs. He graduated from Stanford Law School in 1987 and served as an assistant U.S. attorney in Northern California in the early 1990s, notably working on digital piracy issues and the prosecution of hacker Kevin Mitnick. After leaving the Department of Justice, Walker served as general counsel for AirTouch Communications and Liberate Technologies, and worked on the legal team at Netscape in 1998 and 1999. Mitchell Baker, now chief executive of the Mozilla Corp., was a colleague of Walker’s at Netscape and found working with him during the era’s seminal “browser wars” positive. “Kent is smart, he’s thoughtful, he’s flexible,” she said. “It took me maybe an hour of talking with him to recognize that he would be a phenomenal addition to the Netscape team and a great colleague, and that turned out to be absolutely true.” She added: “Kent is phenomenal at being able to navigate through complexity and get to the heart of the matter. The World Wide Web was exploding, and there was very little law on most business topics. All of us at Netscape were looking at a blank slate and saying, ‘How do we do our job at Netscape and do so in a way that advances the cause of the Internet and helps our business partners?’” Walker may be navigating new legal waters at Google as well. In the coming years, the company will likely tackle copyright issues that arise from its acquisition of video clip site YouTube, legal issues around doing business in China, and antitrust questions that could arise out of its share of the search-engine market.

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