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Bradley Shingleton is general counsel of Deutsche Telekom Inc., a U.S. subsidiary of Germany-based Deutsche Telekom AG.
Tell us about your company. Deutsche Telekom Inc. is a subsidiary of the parent company, which is based in Germany. The parent company is Deutsche Telekom AG, which is located in Bonn. It’s the largest telecom company in Europe and one of the largest five to 10 telecom companies in the world. The German economy is the largest economy in Europe. Deutsche Telekom was formerly a governmental agency, and it occupied roughly the role that AT&T did before its breakup in the U.S. It was a completely integrated telecommunications company for the entire country. All that changed in the mid-�90s. I came aboard in 1994, and at that time it was still owned by the government. In �96 it was privatized and was listed on stock exchanges in Germany, the U.S., and Japan. And ever since, the German government has been selling down its ownership of the company. Now it’s in the low 30s, so it’s well below a majority ownership, and the further pace depends, of course, on the stock market. Deutsche Telekom Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary with an office in New York and an office in Washington. We’re a small company without direct operational responsibilities. But we support the parent company in Germany in matters such as investor relations with U.S. investors, government and regulatory affairs, and legal support, which is me. We also provide strategic market assessment and analysis, tracking of technology trends and regulatory trends. So there’s more of a corporate-level focus. That being said, our company does interact with other U.S. affiliates of Deutsche Telekom. There are four other companies, the biggest of which is T-Mobile, which is based right outside Seattle. There is also an affiliate named T-Systems North America. They provide telecom, systems integration, and IT services. There is a consulting company in Reston called Detecon — they provide a range of consulting services for the telecom and ICT needs of various industries. They are active in the U.S., but also in Central and South America. So we have other operating companies in the U.S. that we interact with from time to time.
How big is your company? There are about 25 people in our company. Our Washington office is about six people, with both a government affairs/regulatory group and a legal department that used to be two people, and now is back to one — that’s me. That being said, I’m far from a lone ranger. I work very closely with the many in-house attorneys in Germany. The parent company currently has two substantial legal organizations. One is based in the headquarters of Deutsche Telekom AG, and it’s roughly 50 lawyers. A second legal organization services the various operating units of the corporate group in Germany and Europe, and that’s close to 200 lawyers. Those numbers do not include attorneys who may be located outside of Germany with our other group operating companies. T-Mobile, for instance, has its own separate legal department. And the company owns a number of operators in Eastern Europe, each of which have their own legal departments as well.
What kind of legal work do you handle? Depending on the kinds of projects the headquarters asks me to help with, I may interact directly with some of the other U.S. subsidiaries. For example, the corporate parent, being a Europe-based company, is subject to fairly rigorous data protection requirements, which have resulted in a groupwide effort to protect customer data and all data. It’s been a difficult process to try to develop a program to incorporate all of the data protection standards in a comprehensive, groupwide code. Probably in no country are the differences greater than in the U.S. We try to reflect European-strength standards here if possible. And there, I’m playing an intermediary role between our German colleagues and the U.S. affiliates.
How would you describe the differences between the United States and Germany in connection with that project? A huge difference is the fact that data protection is mandated and regulated by government agencies in Germany and in Brussels as well. It’s in no sense a voluntary, industry-specific type of legal regime; it’s an across-the-board requirement. In the U.S., it’s the polar opposite. For the banking world, there are specific requirements, and people are getting privacy notices all the time, but other industries are not subject to that. It’s pretty much up to them to develop their own ways to protect privacy. There really are very different approaches, top-down or bottom-up, depending on the industry in question. So it’s turned out to be a very complicated kind of effort. It’s one of those projects that gives you a window into the various legal worlds that a multinational company has to deal with. And it’s an ongoing project, I can tell you that. That gives a sense of how truly multicultural and multinational my responsibilities are. And I think that applies to many people in the company. Business and technology does not stop at political borders. The challenge is often to harmonize the legal support so you can comply with various jurisdictions at the same time.
How would you describe your day-to-day work? I would say, by and large, my responsibilities involve a very diverse array of legal topics and matters. Given the nature of my role within the organization, I’m primarily a contact point for U.S. legal matters for the parent company. That’s with the exception of [Securities and Exchange Commission] matters, since there is actually an SEC alumnus who has been hired by the company and who works on those matters. But in terms of other types of U.S. legal matters, such as litigation, corporate transactions in the U.S., [intellectual property], technology, and occasionally regulatory matters at a fairly general level, I would deal with those kinds of issues. In terms of the [Federal Communications Commission] and filing and licensing, although I did some of that work in my early years, they’re now handled directly by our operating companies in the U.S. But to the extent that they’ll come up as big-picture issues, then it’s something that I’m expected to know something about. Part of what I have to do every day is look at press reports that come over from Germany, to find out what’s happened overnight that might affect what I have to do. There’s a lot of telephoning and e-mailing people based in Germany, people involved in some U.S. matters, venture capital investments, or our projects involving other U.S. affiliates. Silicon Valley is nine time zones from Germany, so that’s an advantage of being on the East Coast. My workday overlaps more with Europe. My interaction with Germany tends to front-load my workdays. Then I get a little window in the afternoon when I can send things out to colleagues in Germany that they will have when they start their day. It gives me flexibility in some ways. Technology enables that. I work unusual hours fairly often. If there’s a transaction going on, particularly on the West Coast, I’m up into the night dealing with those matters before turning around the next morning dealing with Europe. But the people in Europe have a reasonably humane attitude toward working hours. I just noticed that yet again — in summer, when people start disappearing for multiple weeks every year. As for me, I try to take all my allotted time, though I have to be flexible about scheduling.
Do you speak German? Yes. I wouldn’t call myself fluent, but I use it every day. I find it to be very helpful. There are not many people in headquarters that I speak English with. Things can go more quickly and efficiently if we can switch into German. Many of the e-mails I receive are in German, and although the company is much more international than when I started in �94, people there still tend to use their mother language. I actually prefer receiving an e-mail in German that might cause me to look up one or two words instead of an English version where I’m not sure what the sender’s trying to say. German language and culture have always been a personal area of interest for me, a kind of personal hobby. So it adds some spice to my work.
What’s your background? I’m a Southerner, born in North Carolina. I graduated from Dickinson College and Duke Law School. I started out as a litigator in North Carolina and had a fantastic fellowship from a German foundation, the Robert Bosch Foundation. The fellowship program was started in 1984 to enable young American professionals to work professionally in Germany. It was a terrific experience. I received the fellowship when I was four years out of law school. It helped me solidify my language skills in a context of actual legal work — it gave me exposure to the German legal world and to the German in-house world. I spent the first half of the fellowship in the Germany Ministry of Justice and the second half in the legal department of Robert Bosch, which makes automotive and other kinds of technical products. That was extremely valuable experience. And it certainly didn’t hurt me in landing this position. Then I returned to the U.S. and practiced for two years in New York, and then came to Washington and practiced for five years with a firm here before this position opened up. I started here in �94 and have been here ever since.
What are some of your biggest legal issues? [Sarbanes-Oxley] has cooled down now after several years, so I would not put that high up on the hot list. But it’s always good for a question from time to time. I continue to follow it in terms of the regulatory and judicial developments so I can report on them to Germany. But what is taking a lot of time right now is venture capital investment activity. The parent company is committed to innovative services — for example, mobile Internet, basically accessing the Internet by cell phone. Like any provider of mobile services, we need to be always improving what we’re providing customers. So we’re looking at new applications, new ways to use a hand-held device, which is much more than a cell phone nowadays. And this means looking at often early-stage startup companies that have interesting ideas about what can be done with these devices and services. It’s kind of an interesting contrast to other projects in a big company with heavily staffed projects. These kinds of transactions tend to be leanly staffed, very cutting-edge. They’re a little more nimble than the larger projects. So that’s taking quite a bit of time. And unfortunately, like any company involved in U.S. business, Deutsche Telekom has to deal with U.S. litigation from time to time. A recent development in litigation practice that has occupied many in-house counsel are the changes in the federal rules last December to address e-discovery. Before, discovery basically meant dealing with paper, and now it’s dealing with data. How people use data varies very much, and if you’re dealing with different affiliates in different countries, you often have different legal standards relating to things like privacy and relevance. Litigation per se is a field where you really sense national and cultural differences very strongly. So to help my overseas colleagues understand these new legal discovery procedures in the U.S., I spend a fair amount of time reading cases and finding out how the new rules are actually being applied. You need to develop best practices based on what courts are saying and what similar companies are doing.
What outside firms do you use? I’m always on the lookout for a first-class, cost-effective outside firm. In the past, I’ve worked quite a bit with WilmerHale and also with McGuireWoods. But I’m always on the lookout for people who can do the best job for us.
To whom do you report? I have a superior in New York who is a German lawyer, someone I’ve worked with for a number of years. I consider him to be a trusted colleague. He’s based in New York and just a wonderful person to work with. He’s the president and CEO of Deutsche Telekom Inc. — Klaus-Peter Statz. Other than that, I stay in touch with the general counsel of our parent company based in Bonn, as well as his subdepartment heads. I really devote a lot of time and effort to maintaining personal relationships to the people I work with. It’s really important, given the distances and cultural differences. It’s easy to be forgotten from this distance.
What would you say are the best parts of the job? In addition to working with some really talented, collegial people, I particularly like the cross-cultural dimension of what I do. That gives an additional dimension to what otherwise would be a classic U.S. legal practice. The multijurisdictional, multinational nature of some of my work is also stimulating. It forces me to take a different perspective on legal problems. When you’re forced to do that, it can stimulate some creative thinking and give you a comparative perspective on the way we do things in this country, legally speaking. Also, I like the industry, although it’s one that’s been up and down, obviously. Telecommunications has been a tough industry over the last few years, but fortunately, this corporate group has endured those fluctuations pretty well, on the whole. I believe it’s on its way to prospering even more in the future. That said, the parent company is currently facing difficult challenges in the home market in Germany, namely some really significant competition and regulation. I also appreciate the company’s commitment to its people, something you see in its humane attitude to its employees.
Where would we find you when you’re not in the office? I love to take my sons cycling. We’re avid cyclists — even though one of them is still on training wheels. We also enjoy traveling and the outdoors. In the past, I was able to have the family come along on the occasional trip to Germany in the summer. Our older son was able to go over for several years for a week or two in the summer. Bonn is on the Rhine, so one of his memories is going down to the Rhine with me in the evening after I got back from work and throwing rocks in, trying to skip them.
Read any good books lately? I read three books to my younger son every night. And when I’m off on my own, I’m slowly working my way through Shelby Foote’s series on the Civil War. Each volume is roughly a thousand pages, and I’m approaching the midway point. I’m a Southerner, so reading Foote really takes me back to my roots.

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