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Like a powerful amphibious vehicle, William Barr cruises through two disparate realms: the inner circle of political Washington, and the upper ranks of corporate New York. The ambitious, self-assured attorney has navigated both worlds with apparent ease. Ten years ago President Bush appointed Barr, then 41, to be attorney general. Last year telecommunications giant Verizon Communications named Barr executive vice president and general counsel. Barr has moved between the two cities all his life. Born in Manhattan and a graduate of Columbia University, he established a toehold inside the nation’s capital early on by attending George Washington University School of Law. After graduating in 1977, he spent much of the next 15 years working for government agencies and was appointed attorney general near the end of Bush’s term. During his brief tenure, the AG focused on the savings and loan cleanup, fighting crime and revising antitrust merger guidelines. Equally important, Barr says, is that he learned how to be a manager “overnight,” as the chief operating officer of the $13 billion, 100,000-person Justice Department. Barr leaned on those skills when he joined former Baby Bell GTE as senior vice president and general counsel in 1994. The local phone company merged with Bell Atlantic in 2000, and Barr emerged as executive vice president and general counsel of Verizon, the new entity. The telecom giant, with revenues of $65 billion last year, continues to expand its local phone, Internet, and wireless businesses as it pushes for regulatory approval to offer long-distance services in a handful of states. Clearing the legal and political obstacles to Verizon’s growth is a sprawling, complex task, but one that the burly, gregarious Barr relishes. His cadre of 500 regulatory specialists and 180 lawyers helps too. The GC is also well compensated for his efforts: Barr earned approximately $1.5 million in 2000. Corporate Counsel executive editor Rorie Sherman and staff reporter Catherine Aman caught up with Barr in June. A man who could have returned to the Republican Party’s inner circle, Barr told them he is content where he is. The stew of regulatory, political, legal, and economic issues in his job is an “intellectual feast,” he says, that is more satisfying than power politics inside the Beltway. Corporate Counsel: What is Verizon’s vision for the telecommunications industry? William Barr: We think that maintaining competition in this evolving new market is critical, precisely so you don’t have any one company emerge and control access to content, applications and telecommunications. But we think that the old rules that apply to the legacy marketplace are distorting competition and preventing competition from really developing the way it should. What we’re trying to do is ensure that government policies are technology-neutral — that all the different technologies are given the same opportunity to compete in this new marketplace. We want to make sure that the government doesn’t try to pick winners and losers and give advantages to cable over telephone, or satellite over cable, or wireless over anybody else. All these different technologies should be allowed to compete on an even playing field. Everyone wants broadband; broadband is necessary to uncork the bottle and allow a lot of things to develop that will ripple across the economy. What’s necessary to bring this about is substantial investment — tens of billions of dollars by many different companies. The current rules, particularly as they apply to telephone companies, basically say that if you make an investment, you don’t get the upside. LITIGATION LIST CC: Let’s talk about your litigation docket. What are the most important cases, the ones you are actively involved in? WB: I do some of the litigation in the regulatory arena, including challenges to FCC rules that implement the 1996 Telecommunications Act. We’ve had serious problems with virtually all of the FCC’s rules in this area, and we brought challenges, which are in varying stages. I’ve been personally involved in those cases. I’ve argued four cases in the circuit courts and one in the Supreme Court on those issues. There is another case scheduled for the Supreme Court in October, which I’m doing. CC: What are the key issues for Verizon in these cases? WB: The key questions for us are: What are the parts of our network that we have to make available to our competitors? How much of our network do we have to make available to them? And then, on what terms? Particularly, what are the pricing terms? The telecom act allowed competitors to come in and just use part of our network, and forced us to make it available to our competitors for their exclusive use. SENDING IT OUT CC: In 1996, shortly after you went to GTE, you were interviewed by The American Lawyer. You said you were looking at changing GTE’s philosophy, which was then to bring more work in-house. GTE had 125 lawyers at that time. Where do you now draw the line between what you keep in-house and what you farm out? WB: I believe in developing a strong in-house legal staff that’s as good as any law firm, given the nature of our business. So, I’m not one of those people to come in and say, let’s just farm out everything. Quite the contrary. We have built up, over the years, a staff of very able, senior lawyers. There are really no law firms on certain kinds of matters that can give us better service than our own lawyers in-house. Now, by the same token, when you’re told that you’re only going to have so many slots, the question really is what kind of lawyer do you want to bring into the company? It doesn’t make sense to use those slots for people who are going to be doing commodity work. I would rather invest in someone, and build his expertise around unique aspects of our business. CC: How much of your litigation work do you keep in-house? WB: Well, virtually all our commercial litigation is assigned to the outside, and the firms are given some latitude in handling those matters, with some supervision by in-house people. On the more important commercial claims, the team that’s handling it, including the outside counsel, would usually also include a senior person from inside the company who would participate in the case and would be expected to play a role, not just shuffle paper. What we try to do on the most important cases is structure a virtual law firm around the matter. This applies to most significant regulatory cases and most significant commercial cases as well. So we might bring in a lead firm. We might include lawyers from other firms, if we feel they could add to the case. We would have people from inside who are knowledgeable, and we would put a team together to handle a case. Sometimes that makes it more difficult for outside firms to work with us. Some firms are very used to just being given a case and running with it. That’s generally not how we handle important regulatory cases or commercial cases. RELATIONSHIP-BASED MANAGEMENT CC: What firms are your primary outside counsel, and how did you consolidate what must have been a very long list of outside counsel after the merger? WB: We have a blend of firms that have track records with GTE and Bell Atlantic. So, for example, on the GTE side, we have used O’Melveny & Myers; Kirkland & Ellis; Howrey Simon; Wiley, Rein & Fielding. Then, from the Bell Atlantic side, we use firms like Skadden Arps. Another important telecommunications firm we use is Kellogg Huber in Washington. But we don’t really hire firms so much as individuals. CC: While we’re talking about firms and mergers, you have 180 lawyers. How many of them come from each side of the marriage? In other words, how many people did you have to lay off? WB: When we went into the merger in 1998, there was a two-year period of waiting. I had already started bringing down the GTE level, so, while my authorized strength at GTE was in the 120s, I was in the 80s by the time the merger [went through]. The same thing was happening over on the Bell Atlantic side. They were below their authorized strength by the time we actually effectuated the merger. When we got our targets, fortunately there had already been a lot of attrition, and there didn’t have to be too many new terminations. CC: Do these lawyers sit together or do they sit with their business colleagues as part of their business unit? WB: My direct reports sit with their business colleagues, but their subordinates sit together in the legal staff. CC: So the legal staff looks more like a law firm than part of the business units? WB: Correct, yep. MANAGING THE TROOPS CC: Lawyers obviously are not trained to be managers. But general counsel at big companies have an incredible management job. You have almost 700 people working for you. Tell us about your management philosophy. WB: To me, the big transition was in government. I was head of the office of legal counsel, which is sort of the egghead lawyer’s lawyer’s office, and all of a sudden I became deputy attorney general, where you are actually the chief operating officer of [what was], at that time, a $13 billion, 100,000-person agency. That’s where I learned overnight how to be a manager. My view is that there are two kinds of supervisors or managers: the people who allow the organization to run them and the people who run the organization. What is important is that the person at the top clearly identify what the overarching priorities are and devote his energy to making sure that progress is being made on those key things. So, my philosophy is: Delegate as much as possible. Don’t interfere with people. Let subordinates run their show. Make it clear to them you don’t want to be surprised by things and that they should use their judgment as to what to keep you informed about. And, basically, let them run. And meanwhile, try to ensure that the chairman and the CEO are getting the support they need as they grapple with some of the bigger issues. Serve as their adviser, [their] sounding board on those things, but also, as far as legal and regulatory issues, make sure that we, as a company, are setting the agenda. If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. CC: So, life in-house is good? WB: I love it. It is so hackneyed to see all these people profess how much they love their jobs so I’m reluctant to actually say this: But I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing than this. The information technology revolution is spinning off a host of interesting legal problems. Many of the biggest issues are ones where there’s not much guidance in the law, so you’re really making new law. The issues are ones that I personally enjoy: regulatory, antitrust, and, in the cases involving constitutional issues, property rights. So it’s an intellectual feast in terms of the substance. In terms of the life, you are able to help build a law firm without many of the impediments that law firms face. You have a regular stream of business, and you don’t have to deal with the egalitarian, egocentric structure [of law firms]. You can basically combine for the common good. CC: I have to ask. Were you offered something in the new administration? WB: There were no formal discussions about anything. CC: Fair enough. And you’re not tempted? WB: To be very frank, I’ve seen and done what I wanted to see and do in the executive branch. I have no interest at this stage of my career in the judicial branch. The opportunity to help others realize their ambitions of moving into government, the opportunity to pick up the phone and talk to policy makers, to kibitz — without worrying about what the newspaper is going to say the next day about you — is a great luxury. We obviously get involved in the political process, and I’m frequently asked to go and testify by people on the Hill and by people in the administration. So, for me, I have the best of all worlds.

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