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In 2014, as general counsel to the U.S. Department of Transportation, Katie Thomson shared a piece of advice she often gives to young lawyers: “What you do in your life is important but who you work with is equally important.”
Less than a year after leaving the Obama administration to join Morrison & Foerster, where she was chairwoman of the firm’s transportation group, Thomson is now moving on to join Amazon.com Inc.’s in-house team.
Thomson joined Amazon this month as a vice president and associate general counsel. Thomson had been a partner at Morrison & Foerster since September. It was a short-lived return to Big Law after a previous partnership at Sidley Austin.
Thomson was not immediately reached for comment on the move, which the logistics industry site DC Velocity earlier reported Thursday. The site reported that she will serve as the company’s lead attorney on global and domestic transportation and logistics issues. Thomson has updated her LinkedIn account to reflect the new role.
A representative from Amazon was not immediately reached for comment.
In a prepared statement, Morrison & Foerster partner Bill O’Connor, co-chairman of the firm’s airports and aviation group along with its drone practice, said: “We would like to thank Katie for her contributions to Morrison & Foerster and wish her well. Although we are sorry to see Katie go, we are committed to maintaining a strong transportation practice that supports our clients’ legal needs.”
Thomson’s return to Big Law last year came after spending almost the entirety of the Obama administration in the Transportation Department. She rose from counsel to the secretary to chief counsel of the Federal Aviation Administration. Thomson later served as the department’s general counsel.
During her tenure at the Transportation Department, Thomson helped craft regulations on driverless cars to unmanned aircraft—often known as “drones.” Her departure for Amazon comes as the Seattle-based technology giant looks to see drones take off as a delivery system for the many products it sells and ships. The company completed its first demonstration of a drone delivery in the United States last month. In December, Amazon made its first-ever drone delivery in the United Kingdom.
(Photo, left: Katie Thomson. Courtesy photo.)
Companies in the commercial drone space—including Amazon—are navigating a new regulatory and compliance regime that took effect last year. The FAA’s current scheme does not permit flights over people, at night or beyond the pilot’s line of sight—restrictions that can be waived on a case-by-case basis.
The drone industry has criticized the waiver process as overly cumbersome. And it has expressed concern that the Trump administration’s 2-for-1 regulatory rollback executive order could stall the development of desired new rules that would encourage more test flights and innovation.
One industry group, the Commercial Drone Alliance, said it supported the spirit of President Donald Trump’s executive order on regulations. But the group said it was concerned that any rollback of rules, or prevention of new regulations, would have “unintended negative consequences on the growth of our industry. New rules are necessary to remove existing regulatory barriers around commercial drone use.”
“As drafted, the [executive order] could actually damage the commercial drone industry’s ability to take off in the United States,” the group wrote in February to the Office of Management and Budget.