Discovery Communications Inc. is a media company offering nonfiction cable TV programming, like that on its flagship Discovery Channel. Its legal department takes diversity and quality of life seriously. General counsel Bruce Campbell leads a group of about 40 attorneys and 20 staff members. Among the attorneys, "well over half of them are women," Campbell said, including more than two-thirds of the senior legal team.
Although he didn’t have exact numbers for minority attorneys, Campbell said, "we do very well," including among the senior ranks. "Certainly, when it comes to women at Discovery, there are a number of initiatives that fall [within] our emphasis on working mothers," Campbell said. "We have a fantastic day-care facility on campus" in Silver Spring, Md.
The human resources department puts extra emphasis on attracting and retaining female and minority attorneys, Campbell said. It monitors the diversity of other companies’ legal departments to ensure that it remains a cut above the rest. Additionally, the company maintains a full-service health facility available to employees and their families.
Discovery’s legal team participates in the Street Law program at Springbrook High School, a predominantly minority campus in Silver Spring. About 10 members of the legal department teach the students sessions about the law, to better inform them about their rights and the legal profession. Once each semester, the students visit Discovery headquarters for a celebration. Sumeet Seam, a vice president and chief U.S. corporate counsel, oversees the Discovery component of the Street Law program.
"We try to familiarize them with a profession that they may not know," Seam said. "We want to open their minds to a potential career path they may not have considered before." That not only includes becoming a lawyer, but also becoming paralegals and legal assistants.
Discovery considers minority recruitment especially important because minorities remain underrepresented in the legal profession, Seam said. "I really think that what brought us to Street Law and Springbrook was our commitment to the area and our relationship with the county and the state," he said. "The fact that we’re doing this program locally is a benefit to everyone."
Seam has been with Discovery for 10 years, including six in his current role. Earlier, he was an associate at a large law firm. "In comparison to working at a law firm, I certainly have enjoyed it much more here," he said. "At a firm you don’t have a choice as to who you represent and the type of work you do."
Seam finds the work itself diverse, too, and said that it keeps him energized. "I do a lot of legal guidance work for our websites and digital media team," he said. "I work with the traditional media team, both domestically as well as throughout the world. For me, it’s the fact that I get to work with many facets of the business. That has kept me really engaged over the years."
Discovery rewards hard work by its attorneys, Campbell said, which in turn helps the company retain talent. "Through really strong performance, Sumeet has worked his way up to a more senior role," Campbell said. "We try our very best to keep talent in the department. Because we’re a global company, we open up a lot of opportunities for lawyers. They might start in one region but move to other regions."
The department tries to keep abreast of other best practices, too. It has hired a director of legal business operations to explore alternatives to the billable hour, Campbell said. "We do have some alternative billing arrangements, including fixed-fee arrangements and retainer deals.…This is an area we are going to focus on in the coming years."
He added: "I think like most public companies, every day brings new issues and new opportunities." — Matthew Huisman
|Discovery Communications Inc., a publicly held media company that produces nonfiction cable TV programming|
|Headquarters:||Silver Spring, Md.|
|Number of lawyers in the Washington area:||15|
|Number of lawyers in the U.S.:||20|
|Number of lawyers worldwide:||40|
|General counsel:||Bruce Campbell|
|KEYS TO SUCCESS|
"Our employees are able to take advantage of the same flexible working arrangements that the company make s available to its employees. One of the nice things as a media company is the technology we make available to our employees. It allows them greater flexibility to work from home or when they’re on the road."
"Certainly, when it comes to women at Discovery, there are a number of initiatives that fall [within] our emphasis on working mothers.…We have a fantastic day-care facility on campus."
"I have an unusual role. I came here as the head of corporate development. I still have the title of president of corporate development. I am able to bring the business perspective but at the same time help negotiate them from a legal perspective." "Because technology is changing so quickly in how programming is delivered, you can’t be a successful lawyer in this business without understanding the overall challenges in the media landscape."
— General counsel Bruce Campbell