The Washington Post’s small but strong legal team last year successfully handled legal challenges from executing licensing deals to bringing an imprisoned journalist home.
The paper’s four-lawyer in-house legal team works on everything from pre-publication review to labor negotiations with six different unions.
Since Amazon.com Inc. CEO Jeff Bezos bought the newspaper in 2013, the paper has changed as Bezos lasered in on technological innovation. That has meant that the legal team has learned some new tricks, general counsel Jay Kennedy says.
“It keeps our team’s work fresh and interesting, and provides a lot of opportunities for us to learn and experience new things,” Kennedy says.
The Washington Post rolled out its own publishing system, Arc, in 2015, to improve digital production and management. Licensing negotiations over Arc put the legal team in a new situation. Previously, the team had only worked on the customer side of deals, negotiating for licenses with vendors.
The team’s main client is, of course, the newsroom. The lawyers help reporters with legal questions, like how to unseal court documents.
When two reporters became aware of an apparently large amount of documents filed under seal in a case against then-candidate Donald Trump over Trump University, The Post filed a motion to unseal the records, aided by outside counsel Davis Wright Tremaine.
In requesting documents, the legal team was strategic, focusing on those filed in connection with a motion to certify the class in the case.
Journalists then combed through more than 1,000 pages of records to deliver stories on Trump’s involvement with the program’s controversial marketing strategy.
The Post’s legal team also protects its journalists from libel suits, of which The Post has not lost one to date (at press time in July.) Deputy general counsel Jim McLaughlin says that’s a testament to the lawyers and the journalists whose “reporting just holds up.”
In 2014, when a member of that newsroom, Tehran bureau chief Jason Rezaian, was imprisoned by Iranian authorities, The Post’s legal team embarked on the journey to get him home.
With help from outside counsel Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, the team tried approaches that included filing a petition with the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Finally, in January 2016, Rezaian was released with other detainees in a deal between the U.S. and Iranian governments. It was the longest-ever detention of a Western journalist in Iran.
“The Post responded the way anyone would want their employer to respond in that situation,” says McLaughlin. “Nothing was left undone that might help bring Jason home.”
Name of company: The Washington Post
Headquarters: Washington, D.C.
No. of lawyers in the D.C. area: 4
No. of lawyers in the U.S.: 4
No. of lawyers worldwide: 4
General counsel: Jay Kennedy
KEYS TO SUCCESS
â–ºAppropriately calibrating the risk and opportunity associated with a particular project is critical.
â–ºWith a wide range of questions and requests, it’s important to make well-reasoned judgment calls in a timely way for clients.
â–ºFully understand the objectives of your internal clients to help them implement their strategies and achieve their goals. — Jay Kennedy