Netflix headquarters. (Photo: Jason Doiy/ The Recorder)

What do you do when you’re in need of attorneys with specific skills but can’t find enough of them? If you’re Netflix, you create the Production Legal Lab, an entry-level development program that helps lawyers cultivate those skills and then provides them with hands-on experience at the company.

In a LinkedIn post, Neil Ollivierra, director of business and legal affairs at Netflix, talked about the process of devising the Production Legal Lab. It was, from his telling, no easy task. “From a hiring standpoint, it’s almost impossible to find attorneys with experience and skills that precisely correspond to the job in question,” he wrote. ”This is especially true for production legal work, wherein the attorneys preside over the sensitive and often complex engagement of services and procurement of rights from creative professionals such as actors, writers, directors and producers.”

Ollivierra cited fierce competition, diverse corporate cultures, and “the associated fast pace, high stakes, confidentialities and risks” of episodic series and feature film production as obstacles to entry-level positions. “There’s more work to be done,” he summarized, “than there are qualified people to do it.” So where to begin?

Ollivierra said the first step entailed “a deep dive into how feature length and episodic productions evolve at Netflix,” in order to lay the foundation of the program. As that deep dive coincided with his hiring at the company, he hit the ground running.

“There were many times I encountered an internal business or legal policy, procedure or principle and thought to myself: ‘that’s wrong, that’s crazy, you just can’t do that,’” he said. ”On a good day, I’d succeed in holding my tongue, reserving my judgment, and leaving my preconceived notions of the production process at the door. On a bad day, I’d test the patience and goodwill of my colleagues.”

Ultimately, Ollivierra discovered several things that helped him to understand the workings at Netflix. For one, the business of Subscription Video on Demand is relatively new and requires innovation and collaboration, particularly for the scale at which Netflix is operating. “The overarching lesson I learned in my first few weeks at Netflix was that outsiders and new employees can’t possibly intuit the reasoning behind everything that this company does; this understanding and acclimation requires the application of curiosity, communication, tenacity and time,” he wrote.

That level of collaboration, however, made it difficult for Ollivierra to find out who was responsible for what at every level of development and production. Netflix, he said, is “a highly innovative, collaborative and meeting-intensive work environment that values people over process and constantly pivots to improve.” In the end, over 90 professionals at the company agreed to become instructors for the Lab.

Then Netflix hired five attorneys for the program, all of whom had logged three to six years of work at large firms or well-regarded boutiques. Ollivierra said this “class” has completed its formal training and is now rotating through various teams at the company to apply what they’ve learned and increase their knowledge bases through hands-on experience. The Lab is undergoing enhancements and improvements to prepare for the next round of attorneys.