Making it Rain—Practical Tips From Those Who Do: Tekedra Mawakana

Mawakana (WR)

 Tekedra N. Mawakana is the Global Head and Deputy General Counsel of Public Policy for Yahoo. She leads a team of regional public policy experts in the U.S., Latin America, Asia Pacific, Europe, Middle East, and Africa, as well as global subject matter experts for privacy, human rights, and free expression and intellectual property. In addition, she serves as Chair of the Internet Association, whose members include the most recognized global Internet brands.

Before Yahoo, Tekedra was the SVP and Deputy General Counsel of Public Policy at AOL Inc. where she managed the privacy, regulatory, accessibility, consumer policy, and child safety teams. Tekedra joined AOL from Startec Global Communications Company, where she worked on complex domestic and international transactions, including mergers and acquisitions, and established the global governance and compliance strategies for its network data.  She began her legal career in the telecommunications and intellectual property groups at Steptoe & Johnson LLP in Washington, D.C.

She received her J.D. from the Columbia University School of Law, and her B.A. magna cum laude from Trinity College.

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Note:  In her current position, Ms. Mawakana is responsible for selection and oversight of outside counsel (particularly concerning telecommunications, human rights, and other regulatory issues) and outside consultants for lobbying services on a host of issues related to the Internet.

  • I know some of our readers will want to know how and why you made the transition from Big Law to in-house. What drove you to make such a change?

I made the transition to in-house counsel relatively early in my career. I was in my third year and working with both the intellectual property and telecommunications groups. I knew if I stayed at the firm, I would need to focus on one field, but I enjoyed doing both. That was during the dot.com boom, and fortunately, I joined a start-up where I could leverage my background as well as gain added exposure to international M&A. My law firm experience proved to be an excellent backdrop for the interesting in-house challenges of a start-up.

  • What were some of the differences and challenges of being in-house counsel rather than in a law firm setting?

Initially, the biggest difference between the start-up and the law firm was the lack of internal legal resources. I had to learn the business quickly, as well as management of outside counsel. As a junior lawyer, developing management skills is critically important. Outside counsel partnered with me on many global legal issues during that time.

  • What is something you know now that you would recommend to “women rainmakers” seeking to be more appealing to inside counsel?

Good client management is essential and it means more than just being a good lawyer. She must understand the environment in which her client is operating. For example, the Internet sector is constantly changing. It’s a very different environment now than when I began my career. A valued outside counsel understands what keeps me up at night is well beyond pure legal issues. Consideration should also be given to brand, PR, and broader reputation issues. Also, it’s great when the relationship manager at the firm is able to serve as a consistent point of contact, even if other teams within the firm are managing an issue.

  • What do you think is the biggest challenge for “women rainmakers” to develop or establish relationships with in-house attorneys and what advice do you have for those seeking to develop or establish relationships with in-house counsel?

Several organizations focus on this issue today. Last year, I was co-chair of the inaugural conference “Women, Influence & Power in Law” in Washington, D.C. This is a great opportunity for senior in-house counsel to connect with women law firm partners, regulators, and government officials. After the first year, word spread about the value of the gathering and this year, I received requests from women partners to be included in the invitation-only sessions. Women rainmakers and those who want to become rainmakers should fan out and get involved in these types of efforts.

This next point may be tech-centric, but there are now so many more women in tech organizations. My advice to women lawyers is to join non-legal industry organizations to broaden your network and build relationships organically. I have found this to be a great way to meet various experts, including outside counsel.

  • What do you look for in outside counsel? If you have a preferred vendor list, can you choose to bring in a firm not on that list?

In outside counsel, I look for a strategic partner who can think through complex issues with an appreciation for the business factors at issue.

Although I have a preferred list, there are opportunities for others. A limited number of firms practice in this space and conflicts are fairly common. To be considered, a firm needs to have a strong reputation, deep expertise, and meaningful relationships with regulators and agencies. Typically, there is little time to help get them up to speed.

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  • What are “fatal mistakes” made by outside counsel?

I once sat through a presentation from a law firm that focused only on the technical legal issues. They seemed to lack an awareness of how their legal analysis intersected with brand concerns. We are in a highly contextual environment, and—to be useful—advice must be enlightened by that understanding.

In another instance, several years ago, I discontinued the use of a firm who was unable to provide the type of advice I needed:  practical and immediate. Their preference was to provide lengthy memos and this was not beneficial for my purpose. Culturally, it was not a fit.

  • Final thoughts or anything you would like to add?

It would be great to see women outside counsel in a given city come together to do a meet-and-greet for inside counsel. I would love to meet some of these women in a more informal setting. Who are the top women partners in DC, for instance? I know some of them certainly; it would be great to meet more.

When I was starting my career, my informal mentors were men. I’d love to meet other women who mentor the next generation of young lawyers.

About the Author

Interviewed by Andi Cullins.

 

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