Ted Ullyot, '94, General Counsel of Facebook, Visits the Law School

Working in Facebook’s legal department is interesting and fun, even when you’re a relatively “old guy” – at least by company standards – of 45 years. Being civil is one of the most important qualities for a lawyer. And no, posting some mumbo jumbo about copyright as your Facebook status will not exempt you from the site’s terms of use.

Ted Ullyot, ’94, Vice President and General Counsel of Facebook, shared that advice and other wisdom from his 18-year career with students at a lunchtime talk on Monday, Nov. 26.

Ullyot offered a humorous and candid description of his legal career, which is as varied as it is enviable. He began his career as a law clerk, first for Judge J. Michael Luttig of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and then for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. He held several jobs in the federal government, including Deputy Assistant to President George W. Bush and Chief of Staff in the Department of Justice. He was Senior Vice President and General Counsel for AOL/Time Warner in Europe, and Executive Vice President and General Counsel of ESL Investments Inc., a private investment firm. He was a litigation partner in the Washington office of Kirkland and Ellis.

He spoke highly of his Chicago Law education, even as he joked about the nightmare of being cold-called by then-Dean Geoffrey Stone in Evidence during the height of 2L interviewing season – and not having an answer.

“Everywhere I go, there are U of C Law School people,” Ullyot told the students. “As you look around the room, you will run into these people again and again.”

That’s why it’s so important to build bonds with your peers while you’re at the Law School, he told them. Remember to be kind and helpful to your peers, not just the partners at your summer firm or other higher-ups. He and other “proud alumni” are always happy to see a Chicago Law resume, because it almost always means that the candidate has a thorough knowledge of the law, he added. 

Ullyot offered an insider’s view of Facebook, where he’s worked for four years. He is one of the longest serving people in the company of 4,500, which had just 600 employees when he started. Back then, the site had 100 million monthly active users. Now, that number is 1 billion. He talked about the many areas for which he and his legal team of 65 (including three other Chicago Law alumni) are responsible: corporate governance, securities law, real estate and data center deals, litigation, privacy advice, intellectual property, employment law, and international restrictions on speech, just to name a few. Basically, “any issue you can imagine, we probably deal with it,” he said.

“We’re ultimately responsible for identifying the issues, which is neat, because there’s no playbook for that,” Ullyot added. Oftentimes, this means assessing how 40- or 50-year-old statutes apply – or don’t – to new technologies. The legal team also has to deal with lawsuits, which range from the colorful, such as a New York man who claims to own 50 percent of the company and was recently arrested by federal authorities for fraud, to the ominous, such as a Pakistani prosecutor suing CEO Mark Zuckerberg for blasphemy because of a page in Sweden depicting the Prophet Muhammad. Blasphemy in Pakistan is punishable by death, so that’s no small threat; Ullyot has recommended that Zuckerberg stay out of that country until the controversy dissipates.

“You have to have a thick skin and a good sense of humor to work at Facebook,” he said.

Ullyot also offered general career advice. He reminded the students to be patient as they develop in their careers, always willing to pay their dues and not to expect overnight success. He told them to be a good colleague to everyone they work with, even picking up another employee’s slack when needed. He encouraged them to follow their guts and good judgment to “be bold” at times, whether that means taking a job across the country (as he did, moving his family of five from Washington to California), or a pay cut, or a totally different career path.

Aarti Iyer, a 2L, called the talk “amazing” and said she planned to post a status afterward about it, because it was “something that mixes this thing we’re learning with real stuff you encounter every day.” Right now, she’s taking copyright law. She also co-founded the Law and Technology Society, a student group.

Iyer asked Ullyot whether Facebook will send out any messaging about the recent copyright-status meme, because so many people are posting it based on mistaken premises, both about what rights Facebook claims and about the effectiveness of such posts. Ullyot said such inaccurate memes appear from time to time, and the company typically posts responses in the site’s Help Center. (For her part, Iyer said she’s gone on a “mini crusade” to inform her friends who aren’t law students.) 

And speaking of Facebook friends, Ullyot has a new one: Dean Michael Schill.

During the introduction, Schill acknowledged that he’s not the most frequent Facebook user, but logged on in advance of the talk to look up Ullyot’s page.

“I know enough about Facebook that I sent him a request to be his friend, and I have to say I’m very hopeful,” Schill deadpanned, drawing laughter from the crowd.

And if the busy dean had checked his page in the last few hours, he’d have known: Ullyot immediately accepted the request.