Around the World with Google’s Top Lawyer

Candice Shih
October 26, 2014

What’s it like to be the top lawyer at Google?

A lot of travel, diplomacy, and quick thinking.

David Drummond, Chief Legal Officer and Vice President of Corporate Development at Google, gave an interview with Hanson Bridgett’s Mert Howard at the keynote session of the DRI Annual Meeting in San Francisco last week.

Although he was inspired by shows such as “Perry Mason” growing up, the Stanford Law School graduate became a corporate attorney and focused on assisting startups in Silicon Valley. It’s his signature that is on the document incorporating Google in 1988.

The company has since grown from a search engine to a designer of digital wearables and driverless cars, a venture capital investor, and a champion of free speech and access to the Internet.

Unsurprisingly, innovation leads to legal challenges that span far and wide. At home in the United States, having recently received favorable decisions on the issue of fair use in copyright law, Google is focused on dealing with the high volume of patent litigation. Drummond expressed frustration with the “extortion racket” created by patent holders and said Google will take cases to trial on principle.

He also suggested the patent bargain isn’t working with software patents as software innovators don’t need the incentive that a patent monopoly provides.

Privacy is also a big concern for Google, particularly since the Edward Snowden affair, and Drummond has communicated with legislators about rolling back aspects of the Patriot Act.

But when Drummond crosses an ocean to meet with lawmakers, it’s usually the Atlantic Ocean. He frequently travels to Europe, where he perceives a concern that American technology companies are becoming too big and too powerful.

The European Court of Justice, in fact, pushed back against Google earlier this year, requiring it to remove certain links under its privacy law known as the right to be forgotten. Drummond is going back to Europe soon for a “listening tour” to determine how exactly to implement Europe’s data privacy laws.

Drummond also regularly crosses the Pacific Ocean to China, where Google has also been met with caution. Google doesn’t provide search services, given the censorship laws, but still maintains a business there.

The free flow of information, Drummond said, is “not only a human right, but key to economic growth.”

It’s also Drummond’s personal goal to make information publicly accessible. Drummond is on the board of Rocket Lawyer, which provides basic do-it-yourself legal services and connects clients with attorneys. But he said the need for lawyers and their judgment won’t go away.

“Sadly, we haven’t created the machine that can impersonate a lawyer,” Drummond joked.