Comcast’s reach is extraordinary, crossing countless borders and jurisdictions with products and services that include cable television, broadband Internet, voiceover IP telephone services (VoIP), radio and television broadcasting, movies, sports franchises, and theme parks. It also faces a dizzying array of statutes and regulatory requirements.
So how does Comcast manage such a complex web of rules and regulations? In part, with the dedicated counsel of Lynn Charytan, as well as her staff of nineteen. If there are cable-related proceedings in any jurisdiction (including the Federal Communications Commission, the Department of Justice, the states, or related appeals in the District of Columbia Circuit Court), investigations, complaints, or major transactions with a regulatory component, they’re likely to be on her desk.
Partnership with the Business
Charytan also advises Comcast’s business and product teams in the development of new products and services. Rather than stepping in at the end of the process to make sure all guidelines and internal policies have been followed, she partners with teams in the early stages to make appropriate adjustments along the way.
“The critique of in-house lawyers is often that they just say ‘no’ a lot, but my career has always been about learning all aspects of the business and being an involved partner, so I can offer more than just legal advice,” Charytan says.
She adds that Comcast supports her approach by fostering an environment that values input from its legal teams. “It’s part of the culture that we’re in the loop and involved from the outset of the projects we work on,” she says.
The extraordinary pace of evolving technologies creates unique business and legal challenges. For example, Charytan says that providing customers with services over the Internet often comes under the jurisdiction of laws that are out of date with the current technology. They may also implicate rules covering a range of different services as technologies increasingly converge. As a result, she has used a hybrid approach that often brings together a broad range of legal resources, including business and privacy lawyers outside her department. This ensures that the company has a comprehensive and coordinated approach to understanding and complying with such a broad array of laws and regulations.
“With so many technologies and business models coming together, you have to have a broad overview with much greater breadth and flexibility than you needed twenty years ago,” she says. “For effective problem-solving for a company with a profile like Comcast’s, in-house counsel must be able to see beyond legal ramifications and consider the regulatory, policy, and political backdrop. You have to be able to see around corners to anticipate things like the ‘headline test’ and reputational issues.”
The Path inside
Early in her career as in-house counsel at the Washington Post, Charytan found it invigorating to be involved with all the facets of the organization. She carried that holistic perspective with her to WilmerHale, where she became a partner. She ultimately served as the chair of the firm’s communications, privacy, and Internet law practice group and advised clients from virtually every sector of the communications industry.
When Charytan moved to Comcast, she says her current position didn’t actually exist. After handling a high-profile dispute with another company that made headlines within her first few weeks, she established relationships with a broad business network throughout the company and gradually expanded her role and responsibilities. “At Comcast, how you do your job—and what you actually do just because it needs to be done—is much more important than your title or formal job description,” Charytan says. “I was authentically interested in the business, the issues, and helping to solve problems, so I jumped in and my job evolved very organically.”
Major Challenges and Successes
Shortly after she began working at Comcast in late 2010, the company was finalizing negotiations for its acquisition of a majority stake in NBCUni-
versal from GE. Having worked on a major compliance effort in connection with a merger with national security implications at WilmerHale and many telephone company mergers, Charytan reached out to David L. Cohen, Comcast Corporation’s executive vice president. She proposed developing a compliance framework for meeting the conditions the government was imposing on the $30 billion deal. Cohen’s answer: Great idea. Create that framework.
Not only was the deal itself tremendously complex, so were the accompanying conditions. The FCC order alone contained more than 150 conditions, including subparts. Some were applicable on the first day the agreement took effect, with others coming due in thirty-day cycles.
In a very short timeframe, Charytan developed and implemented nationwide training sessions for the lead company executives, hired two lawyers and a paralegal to help her oversee the deal conditions, and developed an outside and inside counsel team, including her colleagues at NBCUniversal. This allowed the two companies to collaborate on interpreting the extensive requirements, advise on their application in various circumstances, and keep a database to track decisions that could be plumbed at a later date as needed.
“The requirements of that deal were unprecedented in their scope and detail,” Charytan says. “We’re proud that we complied with all of them and were able to educate everyone across the company to be sensitive to the rules of the road.”
Charytan plays a pivotal role in Comcast’s pending acquisition of Time Warner, an approximately $45 billion deal that requires FCC and DOJ approval along with numerous state and local franchise level approval processes and extensive outside legal support. To monitor and coordinate so many different moving parts, Charytan and her team have put together a resource database that is available to everyone involved in the deal. It includes responses and presentations on a range of core issues, including those that opponents have raised as well as anticipated issues that might be raised in the future. The database is updated as information is developed and arguments are refined, or as new issues arise.
Charytan explains, “This is a very proactive way for us to develop and maintain consistent responses and messaging across a variety of independent but related legal proceedings with different teams of counsel in different jurisdictions. It also enables communications, policy, government affairs, and investor relations teams to stay coordinated and informed.”
The Key to Success
With all her accomplishments, Charytan is modest when asked to explain her success: “Businesses need lawyers who are really listening and thinking about their problems,” she says. “What I try to do is help the company and my colleagues move forward with great ideas in an incredibly complex industry. If I don’t do my job, they won’t be able to do theirs.”