How I got here

How I got here: Julia Popowitz, attorney and investor

March 26, 2024
Melody Chen

Table of Contents

Julia Popowitz joined Facebook (now Meta; NASDAQ: META) as their second in-house attorney. She led the commercial transactions team from June 2006 until April 2011 as Deputy General Counsel, Commercial and International. She negotiated numerous deals strategic to Facebook's growth and development, including with Microsoft, Spotify, ABC/Disney, CNN, and YouTube, and oversaw Facebook's legal work related to its international expansion and operations. Julia is an advisor to startups and an active technology angel investor in startups, including Streamline AI.

You were the second attorney ever on Facebook’s legal team and led the commercial transactions team from 2006 to 2011. How did you end up at Facebook? Did you have a sense of how Facebook would completely change the world?

It was luck, good timing, and serendipity. In 2002, I left a corporate law firm because I felt like the big law firm life was no longer for me. I started my own small legal practice and grew that for about four years as a solo practitioner doing primarily corporate work for startups, simple things like incorporation work through early fundraising. Once a startup raised venture money, they often transitioned to a larger law firm for their corporate work, but I would continue taking care of their commercial transaction needs.

I found that I really loved doing the commercial transaction work more than the corporate formation and venture funding work. Putting deals together to help my client grow and achieve their business objectives was interesting and fun, and it enabled me to work with later stage companies.

Fast forward to early 2006, I ran into a former law school classmate who had recently joined Facebook. He mentioned that the newly hired General Counsel needed help with commercial transactions and asked if I would be interested. This was early days — Facebook had maybe 40 or so employees at the time. I wasn't even a Facebook user yet since only college students were really using it, but I was an active user of Friendster, and I had been doing legal work for Tribe Networks, another early social networking site. 

After a couple of months of doing outside legal work for Facebook’s business development and sales teams, I was given the opportunity to join full-time, which I had the good judgment to accept. So, yes, luck, good timing, and serendipity — that is how I ended up at Facebook in 2006. And of course, being willing to take a risk and being open to the opportunity.

What was it like working on Facebook's legal team during the company's early days?

The culture was intense and amazing — I loved the fast-paced, hardworking, cutting-edge atmosphere. It was fun to put deals together for the nascent social networking space and to bring Facebook's social graph to long-standing media and technology companies, such as Microsoft, Disney, and CNN. At the time, it was completely novel to read an article on CNN or watch a clip on Disney, and to see who else of your friends had read the same article or viewed the same clip. 

I'm not sure which metaphor would be more apt: drinking from a fire hose, playing whack-a-mole, or putting out daily five-alarm fires. It was very exciting but also stressful. So much of what we were doing was new and we often didn't have precedent to work from. 

For example, when we launched video on the Facebook platform, there were big legal questions of whether we should actively patrol the posted videos to ensure that copyright-violating content was not put up on the site. The concern was that if there was any patrolling from our end, that would take us out of the safe harbor provision of the DMCA. After consulting with outside counsel and many internal conversations with various stakeholders, we decided that we would do some light patrolling and use some of the available technology tools to catch the most egregious copyright violations even if they hadn’t yet been reported under the DMCA. For us, it was important to try to be good actors and minimize violating content. 

​​How did you go about building and leading your legal team in such a dynamic and fast-growing environment?

During my five years at Facebook, the legal team grew from two lawyers to over 100, and my team, which was commercial transactions and international, grew from just me to ten lawyers and additional paralegal staff. 

Hiring was super important and I did my best to bring on smart and experienced attorneys and paralegals. Because we were small and nimble we were able to hire fast, and in the few situations when people did not work out, we were able to fire fast as well. 

I tried to hire strong team players. For the commercial transaction team, I was especially looking for business-minded, solutions-oriented individuals. We needed to be service-oriented towards our internal clients and to balance the need to protect the company as legal stewards with the importance of closing deals that would drive the company's progress and growth.

As you were hiring and growing your team, were there specific traits or characteristics that made you think, "This person is destined to be a superstar?"

I wanted to hire people who were collaborative and business-minded, as well as positive and optimistic. My goal for my team and myself, as we worked with our internal clients, was to start with yes rather than no and to figure out how to make things happen in a way that still minimizes risk for the company. 

Being positive and optimistic is especially helpful on the commercial side. Everyone has the same goal of getting the deal done and creating a long-term positive relationship between the companies. 

You’re now an active angel investor in tech startups. What trends in technology are you most excited about, and why?

I’ve been doing angel investing for more than 13 years now and have made many investments in various sectors of tech. Like most investors, I’m currently most excited about the AI space, which is driving so much innovation. I am particularly excited about how smaller and focused AI models can help drive innovation and efficiency in specific vertical industries. 

With that as my general thesis, I have recently started looking at companies in the legal tech space, particularly those that are utilizing AI. With AI tailwinds pushing it along, I believe that legal tech is ripe for disruption. Given my goal of pursuing investments in the legal tech space, I am excited to have invested in Streamline AI. I believe Streamline serves as an invaluable resource for in-house lawyers, enabling them to better support their internal clients and collaborate more effectively.

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