Natalie Naugle and Nikki Stitt Sokol Expand Facebook’s Legal Friend Group

Natalie Naugle and Nikki Stitt Sokol are working to ensure that the diversity of the company’s legal department and the outside counsel it works with is in line with that of its massive user community

Natalie Naugle (right) and Nikki Stitt Sokol, Facebook’s associate general counsels for its general litigation team in the US and Canada, are pushing to further diversify Facebook's legal team, both in-house and externally. Photo by Christophe Wu/Facebook

Facebook recently announced that 2.5 billion people use the social network or one of its products, including Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Oculus. To put that into perspective, the company’s user base is almost one-third of the entire planet’s population. Such reach naturally enriches the social media behemoth with a substantial amount of innate diversity, at least among its users, but Natalie Naugle and Nikki Stitt Sokol are taking it several steps further.

Natalie Naugle Facebook
Natalie Naugle, Facebook Photo by Christophe Wu/Facebook

As Facebook’s associate general counsels for its general litigation team in the US and Canada, Naugle and Sokol are using their positions of power to help push the company’s legal department—and the law firms they work with—to be every bit as diverse as its colossal user community.

“Facebook is very much a mission-driven company, and that mission has evolved since I’ve been here, from giving people the power to connect to giving people the power to build communities to bring the world closer together,” Naugle says. “We serve over 2.5 billion people all around the world. These are people from all cultures, countries, and life experiences. These obviously can be very different from what I might experience as a white woman living in San Francisco or Menlo Park. Since we have this incredibly diverse user base, we’re going to have to have diverse teams if we’re going to best serve that user base.”

“We fundamentally believe that diverse teams make better decisions,” Sokol adds. “Also, when we’re dealing with complex legal issues, we want the people representing us to truly be a reflection of our values and who we are as a company and a community. It’s good business sense on a number of levels.”

Since Facebook sports a lean litigation team, relative to the global scope of its endeavors, it’s often necessary for it to rely on the support of outside counsel. “When you’re dealing with massive class-action litigation, you really need a big team to help run the litigation,” Sokol says. “There are some small matters we can handle internally, but on the litigation side, the majority of our work goes to outside counsel.”

In choosing the firms that assist with cases, Sokol and Naugle tend toward those that embody an authentic level of diversity at all levels. “For a while, we had an informal policy of hiring firms that were notably diverse, but early last year we made this a formal and explicit policy,” Sokol says. “In general, we’ve made it clear that we’re looking for teams where people at the senior level are diverse and where women and underrepresented minorities will have real, substantive opportunities to work on our cases. It’s one of the most critical factors in choosing a firm to be our outside counsel.”

“On the formal front, we have billing guidelines that require that any particular team consist of 33 percent women or underrepresented minorities,” Naugle adds. “When a new case comes in, we’ll generally go out and ask three or four firms to pitch the case.”

Naugle and Sokol’s team surveys the various firms with the same set of questions, one of which specifically addresses the makeup of the outside team that would be working on the case. “Quite frankly, firms that we know have a greater amount of diversity are much more likely to be on our radar to begin with,” Naugle says. “And we don’t just focus on statistics on a piece of paper. We want to see actual diversity in the room when the firm is pitching the case—we want to know who the specific people of color, women, or underrepresented minorities are and understand what their roles will be in the cases.”

Nikki Stitt Sokol Facebook
Nikki Stitt Sokol, Facebook Photo by Christophe Wu/Facebook

Sokol and Facebook’s legal department have also created a program called Reconnect, which aims to help lawyers who have paused their careers for significant periods of time for personal reasons. “Women disproportionately leave positions at law firms once they have children, so there are all of these brilliant attorneys out there who have so much talent, amazing experience, and stellar credentials, and yet they have this gap in their résumé,” Sokol says. “We wanted to create an on-ramp for people with a career pause to relaunch their careers. We now have a third lawyer joining us on a permanent basis who came to us through the Reconnect program.”

Such efforts to establish true diversity haven’t been without challenges, however. “One of our biggest struggles has been that our outside counsel can only be as diverse as the law firms are themselves, especially when we’re talking about lawyers at the most senior levels,” Naugle says. “Even if law firms are trying to get better, women, women of color, men of color, and other minorities are way underrepresented at senior levels. That’s why policies with understandable requirements and numbers—with no squishiness to them—are so important.”

Ultimately, Sokol and Naugle say, focusing on making the Facebook legal department and the outside counsel who represent the company as diverse as possible enhances Facebook’s primary mission of connecting communities. “Large-scale social media offers a space to folks who previously might not have had anywhere to go to voice their concerns,” Naugle says. “It gives people who didn’t historically have a voice the ability to express themselves, share ideas, and come together to effect change. Giving people the ability to connect and share is really giving a sort of power to diversity that, up until now, just didn’t exist.”

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Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP:

“Natalie and Nikki make everything they touch better. Their commitment to diversity is real and they are making a difference. I so admire that and feel grateful to know and work with them.”

—Rosemarie Ring, Partner, Litigation

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Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP:

“It’s a pleasure working with Nikki and Natalie. Fiercely committed to the client, attentive to new developments affecting our matters, and unfailingly professional, they’re the next wave of inspiring women leaders in the profession and the industry.”

Kristin Linsley, Partner, Litigation

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Mayer Brown:

“Nikki and Natalie are both extraordinarily talented lawyers, strategic thinkers, and strong leaders. It is a privilege to work with them.”

—Lauren Goldman, Partner