From Rural Africa to Google’s Legal Team

Rosie Lipscomb’s experiences abroad helped prepare her for a career in negotiating high-stakes legal matters for the tech giant

At the age of twenty-two, Rosie Lipscomb went on a soul-stirring journey as a Peace Corps volunteer in Tanzania.

She spent the first six months learning to speak Swahili in Arusha, then she moved to her post in the quaint village of Maswa—twenty kilometers west of the Serengeti—to teach chemistry at an all-girls government boarding school. (She had earned her bachelor’s degree in the subject at Princeton University.)

Lipscomb lived in a house on campus that lacked running water, electricity, and basic sewage facilities. She was not prepared for the tough living conditions, but instead of being discouraged, she embraced the challenges, and they helped turn her into the indomitable negotiator she is today as senior competition counsel at Google.

Rosie Lipscomb, Google Photo by Weinberg-Clark Photography

“To survive in that environment, I learned the local language, got to know my neighbors, and tried to build genuine relationships with those around me,” Lipscomb says. “It really shaped who I am and taught me how to understand different cultures and people who grew up differently. No matter how diverse people’s backgrounds are, there’s always space to find common ground.”

She returned to the US to teach physics in her home town of Laredo, Texas, and then earned her master’s degree in international policy studies at Stanford University, which inspired her to pursue a JD at Columbia University. While at law school, Lipscomb honed her interest in international criminal justice and spent a summer working for the office of the prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). The ICTR’s lawyers were in charge of prosecuting the people accused of orchestrating the 1994 genocide in Rwanda that left, by some estimates, as many as one million people dead.

Lipscomb wrote about Rwanda’s truth and reconciliation commission, which was designed to help foster forgiveness between the country’s Hutu and Tutsi people at the local level. “In Rwanda, many of the perpetrators of the genocide were ordinary people,” Lipscomb says. “Imagine your next-door neighbor comes to your door and kills your family. You’re left behind. How do you mend fences with that neighbor, help people forget, and rebuild a peaceful, productive society? This was the focus of much of the commission’s and my work.”

These formative experiences led Lipscomb to realize that she wanted her work to make a difference in the world, and this epiphany eventually brought her to Google seven years ago. “I wanted to work for a company that I believed was doing good and had people whose values were similar to mine,” she says. “The people I’ve met here and the experiences I’ve had only confirm that I made the right decision.”

At Google, Lipscomb helps counsel the company on business issues, ensuring that its products and business arrangements comply with competition laws around the world. One of the biggest challenges Lipscomb faces is trying to explain how the company and its products work while also reminding people that it is an organization that is made up of human beings who are trying to do their best in a world where the law and the facts are constantly evolving.

Google tapped Lipscomb as the lead lawyer in a landmark settlement with Microsoft in which the companies agreed to end all ongoing regulatory actions against one another. Her experience helped her navigate the tricky relationship between the two companies. Today, she’s also Google’s lead lawyer regarding compliance with the European Commission’s recent Android decision that required changes to the company’s business model. While Lipscomb strongly disagrees with the commission’s decision, her background has enabled her to collaborate with the commission to understand its concerns and implement a compliant solution.

“A lot of it is about getting people on the other side to come to the table and talk, particularly people who may be skeptical of each other or who question each other’s intentions,” Lipscomb says. “You have to be open to finding a way of resolving the conflict. My work at the ICTR and my experience in the Peace Corps helped me be less skeptical of people and focus on what we have in common.”

Lipscomb also draws from her experiences in Africa to train Google’s future leaders. She takes her role as a manager very seriously, aiming to create an environment where her team feels fulfilled and empowered when they come to work. “Who your manager is and how they treat you has an outsize influence on your happiness and well-being,” Lipscomb says. “At every turn, I try to find opportunities for my direct reports to learn and grow, even if that means finding them opportunities outside of my immediate team.”

Building mutual trust is crucial, according to Lipscomb, who also believes in finding the best in people. She prioritizes her relationship with her team and the dynamic they have created. “It is essential to me that the colleagues that I work with trust that we’ve got a good working relationship,” Lipscomb says. “We try to meet each other halfway. It is really important to me that the team I work with give each other the benefit of the doubt and assume the best in one another.”

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Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP:

“Rosie Lipscomb is everything a great lawyer should be—smart, dedicated, creative, and a joy to work with. A true team player, she brings passion, energy, and intelligence to everything she does. Cleary Gottlieb is delighted to celebrate her achievements.”

—Nicholas Levy, Partner