Although she grew up in the Mid-Atlantic states and intended to pursue a career in peace and conflict resolution, Bridget Hauler has found her home as an in-house litigator in the Southern California office of one of the world’s leading media and entertainment companies.
Hauler is vice president of litigation at NBCUniversal, and while her academic and career journey has taken some unexpected twists and turns, her current role perfectly unites various aspects of her personality, interests, and experience.
The Washington, DC-area native attended the University of Maryland without law on her radar; she was a political science major with an internship at an NGO that helped protect the rights of ethnic minorities. After serving for four years as a public affairs officer with the US Navy’s Military Sealift Command, Hauler decided to make a change. She enrolled at Stanford Law School and extended the family tradition to its fourth generation by becoming a lawyer.
The top university that has produced twenty Nobel Prize laureates, four Pulitzer Prize winners, thirty-three MacArthur Fellows, and two Presidential Medal of Freedom winners inspired Hauler and prepared her well for a career in law. She stepped into the professional world as an associate at Quinn Emanuel, where she got early experience in complicated matters and large cases.
That experience included time as a lawyer on Mattel v. MGA Entertainment regarding rights to the lucrative Bratz fashion doll and merchandise empire. Mattel, a Quinn Emanuel client, alleged that former Barbie designer Carter Bryant originated the Bratz line under his employment with the company, thereby making the design Mattel’s intellectual property and the Bratz dolls infringing. A Riverside, California-jury found Hauler and her colleagues’ arguments compelling, awarding $100 million to Mattel while MGA was compelled to cease and desist the production and marketing of the toys, dolls, and accessories in question. That decision was appealed, there was a retrial, another appeal, and other iterations of the case in state court.
Hauler’s exit from the firm in 2012 was motivated in part for a better work/life balance. After a colleague sent a good report regarding employment at NBCUniversal, Hauler started looking for openings at the company and she joined as litigation counsel in the fall of 2012.
The move from the firm to the corporate world was not one Hauler made without careful consideration. In fact, she admits to being more than a little reluctant. Soon, though, her fears were assuaged.
“At big law, you have this idea that you’re doing the most important and interesting work and that any other route will only bring work/life balance at a sacrifice,” she explains. “But I’ve found that being in-house gives me the opportunity to be surrounded by bright lawyers doing super interesting things while working at the strategic part of cases and developments in law and the entertainment business. I’ve not only achieved better work/life balance in-house, but I’ve found a greater ability to grow as a lawyer.”
When Hauler joined NBCUniversal, she replaced an employment lawyer who supported the Company’s West Coast television clients. The company’s legal department was fairly siloed then. The company had approximately 250 lawyers worldwide, including about a half dozen litigators in Los Angeles. Hauler had little opportunity to venture outside of television; however, in 2015, the litigation team was restructured so that litigators would support clients across the company. Now, as vice president of litigation, Hauler supports internal clients across the breadth of the company, including in television, film, and theme parks, providing litigation support in areas as varied from employment to personal injury to IP to real estate to environmental health and safety.
The unified structure and the diversity of NBCUniversal’s business keeps Hauler fulfilled in her in-house role. “I thrive in this setting because there is something different every day that I have to be prepared for, and no two days are the same,” she says.
Hauler might deal with workers’ rights and hourly wage issues at theme parks one minute and respond to concerns and queries from a feature film crew the next. Her phone is likely to ring if ambitious producers want to know if it’s safe to send a crew to a new remote location to film an adventure reality game show. California Assembly Bill 5, the gig worker bill that reclassified contract and full-time employees in 2019 combines with other unique employment laws to create a nuanced and complicated backdrop for her work.
Talented, collegial colleagues help Hauler navigate the challenging environment. “Entertainment clients and producers need an answer quickly because they are in production and have time, money, and jobs on the line,” she says. “We have to balance things and provide the right guidance without slowing them down.” She does that by putting issues into three buckets: low risk, medium risk, and high risk. Only after identifying the risk level can she customize her approach and prioritize her response.
Employment law within the entertainment industry is a good fit for Hauler because she gets to support safety and workers while helping creative people tell important stories and bring joy to audiences around the world.
As Hauler moves forward, she’s monitoring changes to existing employment laws and also keeping an eye on shifting trends in the worlds of television, film, digital media, and live experiences. “The way people consume content is changing so much, and we have to keep an eye out on all the related issues,” she says, pointing to specific areas like licensing and profit participation.
A decade at NBCUniversal has given Hauler the chance to step into leadership, deepen her expertise, and find a place to thrive. She hopes those following in her footsteps are fortunate enough to do the same, and she encourages others to craft their careers with intentionality. “Young lawyers should really think about not only the specific industry, but the kind of work environment they want to be in,” she says. “Think about what you find rewarding. Think about the kind of people you want to be around and the kind of work you want to do . . . and then go do it.”