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With the Planned HQ2, Is Amazon’s Legal Dept. Coming to a City Near You?

Kristen Rasmussen Law.com

Earlier this year, Amazon.com Inc. announced the 20 finalists to host the retail giant’s second headquarters—North American cities with, as the criteria specified, a metropolitan population of at least one million and the ability to attract the strong technical talent needed to support the business. But what the establishment of Amazon’s HQ2 means for the e-commerce company’s legal department is still as speculative as where that location will be.

Amazon general counsel David Zapolsky declined to discuss the issue. But Corporate Counsel spoke with recruiters and consultants who specialize in corporate law departments, and a general counsel whose company recently set up a large office in a second city, to glean some insights into what may happen with Amazon’s Seattle-based 800-person global law department when HQ2 opens. (Amazon has said that it plans to announce the final site by the end of the year.)

It may be easier, though, to start with what is not going to happen. Amazon has made it very clear that it intends to keep Seattle as its primary headquarters, meaning the bulk of the legal team will remain there, said Alisa Tazioli, managing director of the Seattle office of Major, Lindsey & Africa, who leads in-house counsel searches throughout the Pacific-Northwest market.

“To the extent there are people there who have the skills that Amazon is going to need, I expect there will be future opportunities” for local lawyers to go in-house, Tazioli said. The work “will be aligned to whatever is put in that location. I would imagine that labor and employment, for example, would be a need that is local to wherever they go because of the sizable workforce there.”

As Tazioli put it, “Where there’s commerce, there’s lawyers. How [Amazon] will grow its law department is going to be a boon for [the new] city’s legal community.”

This is particularly true, given that the skyrocketing cost of living created by the technology-market boom in Seattle has made it more difficult to recruit top talent to Amazon’s primary headquarters, Tazioli added.

“I would think that having an HQ2 is going to give them more options, more opportunity,” she said.

Tazioli said the closest analogy would be the case of Facebook Inc. or Google, which entered the Seattle area drawing on its talent within the developer community.

“Some of their lawyers followed, but as those satellite places grow, then they’ve tended to add lawyers,” from Seattle, she said.

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