Alumni: Jennifer Lam


Jennifer Lam

JD 08

Product Counsel, Airbnb

Product Counsel and the Creative Side of IP Law

Jennifer Lam started law school with a plan. “I wanted to maximize my time, to explore my interests,” she says, specifically in three areas of law. “Through GGU,” she says, “I had opportunities to do internships in all three: San Francisco’s District Attorney’s Office, Public Policy Intern for the San Francisco Office of the Mayor, and at a tech company.” It was in that last one that she “fell in love with IP,” and she received her JD in 2008.

Her ideal job wasn’t available right out of law school, but she didn’t, as she says, “get lost in the weeds.” Instead, she employed a positive attitude and put 100% into her work. “Think small and deliberate steps,” she says to new graduates. “This first opportunity will open you up to the next one, then that opportunity will get you closer to what you want.” Indeed, the stars aligned, and she spent four years with Zynga as Product Counsel then joined Airbnb in 2014.

Based in San Francisco, Airbnb is an online service that allows travelers to rent unique accommodations, from a room to entire homes to castles, villas, and even igloos. Much of Lam’s work as Product Counsel focuses on the content, design, and user experience of the site’s features and tools. A relatively new area of law, product counsel is a blend of marketing and advertising law, privacy, IP, and consumer protection. “It’s easy for a lawyer to plaster [the site] with disclaimers, but I need to keep in mind the design and user experience,” Lam says, and she enjoys the creative process with product managers, designers, and engineers as they work together to reduce legal risks, achieve business goals, and protect consumers. “The challenge is providing legal advice on areas that are gray or ever-changing,” Lam says, and it involves thinking ahead to “What’s the potential claim?” Ultimately, it’s about making sure customers are informed and treated fairly. “It’s less legal analysis,” she says, “and more business sense and common sense.”

More challenges are coming. “I think—and my colleagues think—a lot about IP issues in social media,” she says. For example, brand identity has traditionally been dictated by the brand itself. That has changed. “Users within a service are transforming brands,” Lam says. “More and more, it’s now the user base and the community that control the conversation around the brand.”

As IP law evolves, Lam knows she can rely on support from her GGU Law network. “I’ve kept in touch with professors who have made useful introductions,” she says. “They’ve also been resources, as I’ve bounced substantive legal issues off them.”

It will be exciting to see what this community creates and who else they will inspire to fall in love with IP law.