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Mike Dillon, General Counsel at Sun Microsystems [LexBlog Q & A]

February 25, 2008

Our LexBlog Q & A guest today is Mike Dillon, General Counsel at Sun Microsystems and executive vice president in the company’s legal department. Oh, and he’s also a blogger.

With his blog The Legal Thing, Mike does more than your average GC to encourage corporate transparency: by using the tools of a successful blogger (linking in/out, encouraging reader comments and writing on a wide range of issues), he is helping offer the public a glimpse into how Sun operates.

The only question now is, when will more GCs take a similar approach? Mike’s expectations – and the rest of our e-mail interview – are after the jump.

1. Rob La Gatta: Why do you blog?

Mike Dillon: In part it’s a reflection of Sun’s open corporate culture and our focus on building communities. At any one time, we have between 3,000 and 4,000 employees who blog externally on a regular basis, including our CEO. We also have a large number of former employees who blog as part of our Sun Alumni community.

Blogging has been an amazingly effective means for our employees to share knowledge, exchange ideas and connect with people around the world. The range and diversity of subjects discussed in these blogs is fascinating; everything from personal stories to industry insights to in-depth discussions of the latest products and technology. Given this environment, the question we usually ask is: “Why don’t you have a blog?”

Personally, I blog for many of the same reasons as our other employees. It’s a very effective way for me to share ideas and opinions and to support my community (meaning the legal profession). I also blog because I enjoy writing. Like many attorneys, I’ve occasionally had dreams of being a journalist or the next John Grisham or Scott Turow. Writing a blog has given me the opportunity to live a bit vicariously.

2. Rob La Gatta: Who makes up the majority of your readers: other GCs? The general public? Clients? Do you write with a specific audience in mind?

Mike Dillon: When I made the decision to blog, I spent quite a bit of time thinking about my intended audience. I regularly read a number of blogs that I would characterize as technical legal blogs focused on specific legal issues. I didn’t think it would be of interest (to me or a reader) to add yet another one of these to the blogosphere.

Instead, I felt that I could provide a unique perspective on what it’s like to be General Counsel of a large Fortune 500 company with employees around the world. Given the broad nature of my role, this means that I write for multiple audiences. In some cases, I use my blog as a way of communicating with my organization or other Sun employees, for example, about the importance of leadership and diversity or to celebrate the success of an employee. In other instances, I’ve written with other in-house counsel in mind, for example, about the need for patent reform or changes in Reg FD.

I’ve also written about subjects of interest for the more general legal community such as how the traditional models of external legal support will change in the future. And, at times, I write about things that are more personal in nature like my trip to remote parts of the Arctic or how my wife and I are encouraging our children to participate in charitable giving using micro lending.

What I find most interesting is the geographic diversity of those that read my blog. I have a ClustrMap on my blog page that shows the location of readers. I often wonder who is reading my blog in Alice Springs, Australia or Lusaka, Zambia?

3. Rob La Gatta: General counsels remain fairly underrepresented in the legal blogosphere. Do you expect the number of GC blogs to increase over the next year?

Mike Dillon: It’s surprising to me that more GCs don’t blog. But, I think there are two factors behind this. First, attorneys are by trade somewhat conservative and risk adverse (I still remember attending legal seminars in the 1980s about the terrible risks associated with a new type of communication called “email”). Consequently, I think many of us focus more on the risks of divulging confidential information or violating the attorney-client privilege; risks that while possible are more than offset by the value of a blog.

The second issue is generational. I doubt that few GCs of large public companies today grew up using wikis, social networking, mash-ups, virtual communities or blogs. The current generation of law students cannot imagine life without them. They understand the incredibly rich and powerful benefit of these knowledge sharing and communications tools. And, they doubtlessly will apply them in their legal practices as they become GCs in the future.

4. Rob La Gatta: Is there a potential that we will eventually see specialized niche blogs authored by in-house counsels, focusing on specific legal issues impacting a company?

Mike Dillon: It’s already starting to occur. Just as many external lawyers have created blogs on technical subjects related to their area of specialty, you are starting to see the same thing occur with in-house blogs. As example, many of my blogs have been focused on legal issues related to open source technology, which is at the core of our company’s business.

5. Rob La Gatta: You’ve been blogging for quite some time. If you could go back to when you started the blog, knowing what you know now, would you do anything differently?

Mike Dillon: Find the time to blog more often.

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