Guest Post: Facebook’s Monika Bickert on private sector national security-related opportunities for lawyers
A lot of law students and practicing lawyers have an interest in national security matters, but for a variety of reasons, the government’s military and civilian national security enterprise (see here) isn’t quite the right fit for them. The good news is that fascinating opportunities also exist in the private sector, and Lawfire® wants to help illuminate them.
Fortunately, several distinguished private sector leaders have offered to share their perspectives with us, and I could not be more thrilled to begin this discussion with Monika Bickert, Facebook’s Vice President for Content Policy. She is a terrific example of how to leverage legal skills into a fantastic career with a major national security aspect to it if you are willing to think out of the box, and have the mettle and self-confidence to explore unconventional opportunities.
I first saw Ms. Bickert at the Aspen Security Forum where she was a speaker and, wow, was she awesome! At the time I didn’t know she was a lawyer, but what struck me listening to her was how expertly she used what are really ‘lawyer’ skills during the discussion. Let me put it this way: those who sought to criticize her or her company landed no punches.
Consequently, I wasn’t too surprised when I learned she is a lawyer, and one with a truly impressive resume. If you look at her bio at the end of this post, you’ll see she honed her lawyer skills in some pretty tough legal ‘neighborhoods.’ Quite obviously, she’s used her skills with enormous success in the private sector, albeit in a nontraditional way.
Monika is also a real friend of the Center on Law, Ethics and National Security having spoken here several times (see e.g., here and here). Beyond considerable intellectual and forensic gifts, she’s extraordinarily personable, especially with students.
Social media platforms like Facebook are inevitably involved with a wide range of national security issues. As she points out, she leads a team that works to counter “terrorism, cybersecurity threats, child exploitation, violent gangs, and election interference.”
She loves her job, and it isn’t hard to see why as she uses her legal skills to protect innocents around the globe. In telling her story she gives practical advice and, notably, she shows how her willingness to take a risk with her career to find what she really wanted proved to be a wise decision.
When I was in law school, I envisioned spending my entire career in public service. After more than a decade as a federal prosecutor, however, I found myself facing personal circumstances that required me to move my family to California and take a job in the private sector. My transition was rocky, and my first job was not a good fit. I decided to take some risks and apply for other jobs, and ultimately I was hired to lead Policy Management at Facebook.
Managing policy means setting the rules for how people can use Facebook products like Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger. This includes defining who can use the services and what those people can post, advertise, or monetize. In addition, our team is responsible for overseeing the enforcement of those standards across billions of posts around the world every day.
Using ‘lawyer’ skills
Suddenly, I was putting my lawyer skills and my safety and security experience back to work, as my team drafted policies to identify and remove bad actors and, where appropriate, worked with our legal team to send to law enforcement imminent physical threats. I felt a renewed sense of purpose.
Seven years later, I’m still in the same job, and I still love it. My team of fewer than ten employees has grown to more than 200. Our ranks include experts in a variety of safety and security fields like terrorism, cybersecurity threats, child exploitation, violent gangs, and election interference. Many of the members of my team are lawyers, especially the more senior members, and many, but not all, have spent time in government or academia.
On any given day, we’re revising site rules or the ways we enforce them, and we’re meeting with outside experts, government officials, and researchers to both learn from them and explain our work. For more senior members of my team, public speaking is an important part of the job. Our Director of Security Policy, for instance, has recently spent significant time explaining to journalists and academics our efforts to find and remove from our site coordinated inauthentic behavior like foreign influence operations.
No one path
There is no one path to a job on our team. We look for people who have strong writing and analytical skills, who can not only draft policies but also anticipate the range of scenarios where we will be applying those policies.
We also look for people who have developed expertise with certain safety or security issues, such as having worked in child advocacy or genocide prevention. Because we are a global team working on behalf of the global online community that uses our products, it’s very important that we hire people with experience in different parts of the world and different subgroups and cultures.
What to do now
If you’re interested in a private sector job like the ones I’ve described, start building your skills and experiences now. Use law school to learn how to analyze, and how to explain that analysis crisply in your writing.
Find internships or research opportunities that allow you to dive into a specific safety or security issue so that you can start to understand the landscape, speak the lingo, and build contacts. If possible, spend summers working in government or for an NGO where you are likely to get a lot of responsibility early.
Don’t give up!
Finally, don’t give up. Many people on my team, including me, worked in private sector jobs that didn’t touch on safety and security, but we ultimately found our way.
Monika Bickert is Facebook’s Vice President for Content Policy. Her global team manages the policies for what types of content can be shared on Facebook services, including in advertisements. Monika originally joined Facebook in 2012 as lead security counsel. Prior to joining Facebook, Monika served as Resident Legal Advisor at the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, where she specialized in Southeast Asian rule of law development and response to child exploitation and human trafficking.
She also served as a federal prosecutor for 11 years in Washington, DC, and Chicago, prosecuting federal crimes ranging from public corruption to gang-related violence. Monika received a B.A. from Rice University and a J.D. from Harvard Law School.