Basak Gurbuz is Counsel with The Walt Disney Company in Turkey, a company she joined in August 2015. Before going in-house, she worked for eight years at Gun + Partners and another year and a half at Pekin & Bayar.
CEELM: Can you walk our readers through your career leading up to your current role?
B.G.: I grew up in a family where I could see capes and hear legal terms in my daily life. My grandfather was one of the more prominent judges in Turkey’s Supreme Court. My father was also a judge when he began his career and then he became a law consultant in the Turkish Prime Ministry. So I can say that I was always close to this profession and always admired capes.
I attended the Ankara University Law Faculty and then obtained my LL.M. there. I always wanted to specialize in Commercial Law but then I changed my mind at the end of my compulsory legal internship (which is one year in Turkey) and decided that IP Law would be my future in my professional life. After I completed my official internship, I moved to Istanbul in 2006 and began working at Pekin & Bayar Law Firm – one of the top law firms in Turkey. I practiced Corporate Law, Commercial Law, Competition Law, and Real Estate Law there for almost two years, although I knew that I wanted to change my practice and get involved in IP and Media Law as soon as possible. Therefore, I changed my job and started working at Gun + Partners in 2008 – another top tier law firm in Turkey, with one of the best IP Law and TMT practices.
This was one of the best decisions I made in my life. I worked there for almost eight years as a member of the IP department and then moved to the Media & Advertisement sub-group (which was renamed TMT (Technology, Media and Telecoms) later on). I worked as an associate, senior associate, and managing associate respectively during my almost eight years at Gun + Partners, and I led the Media and Advertisement sub-group after I became Senior Associate. My major practice there consisted of IP Law (Trademarks, a bit of Patents and Industrial Designs, and Copyrights) as well as all aspects of Media and Broadcasting Law, Consumer Protection and Advertising Law, and also Internet Law and Data Protection Law. These included both consultancy (legal advice (both bread and butter and in-depth) and contract and other document drafting, including contests, sweepstakes, and so on) and litigation. I always had great support and supervision from the partner leading the IP department there and also each and every firm member at all times so I am always thankful and happy to have worked in such an organization.
While I was Managing Associate at Gun + Partners, I had an offer from The Walt Disney Company and I thought that would be the best time to move to a different world with this kind of knowledge and expertise. It was a great opportunity so I made my decision and changed my world. I can say that time has just flown by, because it’s already been two years with Disney Turkey, and I completely feel a part of it.
CEELM: You moved in-house a little over two years ago. What was the biggest shock when you made this transition?
B.G.: Disney believes in the Turkish market and continues to invest in the local team. As part of its growing strategy, the need for locally-based legal personnel came up and this department was established locally – after previously being handled regionally. When I joined, my biggest shock was not to be surrounded by other lawyers, which was reasonable under these circumstances.
The real challenge for me is that on the in-house side, you just have one client with a wide range of needs to be covered with very short deadlines, and the business priorities are in the front lines of the workflow, unlike in a law firm, where law comes first. But this is a good challenge because you learn how these two work hand in hand. They complement each other and need to be in a perfect harmony.
CEELM: And what is the most important thing you have learned about working in-house?
B.G.: I’ve learned so many things! But the most important one is to try to always see the big picture and not to think and assess things from a single and narrow point of view. In other words, being an in-house lawyer requires lateral thinking and I associate this with acting like Sherlock Holmes most of the time: You should not just look, but observe. The legal side could be clear but you always need to consider the business needs at the same time. There is not only one apple in your hands anymore; there are many apples you need to carry with you. It is difficult and complicated at the beginning but then it becomes a part of your life. And I personally enjoy it.
CEELM: Tell us about your work with The Walt Disney Company. What does a regular day in the office look like for you?
B.G.: Always busy. My day begins with a cup of coffee sitting in front of my inbox, continues with calls and meetings, and ends with planning & scheduling the next day. Due to the internal structure of our company, there are lots of teams who need legal support and I provide them with all the necessary legal background and guidance in order for them to proceed smoothly. This – for sure – requires great effort and hard work but fun at the same time because we create magic here at Disney.
CEELM: From a regulatory/legal stand point, what are the most challenging elements for you as the in-house counsel of a mass media company in Turkey?
B.G.: At The Walt Disney Company, which is one of the world’s biggest media and entertainment companies, we follow the legal and regulatory developments in the markets we operate closely and ensure that we comply with the local requirements at all times. In terms of moral and cultural values, the Disney culture is very closely aligned with the Turkish culture, which makes our lives easier for compliance.
CEELM: What types of legal work do you tend to cover in-house and what do you externalize?
B.G.: The work involving my expertise – IP Law and Media Law – is done in-house, but I usually externalize the Corporate Law work and supervise external counsel. Another project that we received external support for was when we initiated the Data Protection Law Compliance project last year before the DP Law – Law Nr. 6698 on Protection of Personal Data – took effect on April 07, 2016. It was both interesting and fun to work on it with the support of our US and UK colleagues as well as our local expert external counsels.
Finally, although we do not have many litigation cases here in Turkey, we would receive external support for those as well.
CEELM: And when you do outsource work, what are the main KPIs you look at after a project is concluded to evaluate the firm/lawyer(s) you worked with?
B.G.: I would say “speed and efficiency.” When an in-house lawyer is externalizing a project, meeting the deadlines is extremely important. However, it is also very important to give a realistic deadline, because giving an unrealistic one would just delay things more.
Another important KPI is to receive confirmation from the external counsel for the receipt of a request. This assured the in-house people that their request is in process and will be submitted before the deadline.
Last but not least, receiving clear and concise legal advice rather than average and rounded advice is very crucial too.
As we are always working against the clock, I think the most important thing is to have the in-house lawyers and external counsel work as one big team. Keeping the communication flow as clear as possible improves the quality and speed of our work. Plus, the two sides must be very clear and sincere with each other. When both sides do their part appropriately, all the KPIs mentioned above will be met.
CEELM: On the lighter side, if you could go back and pick any other career, what profession would you opt for and why?
B.G.: I would definitely be a lawyer again! I feel like I was born to be a lawyer and I know that I am lucky for this.
But sticking to the question itself, I know that it is a bit surprising, but I would opt to become an enthusiastic actress. I was always interested in acting and I took drama classes in high school. I also took a drama class at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts in 2012, which was a great experience. It changed my point of view in both my personal and professional life and helped me to develop new skills when doing my job, communicating with people, making speeches, and building empathy. I also gave acting a try and acted in a TV series for a while but then I realized that I do not belong on sets but instead to my cape and my own profession. Nevertheless, it was a great experience and I am very happy that I had the chance to try this (thanks to the great producer who made it happen but I cannot disclose any names here). No matter what, I still love cams and mikes, but I’d better do it within my own profession. I took part in some TV programs for certain legal discussions involving my expertise and that was also an outstanding experience. It teaches you to be alive and alert at all times – which you definitely need to do when you’re practicing law.
This Article was originally published in Issue 4.12 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.