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In-House Counsel Q&A: The pandemic “has strengthened our perseverance, flexibility, and adaptability,” says Naomi B. Waltman of ViacomCBS Inc.

· 5 minute read

· 5 minute read

Thomson Reuters’ Practical Law The Journal: Litigation (PLJ) recently spoke to Naomi B. Waltman, Executive Vice President & Associate General Counsel of Litigation at ViacomCBS Inc. about virtual bench trials, the impact of the pandemic, and engaging law firms with diverse teams.

PLJ: How typical or unique is the scope of responsibilities for the company’s litigation attorneys?

Waltman: Our litigation team handles pre-litigation and litigation matters across all divisions of the company, from CBS News, to Nickelodeon, to Showtime. Our litigators work closely and collaboratively with our internal clients to proactively identify and mitigate risk, as well as with experienced outside counsel to achieve favorable outcomes in litigation matters.

PLJ: What is keeping your company’s litigation attorneys the busiest at the moment?

Waltman: Over the past several months, we have worked with our colleagues at Simon & Schuster (a ViacomCBS company) to defeat attempts to prevent the publication of books in the public interest, including Mary Trump’s Too Much and Never Enough. We also recently had our first virtual bench trial in a Viacom Media Networks matter, which we won. Additionally, we handle a steady docket of intellectual property, defamation, and commercial disputes arising from our various businesses.

Read the full interview in the February/March issue of Practical Law The Journal: Litigation

PLJ: How has the COVID-19 crisis impacted the way your department operates?

Waltman: The COVID-19 crisis has strengthened our perseverance, flexibility, and adaptability as our department has pivoted to working fully remotely during the pandemic. It also has made us more technologically nimble, as we have learned to embrace video conferencing software like Zoom.

Naomi B. Waltman of ViacomCBS Inc.

PLJ: What types of issues will cause you to turn to outside counsel?

Waltman: We bring in outside counsel to handle most filed litigation. Our in-house litigators typically handle matters at the pre-litigation stage, including responding to claims and subpoenas and providing general advice and risk assessment.

PLJ: What three things does a law firm need to do to impress you?

Waltman: A law firm should:

1. Be a trusted advisor we can rely on to provide practical and strategic legal advice.

2. Communicate effectively.

3. Win! By that I mean the firm should achieve a successful and cost-effective resolution of the matter.

PLJ: You are an advocate for greater gender and racial diversity in the legal profession. What are some approaches that ViacomCBS has taken to prioritize diversity?

Waltman: We expect that the firms we engage will assign diverse teams to our matters and that the diverse attorneys will play a meaningful role in the case. We also are fortunate to have a General Counsel who is strongly committed to ensuring that our department fosters a culture of diversity, equity, inclusivity, and belonging, and we are currently in the process of jumpstarting and supercharging our efforts and initiatives in this regard.

PLJ: What is one mistake you made early on in your legal career and what did you learn from that experience?

Waltman: I wish I had been less afraid to ask for what I wanted, whether it be a raise, a promotion, or to work on a particular case. We all have to advocate for ourselves. I also wish I had known that it is not enough to simply keep your head down, do good work, and hope you will get noticed. It is important to seek out opportunities to grow and develop professionally and to look for ways to make a positive impact. If you think there is a better way of doing something, do not be afraid to suggest it or, better yet, offer to help get it done.

PLJ: What advice would you give to prospective in-house litigation counsel?

Waltman: Invest the time and effort to understand the business and develop strong working relationships with your internal clients. If your clients trust and respect you, they are more likely to seek out your advice before issues ripen into litigation.

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