Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary
Michael Fricklas is Viacom’s Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary. Viacom, one of the largest media companies in the world, includes Viacom Media Networks, home of Nickelodeon, COMEDY CENTRAL, MTV, VH1, SPIKE, BET, CMT, TV Land, Nick at Nite, Nick Jr., Channel 5(UK), Logo, Nicktoons, TeenNick and Paramount Channel, along with Paramount Pictures.
Viacom’s legal department, a signatory to the CPBO Challenge® initiative, is comprised of approximately 240 professionals in 17 countries. Members of the Viacom legal department have provided pro bono legal services on a range of topics over many years, around the world. Fricklas notes, “It starts with the company. Corporate social responsibility has been a big part of Viacom as long as I’ve been here. . . . There are lots of unmet needs in our community and we want to do our part. We want to do our part both as part of Viacom’s commitment and really just by part of the fact that we have a lot of people with great values and great ambitions.”
- Young Immigrants
Children and adolescents who come to the U.S. at a young age face many challenges and are among the most vulnerable in need of legal services. Viacom’s legal department has provided pro bono legal assistance to such individuals by working with Volunteers of Legal Service to assist those applying for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status [, a form of temporary relief from deportation for certain young immigrant students, enabling them to work legally while pursuing a higher education.] Viacom’s legal department has also staffed intake clinics for Kids in Need of Defense, an organization dedicated to providing counsel to every unaccompanied minor in the U.S[, to gather the necessary information to help these young people apply for specific relief, such as asylum, certain visas or other relief for which they qualify].
- Battling Biases and Their Impact
MTV’s “Look Different” campaign focuses on addressing societal biases, including racial, gender, and anti-LGBT. The effort includes research, communications, and support for organizations tackling these issues, including legal services. Many of the legal department’s pro bono efforts have addressed the legal impact of such biases and include representing women in uncontested divorces, helping transgender individuals obtain a legal name change and attaining asylum in the U.S. for a member of the LGBT community who faced persecution in Russia for his sexual orientation – and was the first time an in-house attorney single-handedly managed and won an Immigration Equality asylum case.
- Global Impact
Members of Viacom’s legal department worked with the producers of its television program Shuga: Love, Sex, Money, a TV drama produced by MTV Networks Africa in association with The MTV Staying Alive Foundation, to incorporate important information into the storyline about Kenya’s Sexual Offences Act, designed to combat gender-based violence. The Viacom pro bono team included lawyers from offices in Europe and the U.S., who collaborated across borders both internally and with [Shearman & Sterling LLP], along with Lawyers Without Borders, to research and analyze Kenyan case law and develop legal messaging that would be relevant and accessible to the Kenyan public. In addition, the team produced public education materials using the characters and storyline from Shuga aimed to increase public understanding of gender violence and raise awareness of the Sexual Offences Act, as well as, a “toolkit” that includes resources for Shuga partners, who work in and around Kenya.
Fricklas spoke about the pro bono efforts for Shuga and the potential impact of in-house pro bono at a CPBO meeting of in-house pro bono leaders in New York:
I couldn’t be more proud of the work our lawyers have done on the Shuga project. They have been working on the scripts, editing story lines, and reaching millions of people. Given Viacom’s global footprint, international pro bono is a big piece of our overall pro bono efforts. This project was also particularly interesting because it allowed us to collaborate with, and leverage the expertise of, colleagues around the world. As a media company, we have to figure out what the right opportunities are and we are lucky we had this opportunity to do something that is a little different. Lawyers within every industry can find special projects that reflect their particular strengths.