General Counsel

Reports to: Executive Director (Katherine Maher)  

Location: San Francisco, New York, Washington, D.C.

The Wikimedia Foundation is…

….the nonprofit organization that hosts and operates Wikipedia and the other Wikimedia free knowledge projects. Our vision is a world in which every single human can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. We believe that everyone has the potential to contribute something to our shared knowledge, and that everyone should be able to access that knowledge, free of interference.

The Wikimedia Foundation is a charitable, not-for-profit organization that relies on donations. We receive financial support from millions of individuals around the world, with an average donation of about $15. We also receive donations through institutional grants and gifts.

We host the Wikimedia projects, build software experiences for reading, contributing, and sharing Wikimedia content, support the volunteer communities and partners who make Wikimedia possible, and advocate for policies that enable Wikimedia and free knowledge to thrive.

Wikimedia is the world’s fifth most popular digital platform, used in everything from secondary education to advanced computational research. Each month, around a billion people visit the Wikimedia sites, to learn about topics ranging from classical music to Bollywood stars to quantum mechanics.

While Wikipedia is the largest and best-known of the Wikimedia projects, it is only one part of our work. Other widely-used projects include Wikimedia Commons, which contains more than 40 million free media files, and Wikidata, an open structured and linked data repository with nearly 50 million items. We are also the primary developer of MediaWiki, a free and open source collaborative software platform. Wikimedia is:

  • Available in around 300 languages;
  • Written by 250,000 monthly contributors;
  • Visited 6,000 times on average each second;
  • By roughly 1.5 billion devices every month.


The Wikimedia Foundation is seeking an experienced, mission-driven senior executive to serve as General Counsel. The General Counsel will be a key member of the executive leadership team and will be responsible for leading the Foundation’s in-house legal department, including the organization’s public policy group. They will serve as a trusted advisor to the Executive Director and the Board of Trustees, both as chief legal counsel and strategic partner, and will ensure that the Foundation receives top quality legal advice in all relevant subject areas and geographic locations. They will play a critical role in ensuring that the Foundation has the dynamic leadership it needs to advance its mission in the face of legal, political, and technological challenges, as well as ambitious plans for growth. The ideal candidate will be comfortable working with both consumer-facing global technology platforms and nonprofit social justice organizations and movements.

The Wikimedia Foundation is an open and transparent organization operating within a decentralized global network of volunteers. We tend to speak openly and collaborate widely rather than aiming to control or restrict access to information about us. We seek to inspire, engage, and bring people along in our free knowledge vision.

As General Counsel, we’d like you to do these things:

  • Lead and provide vision, structure and strategy to a high-performing legal department of deeply collaborative and committed attorneys, paralegals, and legal fellows. Clarify and delegate the planning to make it happen: the roles, the responsibilities, the budget.
    • Recruit, mentor and manage diverse, exceptional talent across both the legal and public policy teams.
    • Oversee development of the team and the engagement of reports in their own development through challenging stretch assignments and supportive mentoring and coaching. Proactively build a pipeline of successors.
  • Develop and support the public policy team to most effectively advance our policy agenda in the face of challenges posed by censorship, surveillance, the spread of disinformation and legal changes that impact platforms, online content and accessibility to content.
  • Keep the Executive Director, staff executive committee, and board members current on key legal and policy developments around the world.
  • In collaboration with the executive team and other key stakeholders, be both creative and pragmatic in providing a vision, structure, and strategy for long-term organizational planning to support the growth of the Foundation and our movement.
    • Provide legal counsel and strategic advice as we continue to grow our technology platforms, products and community engagement to further the goal of providing free knowledge to all.
    • Advise on partnerships, grant-making and workforce structure strategies
    • Advise on both Wikimedia Foundation and Wikimedia Movement Strategy recommendations that implicate legal concerns, including affiliate structures and revenue models.
    • Ensure legal compliance.
  • Uphold a commitment to diversity and inclusion, both in growing the legal and public policy teams as well as a pivotal value in conducting Foundation operations.
  • Partner closely with the Chief Financial Officer to guide the Foundation in the identification, assessment, and pragmatic management of risk on an organization-wide basis.
  • Serve as Secretary to the Board of Trustees and support the Executive Director and Board leadership in governance and board development.
  • Play a high profile role as a compelling public advocate for the Wikimedia Foundation’s values and its legal and public policy positions, as well as the Foundation’s support of a global social movement.

We’d like you to have this experience and these skills:

  • A JD from an accredited American law school. A foreign equivalent degree, with an American LLM and significant senior-level experience in an American legal environment relevant to this position, will be considered.
  • 10+ years of experience as a GC or senior in-house legal leader, possessing a fluid understanding across multiple areas of domestic and international law, including many or all of: litigation, transactions (contracts), media law, intellectual property, tech (internet) law, nonprofit law and governance, employment, privacy, and free expression (human rights law; civil rights and civil liberties law).
  • Experience in managing team(s) of lawyers, paraprofessionals, and, ideally, public policy staff at global technology or internet companies, and commitment to empowering and mentoring teams.
  • Experience in choosing and overseeing outside counsel.
  • Ability to understand the metrics and sustainability of a technology organization, in order to effectively participate on the executive team with Technology, Product, Finance, and other C-Level peers.
  • Commitment to Wikimedia values of diversity and inclusion, collaboration, and equitable access to free knowledge.
  • Knowledge and understanding of cultures beyond the United States, and the ability to work in an environment with an international, multicultural focus.
  • Fluency in English, strong verbal and written communication skills; ability to communicate effectively with lawyers and non-lawyers and skilled in active listening.
  • Experience advising governing boards.
  • Comfort with new and evolving technology and new or untested laws (including willingness to accept risk), and with an environment that emphasizes transparency, collaboration, and accountability.
  • Ability to handle crises and find practical solutions with limited resources, including networking to find solutions outside of immediate experience.
  • Curiosity, a willingness to keep learning and keep up with major developments and trends in technology, policy, and law, both domestically and internationally.
  • Ability to travel frequently, both domestically and internationally, as needed. This will occasionally include weekends.
  • Must be member of the California bar or registered in-house counsel, or willing and able to become a member of the California bar or registered in-house counsel in ongoing good standing upon assuming position.

And it would be even more awesome if you had the following:

  • Familiarity, or comfort, with working in an organization that is both a technology organization and one that supports a social movement of volunteers across the globe.
  • Experience working with consumer-facing tech platforms.
  • Experience with Wikipedia or other Wikimedia projects.
  • Understanding of or an ability to quickly grasp free culture / free software / open source principles and values.
  • Experience working with diverse volunteer communities.
  • Experience working in legal and/or policy capacity with mission-driven nonprofits or social justice movements.
  • Experience leading successful advocacy or public policy functions in areas relevant to Wikimedia.
  • Experience and interest in public speaking.
  • Experience writing and presenting about issues of importance to Wikimedia.
  • Relevant contacts across many fields and areas of expertise helpful to Wikimedia.
  • Fluency in language(s) other than English.
  • Experience negotiating with / lobbying government officials, diplomats.
  • Experience negotiating pro bono and discounted arrangements with outside counsel. 

The Wikimedia Foundation is an equal opportunity employer, and we encourage people with a diverse range of backgrounds to apply

Benefits & Perks *

  • Fully paid medical, dental and vision coverage for employees and their eligible families (yes, fully paid premiums!)
  • The Wellness Program provides reimbursement for mind, body and soul activities such as fitness memberships, baby sitting, continuing education and much more
  • The 401(k) retirement plan offers matched contributions at 4% of annual salary
  • Flexible and generous time off - vacation, sick and volunteer days, plus 19 paid holidays - including the last week of the year.
  • Family friendly! 100% paid new parent leave for seven weeks plus an additional five weeks for pregnancy, flexible options to phase back in after leave, fully equipped lactation room.
  • For those emergency moments - long and short term disability, life insurance (2x salary) and an employee assistance program
  • Pre-tax savings plans for health care, child care, elder care, public transportation and parking expenses
  • Telecommuting and flexible work schedules available
  • Appropriate fuel for thinking and coding (aka, a pantry full of treats) and monthly massages to help staff relax
  • Great colleagues - diverse staff and contractors speaking dozens of languages from around the world, fantastic intellectual discourse, mission-driven and intensely passionate people

*For U.S. benefits eligible staff, benefits may vary by location

More information

Wikimedia Foundation website

Wikimedia Foundation blog

Annual Report - 2017

Wikimedia 2030

Applications, Inquiries, and Nominations
Screening of complete applications will begin immediately and continue until the completion of the search process. Inquiries, nominations, referrals, and CVs with cover letters should be sent via the Isaacson, Miller website link for the search. Electronic submission of materials is strongly encouraged.
David Bellshaw, Emily Chiswick-Patterson, Sunny Zhang
Isaacson, Miller
1000 Sansome Street, Suite 300
San Francisco, CA 94111
Phone: 415.655.4900
Fax: 415.655.4905

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