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Taking the Inside Track

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When Susan Weiner ’79 left the world of law firm practice 20 years ago for a litigation job at NBC, businesses were only just beginning to build the kind of formidable in-house departments that many boast today. For NBC and its then parent, General Electric, the move was innovative—and risky. Could the company get enough good lawyers? Would it win cases? What if costs soared beyond what the company had been paying to hire attorneys on an as-needed basis?

The gamble paid off, both for NBC (now NBCUniversal) and Weiner, who is now the TV network’s executive vice president and deputy general counsel. The way she navigated the challenge and documented the benefits for her employer was characteristically methodical: She kept a scorecard of wins and losses by the new in-house team (which then numbered about a half-dozen) and tracked the costs of making that switch, recalls her then-boss, Rick Cotton. The tally showed that the new model worked. “She was breaking new ground, and it wound up being an enormous success,” says Cotton, who was NBCUniversal’s long-time general counsel. “I wouldn’t have been able to run the department without her.”

Weiner, 59, who was a guest at the dean’s roundtable luncheon last fall, grew up in Glen Cove, Long Island, and studied political science at the University of Rochester, which sparked her interest in law. She was an editor of the Law Review—where she met her husband, Christopher Aidun ’80. After graduation, she clerked for Judge Charles Tenney of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York.

By then, she had developed an interest in media and litigation, and she took a job at Greenbaum, Wolff & Ernst, a firm much respected for literary and civil liberties work. But it had already fallen on tough times and in 1982 became one of the first law firms to cease operations. Weiner landed at Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler, where she honed her skills as a litigator for the Daily News, Wall Street Journal, and ABC, among others, for the next six years.

Then, Weiner jumped at the chance to join the MTA as deputy general counsel. She worked on a number of free speech cases there—albeit from the other side. Weiner and her legal team won cases banning certain activities, such as begging in the subways and playing amplified music on the platforms: “The courts agreed that the MTA could have reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on certain kinds of conduct because the subways are different than a public park.”

With government service under her belt, Weiner decided to return to a corporate setting. In 1993, she answered a blind ad for a litigator at NBC. She got the job and rose through the ranks.

NBCUniversal is now owned by Comcast and has $23 billion in revenues and businesses that include television networks, movies, and theme parks around the world. Its in-house legal team includes more than 250 lawyers. Weiner, recently adding an appointment as general counsel of NBCUniversal News Group, oversees all legal operations for the company’s news divisions and networks, including providing advice to NBC’s journalists and news executives.

Media law and speech issues have infused Weiner’s career. “I’ve really enjoyed working with journalists to protect newsgathering and to defend news reports which have been challenged.”

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