Ever wondered what the perfect job merging technology and law would be? Elke Suber could tell you.
As the Assistant General Counsel for Worldwide Retail Stores at Microsoft Corporation, Suber flexes her law and tech knowledge by assisting engineers, marketers, and others involved in launching new devices, with legal support. She has worked on several of the company’s major projects, such as the launch of Microsoft Flagship stores, Xbox 360, and video games like Halo, Gears of War, and Lips.
The mother of two also keeps busy with other organizations, such as the Black Entertainment & Sports Lawyers Association. As chair, Suber provides her expertise on intellectual property law and other tech-related legal matters. She also helps BESLA develop strategies to make the organization a fun and informative experience.
BESLA is holding their Mid Year Conference on April 4 in New York. This year, award-winning record executive L.A. Reid will be speaking one-on-one with attendees and guests about his experiences in the entertainment industry. Several other industry leaders will tell their stories as well.
We spoke with Suber about her dream job at Microsoft, BESLA, and her advice to others who strive to work in her field.
What made you venture into the technology field?
I learned about intellectual property law in law school. I didn’t know much about the area, but today, we know that it’s the law that covers everything from software, to movies, art, things on the Internet, and things of that nature. So I thought, that would be cool to get into, but I didn’t have the technology background. I then worked for a federal judge, and we had federal cases, trademark cases, Internet cases. I thought, “I’m learning how to do this stuff, so maybe I should do this.” So I sat in on a panel that talked about digital technology, and from that point, I began building my legal classes around copyright law and intellectual property law so that I would have the ability to work with and service technology clients. I began building my practice around that, and I landed at Microsoft, where I got involved with supporting interactive entertainment, the launch of the Xbox 360, and games like Halo. I’ve worked on the launch of music devices and cloud services. It’s been an incredible ride.
Can you give our readers an idea of what goes into your job?
As a technology lawyer, I’ve served in project development roles, worked with engineers, marketers that are marketing tech products. So I help my business partners understand issues that they might face. When you build a digital device, are you building it so people can build personal content? Are you building so they can share content that they don’t own? Those are all the type of issues that a lawyer can help a tech person look at as far as building the product. If you’re marketing the project, how do you explain your services to customers? I make sure my business clients understand some of the legal rules they have to adhere to to do business in the right way and where there might be areas of risk.
What is the most interesting and exciting project you’ve worked on at Microsoft?
In my early career, one of the most exciting projects was helping the business build their first music device. At that time, the only device we sold was the Xbox console. Microsoft has stores around the country from an online perspective, but in this past year, we’ve launched Flagship stores. So I got to work with the team that helps figure out how we’re going to launch these stores, what type of events we would have to launch them and connect with customers. I helped work on the contract for Pitbull, who ended up doing the opening day concert for our customers. That was a lot of fun. I helped my clients organize gaming events to showcase the Xbox console. So those things were really fun.
You’re the chair of BESLA. How did you get involved?
I first got involved through one of my early mentors, Joy. She’s an amazing lawyer. I had just started representing two artists on their production deal. Joy was a great mentor, and she said, “You should think about coming to BESLA. It will help you make connections in the industry and help you with your practice.” So that’s how I came to BESLA as a young lawyer. I was super green. I got so much out of the conferences that I asked how I could be involved. The next year, I led a panel on digital entertainment in connection with the University of Pennsylvania for BESLA. So I just stayed involved in programming and serving as a speaker.
What are you bringing to the table at this year’s conference?
Our entire board of directors are volunteers. So we help run the organization on a volunteer basis. So as a chairperson, one of my jobs is to work closely with my board of directors to ensure we have teams put together to help run all of the outreach events and other programs we put together for our members and attendees. So job one for me at the beginning of my chairmanship on Jan. 1 was to help set strategy for the organization and set our goal for the year. Part of our goal for this year was to make sure we have amazing, differentiated experiences for our members around the country. We’re kicking that off with the Mid-Year Conference this Monday on April 4, in partnership with the Fordham University School of Law.
Can you tell us more about the conference?
We’re going to have programming that we hope our members will find outstanding. Our panel is going to feature DeMaurice Smith, the head of the NFL Players Association, and Michele Roberts, the first woman to head the National Basketball Players Association. They’re going to tell us what it takes to run a major sports union. We’re also going to have the incomparable, legendary L.A. Reid with us. He’s going to have a one-on-one conversation with attendees and our members, sharing what he’s experienced in the music industry. We’ll also have industry leaders participating in our round-table panel — having representatives from companies like Viacom, Shazam, Under Armour, Sony Pictures. It’s going to be a great experience. We’re going to follow that with additional regional events in the U.S., and we’re going to end the year with our annual conference in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
What do you do in your spare time when you’re not working?
Well, I am a mom. So when I’m not working, I’m with my kids. I have two boys, and they are a ton of fun. We have fun, whether it’s doing things at the park or being silly. And I come from a family that likes to party. So I might bring my family together for cookouts, impromptu parties. We just have a good time together. So that helps energize and refuel me. And I’m also learning how to downhill ski in the winter. I also run, even in the rain.
What keeps you motivated to do your best?
A couple things. I feel a sense of responsibility to do well for my family and to honor my parents and my grandparents. My mom and my grandmother raised me like, “If you’re going to do something, you’re going to do it 110 percent.” And I care about making sure there is a strong pipeline of talented women and people of color coming behind me, so in order for me to be in a position to help others, I have to do well so that I have the credibility. And as a mom, I want to set a good example for my boys.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue a career path similar to yours?
Continue to strive to keep learning and to do your best. Don’t be afraid to take opportunities, because you never know where it can lead you. And it’s so motivating to have a group of positive people. Believe in yourself, but have a group of people around you to support you. If you have people around who are bringing negative energy into your space, you’ve got to limit those people from impacting you.
I’m involved with the National Bar Association. I’ll be a speaker at their midyear conference, which will be in Florida at the end of April. I’ll be talking about what it takes to keep moving your career forward.
For more information on BESLA, visit www.besla.org. Follow Elke Suber on Twitter @efsuber.