2019 Executive Excellence Awards: David Zapolsky, Amazon

The senior vice president and general counselor of the Seattle-based company is one of this year's winners.
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

This article appears in print in the February 2019 issue. See more about the winners of the 2019 Executive Excellence Awards here. Click here for a free subscription.

As Amazon has grown, so has the array of legal issues to deal with and the number of lawyers needed to handle them. When David Zapolsky joined Amazon 19 years ago, he was the sole member of the company’s litigation department on a team of more than 15. Today, as Amazon’s general counsel, he leads a team of more than 800.

It’s Zapolsky’s job to manage that growth while keeping up with all the company has going on and maintaining consistency and coherency in Amazon’s legal strategy. “I credit our senior legal leadership team with our success in both moving fast and modeling a consistent approach to new challenges,” he says. “The team has a long tenure at Amazon and has enabled us to grow fast while staying true to our roots. We also have a long-held philosophy of empowering every attorney to dive deep into the details of their client businesses and become a trusted member of the teams they advise. This helps ensure that legal is brought in early as businesses build new products and innovate for our customers. Owning these relationships also enables our front-line lawyers to move quickly with the business.”

They’ll be challenged to do even more as Amazon expands into new markets and sectors. “The legal team really excels at looking around corners — taking time to understand a new product or service and think ahead about challenges or issues that might be on the horizon, as well as plan for them,” Zapolsky says. “We try to make sure we get the right legal talent in the right places, so when new customer offerings are built, we have legal experts in place to help the business navigate a new area.”

Zapolsky also set up the company’s pro bono legal service, known as the Amazon Justice League. “It was important to me to create a mechanism that made it easy for lawyers to fulfill their obligation to give back,” he says. “It’s not only part of our duty as lawyers. It provides Amazonians with the opportunity to better understand our customers and the communities they live in. I really see it as a win-win.”

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