Alumni Q&A: Unsal LL.M. '03 Leads Google's Legal Team in Turkey

February 20, 2012

Burcak Unsal, who graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law's LL.M. program in 2003, was recently named Google Inc.'s head legal counsel in Turkey.

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Burcak Unsal

Prior to joining Google, Unsal led the law firm DLA Piper's corporate/mergers and acquisitions group in Istanbul.

Unsal recently spoke with the Law School via email about his new position at Google and what role the Internet search giant plays in Turkey and the Middle East as a whole.

As Google's top lawyer in Turkey, what are your primary responsibilities?

Google is considered to be the most influential actor of the Internet. It has a very firm policy to promote freedom of speech and also has many commercial and consumer products to offer into the marketplace.

My primary responsibilities are to ensure that whatever Google is doing and whatever Google has to offer in Turkey are in accordance with the local legislation. This is not always very easy, due to not only the different laws, but also due to the mentality and interpretation differences. Therefore, I also have to make sure that the regulatory and legal bodies in Turkey understand Google, its mission and vision and the nature of its products. On the other hand, I also have to make my colleagues in Google who are both lawyers and non-lawyers understand the Turkish legislation, interpretation and their implementation, which are relevant to Google's business.

Other than these, issuing legal advice to all Google business units, mitigating the regulatory and commercial risks of Google and taking the appropriate legal actions where necessary are some of my more conventional duties.

What are a few of the major challenges you expect to face in your new position?

In the last decade, Turkish law has come to be quite similar to that of the European Union, due to the strong Turkish bid to become a full EU member.

Although I do not expect any significant legal problems in the business products of Google, I have to admit that we may encounter issues regarding YouTube, Blogger and some other products where the users are sharing videos and posts with all kinds of content. As with any country, Turkey has its own sensitivities and national legislations, which may be rather restrictive of the essence and mode of "speech" with certain topics. In the last few years, Turkey has not been able to maintain a good record on freedom of speech.

I sometimes encounter resistance to the idea that things that are shared on [Google services such as] YouTube, Blogger, Google searches and Google News are actually good for the progress of the country, stimulate opinions and multi-vocality, and enhance democracy and freedom. However, our cause is just and equitable, and Turkey's destination is firmly set on becoming an even more economically, socially and politically stable and stronger country with absolute rule of law. Therefore I personally trust that we will be able to reach a full agreement with the authorities and the regulators on any issues that we may initially find challenging.

How did your studies at UVA Law help prepare you for your work at Google?

My time at UVA Law helped me in many ways. Other than being one of the best academic institutions in the nation, UVA Law provided me with access to a truly diverse student environment, a wide array of opinions and a comprehension of theory and practice of law with an international mindset. While this helped tremendously with the business aspect of my profession, the Jeffersonian approach to law and the Honor System remind me every day that we should use our legal skills for equity, justice and the good of people in a responsible and honorable manner.

You previously led DLA Piper Istanbul's corporate/M&A group. What led you to want to join Google?

I have been predominantly involved with M&A, transactional and corporate aspects of technology, media and telecom (TMT) companies in particular. Our practice cannot be separate from the regulatory aspects of the industry entirely. Therefore, I had the opportunity to accumulate an important amount of experience in the transactional and regulatory aspects of the TMT industry. By the beginning of this year I simply decided to use this know-how exclusively for Google, which I really respect for what it does to promote freedom of speech, making information available and creating opportunities for everyone regardless of whether they are poor or rich or where they were born, and of course for its deference to privacy.

Google is obviously a major part of everyday life in the United States. Does Turkey rely on Google's services in a similar manner? What is the public's view of Google in Turkey?

Google means the same thing, if not more, to everyday life in Turkey, as it does in the U.S. People use it to have access to valuable information, conduct their business and personal correspondence, find the way to their friend's new apartment, advertise their start-up business and do e-commerce without incurring too much in capital costs.

The public view of Google is quite positive and almost every pocket of the society, regardless of their political views, support the tools that enable people to share their views, opinions, experience and stories on the Internet.

As a region, the Middle East has experienced major changes over the last year. What role do you see Google playing in this shifting landscape?

While many people and countries prefer to call this shift in the Middle East as the "Arab Spring," it is striking to observe that the people of many such countries would call it the "Internet Revolution." Although Google, particularly via YouTube, played an outstanding part in powering this progressive movement, social media was also very important. The Internet was the source of air for the people who were suffering under severe oppression to share and disseminate their views, then organize their protests and revolts. Finally, where no news agencies and journalists could be present, the people themselves could inform all the world how brutal the events were by posting their own videos and news pieces on the Internet and social media. I believe Google and the Internet will continue playing an important role for people all around the world, and it's our job to make sure that we act responsively and defer to the rule of law.

What is the most popular Google search in Turkey?

The most popular Google searches in Turkey in 2011 were a Turkish history drama series and e-government applications, which offer electronic public services. An impressively conscious and responsible way of benefiting from Google's search engine, I would say. :)

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