Mike Isaac

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Twitter General Counsel Alexander Macgillivray to Leave Company

Joi Ito/Flickr

Twitter’s free speech defender is leaving the nest.

Alexander Macgillivray, Twitter’s general counsel and chief navigator of its thorny digital First Amendment issues, is departing the company.

Macgillivray — or “amac,” as he is better known at and on Twitter — just tweeted out his plans to leave the social communications company.

“As for me, it has been my privilege to work and fight on behalf of great companies and their users over the last decade,” he wrote in a personal blog post. “A privilege and a lot of work.”

The move now is unusual, because it comes just before Twitter is moving closer to preparing for and filing its initial public offering. Macgillivray is obviously a key member of management and would have been very involved in the long-expected IPO.

It has been my privilege to work and fight on behalf of great companies and their users over the last decade. A privilege and a lot of work.

When contacted, a Twitter spokesperson offered no explanation for the departure. While several sources close to the situation said there were no issues around his job performance or other problems, they offered other reasons for his leaving.

Some noted that Macgillivray had been at the company for four years, is vested and was ready to move on before the arduous IPO process started. Other sources said that his relationship with CEO Dick Costolo has become tense at times, which could have contributed to the decision to leave.

Another source said that the reorganization of Twitter’s legal department also played a part in Macgillivray’s decision; previously, the trust and safety, corporate development and public policy teams all reported to the general counsel. Now, corporate development will report to CFO Mike Gupta and public policy will report to Dick Costolo, while trust and safety will continue reporting to the next general counsel.

Macgillivray has indeed been a long-timer at Twitter. He joined the company in July of 2009, ahead of Costolo’s arrival as COO in September. He came to the company after eight years at Google, where he served as primary attorney on products such as Web search and Gmail. Previous to that, he worked as a litigator at the prominent Silicon Valley law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.

But it was over the past four years at Twitter that Macgillivray and his legal team have spent increasing amounts of time embroiled in more public-facing legal battles centered around issues of speech, including in some instances challenging state courts or the U.S. Justice Department.

On multiple occasions in recent years, Twitter has gone to court to defend user rights when it did not have to do so — such as in the case of Occupy Wall Street protestor Malcolm Harris.

While Macgillivray typically flies under the public radar, he is considered a mainstay inside the company, widely respected and known as one of the most vocal internal proponents of Twitter’s core free-speech ideals.

His leaving, then, brings up the issue of who carries that flag, made more important by recent revelations about government spying on its own citizens. To assuage that worry, Twitter VP of global public policy, Colin Crowell, is now reporting directly to Costolo.

Vijaya Gadde.

The company has attempted to solidify its top ranks over the past year in the march toward its IPO, shifting Ali Rowghani into the COO role late last year, while naming former Zynga treasurer Mike Gupta as the company’s CFO. In that regard, the loss of a high-ranking employee like Macgillivray is ill-timed.

Perhaps fortunately for the rest of Twitter’s legal department, Macgillivray’s successor will not be an unknown. Vijaya Gadde, a well-respected legal director at Twitter under Macgillivray for the past two years, will be named the company’s new general counsel. Gadde worked closely with Macgillivray at Wilson Sonsini, where she was an associate at the firm for nearly a decade. Most recently before joining Twitter, she worked as senior director and associate general counsel at Juniper Networks. This appointment makes her one of the few women GCs in tech.

Macgillivray’s departure will not be immediate; he plans to stay on as a consultant for Twitter for the next six months in a non-GC capacity, assisting the trust and safety, policy, corp development and legal teams.

Read Macgillivray’s farewell personal blog post, embedded in its entirety, below.

Some News and Thanks

I will soon pass the Twitter General Counsel torch to Vijaya Gadde (@vijaya). Vijaya has been managing Twitter’s corporate and international legal work, and I’ve gotten to know her well over the last fourteen years. I couldn’t be happier with her appointment as General Counsel of Twitter.

As we transition, I will dial back my day to day involvement with Twitter. I’ll continue to support the company and its great people by staying on as an advisor for the legal, trust & safety, corporate development and public policy teams. I continue to care deeply about Twitter, the folks who work at Twitter and our tremendous users, so I’ll remain close to all three.

It has been a joy to work at Twitter. I have been fortunate to support the multiple award winning trust, public policy, corporate development, legal and, at various times during my tenure, communications and trust engineering teams. These are phenomenal teams made up of great people. I also continue to be awestruck by the many, varied, incredible ways people use Twitter.

I am proud to have worked with colleagues who defend and respect the user’s voice; who push freedom of expression and transparency; and who innovate and lead. Together we’ve brought some incredible products and talent into Twitter. We’ve supported teams creating new businesses and pushing to reach every person on the planet. Twitter continues to employ some of the funniest, most generous, smart, passionate and humble people I’ve ever met. I was lucky to get to work with them, and you can too.

To my teams, all the folks who work at Twitter and Twitter users: Thank you. I can’t wait to see what you do together next.

As for me, it has been my privilege to work and fight on behalf of great companies and their users over the last decade. A privilege and a lot of work. So, I’m looking forward to engaging my various internet passions from new and different perspectives, seeing friends and family without distraction, and just goofing off a bit. We should all do more of that.

More to come here and at @amac.

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