by Ellen Zacarias
Some of you may know David Blackwell from his involvement in San Diego's paralegal community. Today, which also happens to be Paralegal Association Day in San Diego (6/19/19), we are sharing David's eye-opening and honest responses about what it means to work as a paralegal in the legal department of one of the world's largest video game companies. David Blackwell is a Litigation Paralegal for Activision Blizzard, Inc., a Fortune 500 company and a leader in interactive entertainment with hundreds of millions of users around the world. David supports the litigation, employment, eDiscovery, tax and transactional departments.
Previously, David worked for Vivendi Games (later acquired by Activision), MP3.com, Gateway Computers, Lewis D’Amato and McKenna Long & Aldrich. David received his B.S. in Business Administration, Finance, from San Diego State University and his ABA-Approved Paralegal Certificate from the University of San Diego’s Paralegal Program.
David has served in various capacities on the SDPA board including President. He enjoys talking to new paralegals, students, and others interested in learning more about the profession.
In his spare time, David enjoys camping, fishing, surfing and snowboarding, and spending time with his family and friends.
Thank you, David, for participating in SDPA's Paralegal Q&A series!
You are a senior paralegal at Activision. Describe a typical day at work for you, and what you generally do.
In addition to a laundry list of tasks, I was often called on to handled the odd or unexpected problems. Usually, it started with “I don’t know what to do about…” Every day was different - which made the job really fun.
Daily Tasks – subpoenas, designated recipient of all service of process, researching old contracts, updating litigation files, updating tracking calendar, maintaining agreement/contract database and search indexes.
New Assignments – preparing employment settlements, responding to subpoenas, law enforcement requests for information, supporting the asset clearance team.
Quarterly Tasks – preparing litigation status reports for counsel review and eventual submission to Chief Legal Officer for his report to the Board of Directors. Preparing an updated list of all outside counsel billing for North America in order for our accounting department to accurately record our total legal expense for the quarterly financials.
Special Projects – There has been a concerted effort to mine a lot of the older intellectual property to create mobile games. Finding the relevant contracts to determine what, if any, rights to that IP may exist was especially challenging.What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I really enjoyed getting really difficult requests from the various lawyers I supported and providing a high-quality answer/work-product. The fun part of every task/assignment is figuring out how to solve the problem.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
Aside from the office politics, which every company has, it has to be successfully managing lawyer’s expectations. I can’t tell how many times I’ve heard my boss say “this shouldn’t take very long”.
In your company, what does it mean to be a senior paralegal?
I’ve now worked in corporate law departments for so long that I really couldn’t tell you what that means from the perspective of a law firm. From the corporate perspective, it’s more of a formal recognition of how long you have worked for the company. It represented a nice bump in compensation but it didn’t meaningfully change anything. All of the paralegals pitch in to help as needed. That is another nice thing about the department – everyone truly wants to help and strive for a great work product.
You’ve been working at Activision before and after it merged with Vivendi Games—from 2004. How did your working environment or conditions change as the company grew and expanded?
Well to be honest – I was happy to simply make the transition from Vivendi Games to Activision. Vivendi Games employed somewhere around 1500 in Los Angeles, and only 200 were asked to come over to Activision. Since the merger in 2008 there are less than 20 of those people still at Activision. Vivendi Games also had very nice offices while Activision runs, let’s say, a really tight ship. They’ve only recently started making improvements and remodeling our existing space.
Do you play video games? If so, what kinds?
Again to be honest, I really don’t play. I loved watching the art and super high resolution of the games, but I simply didn’t have the time to play. Between working all the time, trying to keep up some measure of physical fitness, and get enough sleep, there’s just not a lot of “extra” time to spend hours playing games.
What brought you into the paralegal profession?
Right after I graduated from SDSU, I was involved in a home security business that involved raising money from third party investors. After a dispute arose between the parties, I learned the hard way that the side with the best lawyers usually wins. I decided then, if you can’t beat them, you might as well join them. Since I didn’t exactly want to be a lawyer, I thought I would try working as a paralegal. After a while I realized that I really loved it. Every day was new and different, I was learning more and more, and I noticed that I was never bored.
Do you handle cases of only a certain nature (such as intellectual property), or do you handle all kinds of litigation cases?
I was involved in all kinds of litigation but everything at Activision has some sort of IP element. When you get to heart of most discovery issues, it usually involves more mundane elements: emails, text messages, contracts, employment data, financial information, etc.
How did you become specialized in intellectual property?
Now that I think about that question, I didn’t have a specific intent as to specializing in IP. It sort of just happened. After working for Gateway, and a short independent contractor gig, I started working for MP3.com on copyright infringement cases. That led to Vivendi Games and after a while I guess I had a track record.
What advice do you have to a paralegal who’s considering going into IP (intellectual property) from the video games side?
If you can get a straight shot into any video game company legal department, great, but don’t be afraid of taking a different path. While it’s hard to recommend taking a QA position, think about getting your foot in the door as a file clerk, asset clearance specialist, contract admin, or a file clerk.Let me describe the route one of my friends/colleagues has taken: First off, she is an avid gamer from her earliest childhood. That level of encyclopedic knowledge of games is really helpful. She first started as a production coordinator, which is a very low level non-legal position. Doing so allowed her to really learned the nuts and bolts of how to make games. She was also making friends within the company and learned about a position as an asset clearance specialist. This position involves making sure the asset (for example, the image of a vehicle) to be used in a particular game is original or sufficiently different from the original vehicle to avoid trademark infringement. She was then able to leverage that experience into a position as a paralegal in the legal department.
You are past president of SDPA and a wonderful mentor to SDPA board members. Why did you join SDPA?
Well, again to be honest, I didn’t know anything about SDPA until my friend and colleague Lyn Hall-Fore sat me down said she needed my help. I said sure how can I help and she said I want you on the board.
I still remember attending my first board meeting – I was really nervous – I probably didn’t say two words. It wasn’t until I started getting involved in the various activities, getting to know the other directors, that I found out how much I really enjoyed the camaraderie of working with the other board members.
While I’ve always believed in karma and find satisfaction in helping others, in hindsight, I guess the best way to phrase it would be that being involved in professional organization like SDPA is not a zero sum game. It’s not something where you put in certain amount effort and get specific benefits in return. It’s more of an exponential level of return.
I think another way to say this would be that serving on the board exposes you to the best and brightest paralegals in San Diego. This energy then inspires you to do your best, which raises not only your boat but the entire ocean to a new level. In preparing this essay, I took a few minutes to look at the bios of the current board. I was more than a little thrilled to see their level of accomplishments and achievement – I’ll admit that it ignited a glowing feeling of achievement to see SDPA having come so far.
Why should a paralegal / paralegal student join SPDA?
There are some things paralegal programs and jobs simply don’t teach. While I’m not belittling the hard knowledge of learning the law or civil procedure, there is a body of knowledge that is unwritten and cannot be learned from books or the internet.
It’s how to strive for excellence when everything and everyone around you is falling apart in a bad way. It’s the ability to keep things, people and tasks in a professional perspective i.e keeping your cool and seeing the big picture. I’ll grant you that some people are born with this ability to being a real professional, others learn it on their own, but if you’re like me – I learn by doing and observing others. SDPA provides that opportunity to learn from the best this profession has to offer. Get involved – this is more than an opportunity – it truly is the gift that keeps on giving.