The Wikimedia Foundation announced on Monday that it has hired Brad Patrick as general counsel and interim executive director. The announcement followed a resolution earlier this month authorizing the employment of a full time CEO and legal counsel for the Foundation, which operates Wikipedia and its sister projects.
Patrick has been involved with Wikipedia for several months, volunteering legal help to the Foundation for most of the time. Patrick is a practicing lawyer who, before joining the Foundation, worked at Fowler White Boggs Banker in St. Petersburg, Florida in technology and intellectual property litigation. He has an extensive history of legal work, having prior experience with firms in Washington and with top 100 software companies. Patrick was granted administrative rights on the English Wikipedia in April, although he was not promoted through Requests for adminship, the usual route for promotion.
Jimbo Wales commented on the hiring, saying that “[Patrick] has a keen grasp of the opportunities and challenges involved in our tremendous growth, and a great appreciation for the work done by our community of volunteers. Brad's advice and support has been a tremendous asset to us so far, and we look forward to his help in setting the professional side of the organization on a firm footing."
Patrick’s new role includes serving both as general counsel and interim executive director. As general counsel, Patrick will continue providing legal assistance to the Foundation. His role as executive director – essentially equivalent to that of a CEO in a for-profit corporation – is only interim, though; he will only assume the responsibilities while the Foundation, led by Patrick, conducts a full search for a permanent executive director. As interim executive director, Patrick will help the Board and Foundation oversee all operations, activities, and staff, including helping with “business deals, legal matters, finance, audit, planing [sic], etc.”
In a statement to the community, Wales expressed optimism at the hiring and at the improvements to the Foundation and its projects Patrick’s hiring will bring. “[The] need for fulltime legal counsel should be obvious to everyone involved with the projects,” he said. “We are increasingly approached with interesting opportunities to partner with various organizations in ways that are consistent with our community values and missions… [in addition, we are faced with the] ever increasing burden as we grow more popular of legal complaints that we continue to try to deal with in a timely and effective manner.” He continued by emphasizing the need for the position of an executive director, commenting that “the need for help in the executive arena is also obvious to most of you… We, the board, have been overwhelmed for many months, and we need help and assistance.”
Wales also commented that Patrick was hired because “he is of the community, actively involved for several months, and deeply committed to our mission.” Wales also stressed that the search for a permanent executive director would take more time, involving careful consideration from both the Foundation and community. “We intend to hire a fulltime Executive Director following a very careful process of consulting with the community, building support globally, defining what the foundation needs, and [conducting] a comprehensive search for a good candidate, both *within the existing community* and *outside the community*,” he said. “It is my intention that we be very very careful in this process to preserve our fundamentally community-driven model, while at the same time adding professionalism to the organization in order to empower and defend the community model.” In addition, Wales also re-emphasized his message: “I intend to keep repeating my same message strongly and simply: it is my intention to build upon and extend our radical methods of openness and community involvement, while at the same time playing close attention to the needs of the organization which makes all of that possible. Whatever side any of you personally may come down on, relating to some of the details of all that, I hope that you will join me in saying that our similarities and hopes and dreams for the future are more important than any minor differences, and that we can work our way forward as we always have... slowly and carefully, with genuine respect for everyone who is taking part in the discussions in a constructive way.”
A FAQ was set up pertaining to the introduction of the position of executive director following the hiring. The FAQ clarified that the Foundation would still accept outside legal help whenever possible, saying that “the Foundation will continue to rely on volunteer (pro bono) assistance from other attorneys, and the General Counsel will organize and coordinate their efforts.” In addition, the FAQ also stressed that the position of executive director would mainly deal with the business side of the Foundation, not the community side; the FAQ clarified that “for the most part, the Executive Director will not be involved with how the community operates on individual projects.”
Patrick also set up a FAQ about his hiring. In it, Patrick commented on his relationship with the Foundation and Wales, saying that he had first met Wales in December 2005. In addition, when asked why he was interested in working for the Foundation, he said that “with [the Wikimedia Foundation], I found an opportunity to combine interests in pursuit of great online content through a community structure that I believe in, support, and want to grow and evolve. It happens I can apply my years of experience as a lawyer in general practice, litigation, and technology to the Foundation's activities.” Patrick also re-emphasized the role he will play in dealing with the community, commenting that “as far as the community is concerned, the best job I can do is keep the projects running smoothly by staying out of the way… I am amazed at [the community’s] energy and success in growing and attracting readers and editors.” In an interview with the Signpost in March of this year regarding Office actions, Patrick, then a volunteer legal counsel for the Foundation, said that his “job [was] to advise the Board and protect the Foundation if they are sued.”
Community reaction to the hiring was generally positive, with many users expressing opinions that Patrick was an ideal person for the role of general counsel and interim executive director. “Great news. All my interactions with Brad have been very positive, and his willingness to help on legal issues has been invaluable,” said Sannse. “Congratulations Brad.”