June 2019 Bar Bulletin
By Justice Faith Ireland (Ret.)
Does Alan Gibson, admitted to the bar in 2000, have what the Harvard Business Review called “The Sexiest Job of the 21st Century” — data scientist?1 Gibson says, “No, I’m a technologist, not a data scientist.” His job title at Microsoft Corporation is Assistant General Counsel, Office of Legal Compliance (Corporate, External, and Legal Affairs).
“What do you do?” I asked. To understand the answer, I set aside my lawyer hat to talk “geek” with Gibson. Patiently, he explained that Microsoft is using advanced statistics, machine learning and artificial intelligence to prevent and detect compliance issues and misconduct. These data analytics create an early warning and monitoring system to assess and reduce compliance risks.
The priority element is corruption risk. I asked, “Does this mean corruption of information or corruption as in cheating or stealing?” Gibson says the latter. Compliance with the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and similar global anti-corruption laws is critical to multi-national companies such as Microsoft.
In what is called “High Risk Deal Solution,” Microsoft pulls data from a variety of its internal systems, including sales quote systems, deal approvals, discounting and credit, and other fancy sounding assessments. Then, of course, it applies an algorithm. Don’t we all?
The algorithm identifies the deals that have the most corruption risk for Microsoft. These deals are then routed for additional compliance oversight and mitigation of any corruption risk. Other aspects include partner analytics for thousands of Microsoft’s partners and solutions for training, communication and risk management, using a variety of Microsoft technologies, including incorporating blockchain and robotic process automation.
In addition to his J.D. from the Seattle University School of Law (2000); an M.B.A. from S.U.’s Albers School of Business (1992) and a B.A. in history from Whitman (1985), Gibson holds a certificate from M.I.T. in blockchain technologies. These aren’t just for bitcoin anymore as the financial, supply chain and other industries grapple with the need for security through encryption in distributed ledgers. Thus, even absent a degree in computer science, we have identified Gibson as a lawyer and a geek.
Gibson grew up in the Somerset area of Bellevue, and has seen the eastside develop from farmland to tech-land. His father was the pastor at Plymouth Church, Seattle’s oldest protestant congregation, with a Seattle history of 150 years. He has been playing baseball since he was 6.
Gibson played intercollegiate ball for Whitman College before moving on to Seattle University where he received a Dryer’s Grant for entrepreneurship. He put that to good work, along with his background in sales and management for retail and manufacturing companies. In 1993 he founded an international sales company and directed daily operations until he sold it to attend law school at S.U. from 1997–2000. He spent his summers clerking in the Washington Attorney General’s Office and then Williams, Kastner & Gibbs.
After passing the bar, Gibson was an associate at one of the world’s leading international finance and technology law firms — Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP. Gibson then joined Microsoft in December of 2003, advising executives on legal subjects we all understand — antitrust, intellectual property, corporate law, marketing, privacy and compliance issues. Oh, and innovative areas such as “new channel incentive models,” “a royalty billing model” and “data analytics,” and the development and implementation of anti-corruption policies.
Gibson moved strategically through corporate attorney and senior director roles at Microsoft, ascending to his present position in compliance analytics. He gives credit to the folks in finance, internal audit and information technology for the data science side of Microsoft’s compliance analytics.
His talent, he claims, goes back to his liberal arts education. He bridges the scientific, technical and people aspects of the field. Microsoft is proud that it has been recognized for years as one of the world’s most ethical companies and compliance analytics assists Microsoft and others to maintain the highest standards.
I asked if Microsoft’s data analytics technology can assist governments, nonprofits and other corporations to get ahead of potential corruption, rather than just finding it after the fact. Gibson explains that the solution is broadly applicable to a wide variety of compliance and risk scenarios, including public procurement. He continued that, although Microsoft’s compliance analytics solution is not a “boxed” product at this point, the underlying technology, methodologies and know-how are available through the “Big Four” accounting and professional services firms.
Whether it’s the Sexiest Job of the 21st Century or not, Gibson describes his job, on the leading edge of law and technology, as amazing and exciting.
His family and baseball claim most of the rest of his time. Gibson met his wife Kris in a pub after a co-ed softball game. She was wearing a sweatshirt of his alma mater, Whitman. She was a math major and physics minor at Whitman and worked in business analysis at Safeco Insurance until family claimed all her time.
Their oldest daughter, Kellen, is attending Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, majoring in — wait for it — computer science. Their younger daughter, Lindy will attend college next year and has been scouting Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa. Coincidentally, her grandparents attended there. She is also looking at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
“Don’t go soft, play hardball,” is the motto of the Puget Sound Senior Baseball League. Channeling Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh and Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn on the mound, Gibson takes it to the limit, playing in three divisions: 30-and-over, 40-and-over, and 50-and-over. He also plays regularly in post-season championships. Sometimes-teammate Jeff Kyger says, “With his innings in Arizona every year, he’s often in the 175 to 200 innings pitched range. With 15 seasons of play on three to four teams he is well over 150 wins.”
He has also served on the PSSBL Board of Directors for several years. Gibson says, “I love hanging out in the dugout with such a great mix of people.” He also loves to win and spends 11 months a year playing or training to pitch. He likes to research what the major league pitchers are doing to win. His regimines include lifting, sprinting, Pilates and hot yoga.
When I asked him how he manages to do all this, he said, “prioritization.” It must be working. I was there when Alan pitched the victorious title game of the 50-and-over championship for the Monarchs last year.
Justice Faith Ireland (Ret.) consults with lawyers on appellate cases and is a mediator. Her husband, Chuck Norem, plays ball in PSSBL. She often sees lawyers, including former Washington Supreme Court Justice Phil Talmadge; Bart Waldman, former executive vice president of the Seattle Mariners; Judge Marlin Applewick, Div. I Court of Appeals; Tom Montgomery, and others playing at the games. She sometimes provides the cookies.