Netflix's Top Lawyer on Two Decades of Growth: "It's Never the Same Company"

Photographed by Christopher Patey

David Hyman, The Hollywood Reporter's 2020 Raising the Bar honoree, has survived (and thrived) on the front lines of the streaming revolution.

David Hyman’s nearly 30-year law career can be traced back to the season he spent as a ski bum in Aspen, Colorado, before his first year of law school. When he wasn’t on the slopes, Hyman discovered a law firm in town specializing in real estate. He figured if he wanted to become a permanent mountain dweller, he should become a real estate lawyer.

But his plans were interrupted when life (and a girl, now his wife) led him to San Francisco, where he ditched property law for the thrill of startup culture and took a job at delivery service Webvan during the height of the dot-com boom. "I like to say it was well ahead of its time," chuckles Hyman, who found himself with a J.D. from University of Virginia and extensive bankruptcy law experience but no job after the company went belly up in 2001.

It was then that Hyman interviewed for the general counsel role at an unprofitable, soon-to-go-public DVD-by-mail startup called Netflix. In his nearly two decades with the company, it has transformed into a global entertainment powerhouse with 167 million subscribers, and his job has grown with it. Today, Hyman — who admits that keeping up with new Netflix shows is "a full-time hobby" — manages a team of more than 650 legal professionals worldwide who cut some of the biggest (and most unique) deals in Hollywood.

Recently, that’s meant spending a fair amount of time contemplating Netflix’s new role as both a content producer and a content distributor, and frequent trips from Los Gatos to Los Angeles. "I often talk about it like, 'We’ve gone from being a company that sells cars to a company that manufactures and distributes cars,' " explains Hyman. Now, "that means everything from negotiating the talent arrangements to dealing with the physical production to dealing with the labor guilds. All those areas of expertise had to be developed at Netflix over the last 18 years, and really the last five years as we’ve ramped it up."

That work will only become more complex as Netflix continues to prioritize local productions overseas. While it’s not quite the same thrill as completing a good ski run, for Hyman it’s all part of the adventure: "Things are always changing. It’s never the same company, in many respects. I thrive in that environment."

This story first appeared in the March 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.