It’s not often you meet a lawyer who says in no uncertain terms she has her “dream job.” But on Jessica Verran-Lingard’s LinkedIn profile is credible evidence: She’s posted a screen credit for season three of the Star Wars franchise The Mandalorian with her name underlined. “If you had told me as a 9-year-old with Leia buns that one day, my name would be in the credits of Star Wars, I think I would’ve had a hard time believing you. It’s still a little hard to believe now.”
Since 2021, Verran-Lingard, JD/MBA ’15, has worked as associate principal counsel for the legal and business affairs team at Lucasfilm, a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Co. She’s involved in one of the most complex and dynamic areas of entertainment law, where technology and intellectual property intersect. Verran-Lingard helps Lucasfilm’s powerhouse visual effects and technology company, Industrial Light & Magic, deploy a staggering variety of cutting-edge tools, such as software platforms that blend computer-generated characters with live-action moviemaking. For The Mandalorian, for example, rather than having actors perform in front of a traditional blank “green screen,” adding in a digital background later, ILM’s StageCraft technology projects a planet’s surface or other background on LED screens that surround the actors in real time. It’s part magic and part technology alchemy, and directors love it. But it often requires service agreements to define the web of rights and relationships for hardware, software, and digital assets needed to make it all work.
Verran-Lingard and her colleagues create these complex agreements not just for Lucasfilm projects, but for ILM’s work across the Walt Disney Co. and even for outside clients. With the capabilities of technology constantly changing, the job marries her longtime love of the arts and storytelling with the rigor of both law and business. “Lucasfilm is as much of a tech company as it is an entertainment company and a film studio,” she says.
Verran-Lingard’s journey began in Johnson City, Tennessee, where she excelled in school and loved singing and dance. Her father was a musician and her mother worked in hotels, but money was tight. The one vacation the family took when she was a child was to Disney World.
She secured a prestigious Chancellor’s Scholarship at Vanderbilt. She also studied at Oxford and earned two undergraduate degrees—one in math, the other in political science. Verran-Lingard vividly recalls the day she received a call from the Stanford Law School dean of admissions saying she’d been accepted. “I was standing in the kitchen, and I just slowly sunk to the floor.” Next thing she knew she was moving into Munger dorm.
Verran-Lingard’s mother is white and her father is African American, and she identifies as a biracial Black person. She says at Stanford she fully embraced her identity and found community in groups like the Black Graduate Students Association (where she went on to serve as president) and the SLS Black Law Students Association. Eventually she became a founding officer and remains on the advisory board of the SLS Black Alumni Association. She says her most impactful classes included those taught by Ralph Richard Banks (BA ’87, MA ’87), the Jackson Eli Reynolds Professor of Law, on race and the law.
But it was another pivotal SLS experience that shaped her career aspirations: studying with IP law expert Paul Goldstein, Stella W. and Ira S. Lillick Professor of Law. Verran-Lingard had initially hoped to work in the music industry (she sang throughout SLS with the University Singers, and she produced the law school musical). But in Goldstein’s classes and practicum, she became fascinated with how technology was enabling entirely new forms of storytelling—while at the same time its future hinged on sorting out questions of intellectual property. During the winter break of her 2L year, she applied for and was admitted to the MBA program at the Stanford Graduate School of Business as a JD/MBA candidate to better understand the business side of this vibrant nexus.
The challenge came when Verran-Lingard started speaking to career counselors about her ideal job, and their reaction was, “That’s great, but that role doesn’t exist right now. You’ll have to figure it out, find it, or make it exist,” she recalls.
So she did. Verran-Lingard worked for several years in corporate law in Austin, Texas, and then joined the Strategic Transactions & Licensing Group at Gunderson Dettmer in Redwood City, California. For almost four years, she worked with an array of companies, including startups developing a cross-reality virtual concerts platform and immersive entertainment venues, for example. Gunderson partner Shawna Reeder, JD ’09, says Verran-Lingard’s previous corporate law experience and MBA prepared her to excel at the firm.
“She really dug in, and she is very brave. We are not lawyers who can just say ‘no, no, no,’ because we play the role of strategic advisors to our clients, helping guide their business strategy.”
In late 2020, Verran-Lingard learned Lucasfilm was looking to hire an attorney for a more traditional entertainment legal job than she was seeking. However, she applied and was clear about how she hoped her skills could be put to use. A few days later, she got another memorable call: The company wanted to create a new role for someone with her specific skills and interests to meet emerging business strategy.
“What’s always impressed me about Jessica is how she forges her own path. There were not many models for how to do the job she has today,” says her SLS classmate Laura Bixby, JD ’14, now a staff attorney and clinical supervisor for the East Bay Community Law Center. “She’s never accepted that your job needs to be separate from your passions in life.” Verran-Lingard says what also makes her job special is that Lucasfilm embraced her commitment to workplace diversity and support for traditionally marginalized groups. Within six months she was co-leading MOSAIC North America—Lucasfilm and Industrial Light & Magic’s employee resource group for ethnically and racially diverse employees and allies.
Goldstein, the professor who helped launch Verran-Lingard on her professional path a decade ago, recalls she was a “very serious student.” He reflects that going back to the days of pencils and printing presses, new technology has long pushed the copyright field to new frontiers. Verran-Lingard agrees. “Technology almost always outpaces the evolution of the law.” SL