Building a legal career in construction and engineering
Ask a lawyer, especially a young one, what’s the biggest headache to working at a firm, and the answer may well be the pressure from above to rack up 2,000 billable hours in the course of a year.
The overhead at the professional associations tends to be huge, and so the high-handed ideals that might have compelled a young man or woman to attend law school can all too often be compromised by the pursuit of jackpot justice. And jumping around from case to case—a DUI, a prenup, a high-stakes divorce, quibbling with an insurance company over the alleged merits of a personal-injury claim—can stunt expertise in specialized areas.
Let’s take a look at these corporate counsels—four men and two women who head the legal departments of construction and engineering companies.
Lawyers profiled in the following segment didn’t quite phrase it in those words, but it’s obvious that for them, being in-house counsel for a reputable corporation has proven the better career path. Among other advantages, it means having just one client, that being the corporation itself.
Of course, that all-important client must be satisfied daily, but there’s the opportunity to familiarize oneself with all aspects of a company’s operations, including the business end.
And there’s having weekends off—that is when not dispatched to a faraway operation and being told you can come home only when the work is complete. But even that may turn into an adventure that one won’t regret.
So let’s take a look at these corporate counsels—four men and two women who head the legal departments of construction and engineering companies. Diverse in many ways, these in-house lawyers share the trait of legal and industry savvy that makes them the ones their companies turn to when issues arise, or simply for guidance on how to improve overall operations.
All this in overall, high-stakes operations, it should be mentioned, since few endeavors have less margin for error than the building industries where regulations are complex, compliance in any number of areas must be precise, and each day of delay is costly.
Staying with Stanley
Henry Marquard obviously likes Stanley Consultants Inc., and they must like him, too. He’s been with the Iowa-based global engineering and construction company for 26 years, sees his mark on world-class projects on multiple continents, and when not abroad gets to live in the beautiful heartland.
As he tells Vanguard, he’s done everything from putting out worksite fires to hopscotching around Middle East hot spots to managing an engineering enterprise in China. It was on an open-ended assignment in Kuwait, post-Gulf War I, when he called his stateside boss, asking when he might return only to be told, “when the job was done.” Needless to say, he was there for quite a while.
Marquard likely wouldn’t be entrusted with all these duties without his extensive background in construction due to his role as an industry attorney and part-owner of a small company in Chicago. Though new to the international front, ability to read a blueprint can break down many borders while putting up many projects.
And he relishes the opportunities to upgrade the living standards in places where work summons.
“Like bringing fresh water into places that don’t have fresh water, or improving transportation or providing rural electrification,” he says.
Happy at H&M
Such infrastructural know-how also distinguishes Caroline Henrich, general counsel for the suburban Philadelphia utility constructor, Henkels & McCoy Group Inc.
Prior to coming aboard in 2014, she had compiled a most impressive resume in utility law; her credentials strengthened by a master of law degree in energy, environmental and natural resources. With that expertise much in demand, Henrich, who had handled such complexities as telecommunications, interstate gas transmission, and environmental-law compliance as general counsel at other utilities, was an easy choice to fill that role at Henkels & McCoy.
As she tells Vanguard, not all of H&M’s construction involves heavy machinery; the company was planning some extensive internal restructuring when it hired Henrich. With her help, the company wasn’t cut down to size—just fine-tuned into new subdivisions firing on all cylinders and poised to pursue big projects with the need for infrastructural upgrade a national priority.
A science guy
Henrich might find a kindred soul in Richard Tong, general counsel and part of an ambitious group of five, who in 2010 founded the NV5 technical engineering firm and consultant in Hollywood, Florida.
A biologist prior to becoming an attorney, Tong looks for professional experience or a degree in science or engineering when poring through job applications. That way, his team can speak the same language as the public- and private-sector clients who rely on NV5 in the “five verticals”—construction quality assurance, infrastructure, energy, program management and environmental.
Now globally active with 2,000 employees and revenues of $45 million, NV5 continues growing, acquiring 17 companies since going public in 2013. Business aptitude is essential, says Tong, adding that the company expects to keep taking calculated risks to sustain its seven years of remarkable growth.
“Beyond engineering” is how NV5 describes its capabilities.
“Beyond legal” might be how Tong describes the role that he and his team of three lawyers and another trio of support staff fill.
Bush means business
Heather Bush would agree that the best legal strategies can be business strategies. The general counsel of Bureau Veritas, a South Florida-based company that offers testing, inspection and certification services to over 400,000 businesses in 140 countries, Bush’s business smarts are attested to by the company’s North American operations expanding five-fold while its litigation costs have been halved.
Asked to describe her legal team’s biggest contribution, Bush mentions risk-management training. Mindful of anticipating problems before they get a chance to fester, she and her colleagues travel constantly. They can be found meeting with clients and advising them on setting clear expectations when pitching services that include testing, inspection or certification for everything from food manufacturing facilities and construction sites to oil refineries and power plants.
“I know a lot of legal departments are scary black holes that no one wants to talk to, but I can tell you that’s not my team,” she tells Vanguard.
Going deep with Gregoire
Khristopher M. Gregoire hasn’t been down any scary black holes, just the deep blue sea where he supervised the engineering aboard a nuclear submarine, having been a Naval officer before taking over the legal command at the Boston area firm of VHB.
“Serving on a submarine 400 feet underwater, there aren’t many other scary things in life after that,” says Gregoire, whose background well prepared him for in-depth discussions with VHB’s estimable team of civil engineers, scientists and designers.
Aboard the subs, Gregoire never knew if an emergency was real or simulated, but in either case, his performance would be reviewed to the highest standards. He operates the same way on dry land, and expects his team to also hold up under pressure.
And another thing, he reminds from his Navy days: Individuals working in isolation won’t keep the boat from sinking.
Also technical and team-oriented
Barry Lubow can attest for the values of teamwork and technical savvy. The company he serves, DLZ Corp. of Columbus, Ohio, was selected by Engineering News Record as Midwest Design Firm of the Year for 2016.
That wouldn’t have happened, he says, without the closest connections among all departments and employees. DLZ is responsible for some of the most challenging infrastructure in the Midwest, and no one does it alone.
“From senior management on down … our environment allows our people to focus on supporting each other and client service,” he says.
And while Lubow may lack Gregoire’s extensive technical creds—as does practically everybody—he’s well-versed enough in the language of infrastructure and constantly reading up on the latest in the ever-evolving industry. He also remembers the timeless wisdom of a Harvard professor who stressed that a business doesn’t have a legal problem; it has a problem, period. The in-house lawyer had better be versatile and logical enough to sort out the mess.
“Sometimes you have to learn about the technical side to understand the legal implications,” Lubow says. “This isn’t widgets we’re designing here, and I like that.”
Not that the widgets makers should be slighted. It’s just the stakes are so exponentially higher with major infrastructure. Few matters so fluster the public as traffic delays, malfunctioning grids, unreliable water systems, late trains.
Corporate counsels acting in tandem with the technical wings of their operations do justice to public efficiency. Here at Vanguard, we’re proud to put a face on just a few of these men and women.
Communication, a proactive approach, immersion in a company’s overall operation, a thorough knowledge of the industry itself and a healthy dose of humility—all seem to be the virtues they share, as well as building blocks for anyone’s on-the-job growth.
Read more on these firms, and many others, here, in our special segment.
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