Features

Chi Lam – Guardiar

Always on the right track

Chi Lam – Guardiar

Cut your legal teeth at a law firm before going in-house. Prove you can rack up those 2,000 billable hours annually and comfortably juggle cases to the satisfaction of a diverse clientele.

So young lawyers are advised.

While Chi Lam won’t disagree with the need for new attorneys to secure a strong foundation, he learned through unconventional means that he’ll never regret.

For it wasn’t that long ago when Lam—since 2018 the general counsel of perimeter security specialist Guardiar—was wearing boots and jeans, trudging through mud and dirt in steamy Liberia with a multinational company that was rehabbing a destroyed railroad line. Fresh out of George Washington University Law School and already in-house counsel for a Brazilian-based multinational construction company that operated worldwide, Lam felt as hands-on as any of the engineering and construction supervisors on the 300-kilometer-long site.

“It really defined to me what it means to be an attorney right out of law school,” Lam tells Vanguard in September from Guardiar’s offices in Alexandria, Virginia. “Before then, I thought that when you graduated law school, you’d wear a suit and tie, go to an office and research a case and advocate. Well, taking on that role in Liberia changed the paradigm in my mind.”

The early and often humbling lessons of a decade ago in the field taught him that being a lawyer—particularly in-house—meant understanding, adapting and embracing all aspects of the company that is the primary client. It meant taking the most holistic of views and understanding the mechanics of the business.

It’s an approach he’s taken to Guardiar, though, he notes, working conditions are a lot more comfortable.

Secure’s the word

While this company’s product isn’t a railroad, it’s still quite intriguing—Guardiar is noted for manufacturing and installing high-security products including crash-related and standard barriers, bollards and gates. It’s also diversifying its perimeter security offerings to include software that allows a corporate or public sector customer to remotely monitor facilities.

Chi Lam – Guardiar

The company is active in locales that include the Middle East and Africa, where its physical barriers are augmented by software and security systems at such crucial installations as refineries, utility companies, schools and government buildings. It is Lam’s responsibility to oversee all legal and contracting matters that arise in connection with the company’s worldwide operations.

“In certain parts of the world you find such emphasis on relationships,” he explains. “It’s not just a cold business transaction. You’ve got to build a personal trust with the person on the other side. If an issue arises, your first reaction shouldn’t be writing a letter. You pick up the phone and discuss the issue.”

It’s not that relationships matter less in other places, Lam goes on to say, it’s just that oftentimes, on this side of the Atlantic, disputes may be settled between lawyers on opposing sides. But that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily combative. “I will still pick up the phone and speak with my legal counterpart to find the best resolution for our clients,” he says.

With the global economy showing some recovery from the pandemic-induced downturn, Lam looks forward to helping the business develop on many fronts, including helping to develop a legal framework for a new software security platform that Guardiar is offering to its customers.

When a company decides to move into new business areas such as offering perpetual software with support licensing or SaaS, it can be a virtual minefield of legal liabilities. Lam sees his role as helping a business partner step back, figure out the needs of the business, the regulatory framework and the costs.

Chi Lam – Guardiar

He’s enabled efficiencies as the company works to launch its software business line, largely through interactions with other departments.

“The company has never previously offered a software solution, so it is important that information is freely shared between the commercial, sales, finance and management teams with legal acting as a conduit. The legal team has the benefit of working with all stakeholders,” he explains.

“This gives us a holistic understanding of issues so that we can constructively communicate problems and help the business establish a legal and contractual framework to effectively support the new business,” Lam continues.

In addition to supporting the establishment of a new business line, there’s plenty of other work to keep him busy. Guardiar being a subsidiary under the U.K.-based Praesidiad, he manages the legal, contractual, compliance and corporate affairs of domestic and global operations.

As the company’s first general counsel, Lam has also created the Guardiar Diversity Supplier Program which brings diversity and inclusion into the supply chain. On the compliance front he helps to enforce a program that ensures adherence to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and U.K. Bribery Act—each of which has severe penalties for companies that fall short.

Chi Lam – Guardiar

It’s all part of the fun of being an in-house legal counsel, which is where Lam says he feels most at home. Though how he got there wasn’t always direct.

Lam laughs as he describes his undergrad years as an economics and French double-major at the University of Minnesota. While each subject was interesting, he was not committed to pursuing a career in either area. He took the bar exam and did well enough to gain admittance to law school, where he could combine his love for writing and reading.

“What really impressed me was this process of thinking about and approaching issues with a set of rules that society has agreed to live upon,” he recalls.

And in the business world, that entailed straddling the distance between what a company sought and how that could be fashioned within legal parameters. For Lam, these parameters are defined by understanding how the company operates as a whole and not just on the discrete legal issues.

“I never want to give advice in a vacuum,” he says. “I need to understand the business, the issues and analyze from all angles.”

Published on: November 16, 2020

regions:

categories:

Showcase your feature on your website with a custom “As Featured in Vanguard” badge that links directly to your article!

Copy and paste this script into your page coding (ideally right before the closing tag) where you want to display our review banner.

Testimonials

It was a great honor to be featured in Vanguard Law. Working with every member of the team, from the initial interview with Erin Clark, through production with Victor Martins, writing the article with Taryn Plumb and creating the final content with Dave Gushee, was a true pleasure. Everyone was very professional, enthusiastic and supportive, and their creative approach and positive attitude clearly came through in the final product.
– Kevin C. Rakowski, Senior Vice President, Deputy General Counsel, Compliance with Radian Group Inc.
I was honored to be the subject of an article. I enjoy reading Vanguard articles and seeing how other attorneys got to their positions and see their jobs. It's also interesting to see how different law firms partner with the subjects of the articles.
– Henry Marquard, in-house counsel, Stanley Consultants Inc.
As promised in advance, my feature in Vanguard has increased my visibility within the profession and prompted more than a few people I have not communicated with recently to reconnect. One of the Italian law firms I have used in the past is now in the process of interviewing me for an article on their website and tweeting out the feature story. Activity and the number of people connecting with me on LinkedIn has soared, which is great. The Vanguard writers and editorial staff were great to work with—highly professional and made the effort to make the experience both fun and rewarding (they were also respectful of the time pressures and demands all lawyers face). I was very pleased with the experience and the final outcome. Needless to say, I have been very pleased. All in all working with Vanguard has been a very positive experience which generated good publicity for both Shawcor and myself. My sincere thanks.
– Tim Hutzul, General Counsel, ShawCor Ltd.
The piece highlighting my company, Bob Baker Enterprises, Inc., came out fabulous. Our company is in the new and used car sales and service industry. Everyone was great to work with and extremely professional. They produced a high-quality product and have provided expert assistance and guidance post-production of the article.
– Wade Poulson, General Counsel, Bob Baker Enterprises Inc.

LATEST EDITION

Fall III 2021

READ NOW

GET VANGUARD IN YOUR INBOX.

  • * We’ll never share your email or info with anyone.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.