Features

Juliana Cobb – Nana Development Corp.

Employment law works for her

The way Juliana Cobb looks at it, she was given the benefit of a few months’ head start when her longtime employer, NANA Development Corp., informed in June that it would no longer need her services as senior corporate counsel.

Juliana Cobb – Nana Development Corp.Having been in-house counsel for what has been known as WHPacific, Inc. since 1998 and for NANA directly since 2005 (when NANA acquired WHPacific) Cobb was planning to retire in 2017, not to ease into her golden years that are still a ways off, but to undertake a new challenge where she could put to new uses her extensive background as an in-house lawyer.

Cobb seemed well on her way to laying the groundwork for just that in mid-July when she spoke to Vanguard from her home in the Winston-Salem, North Carolina, area.

“I was anticipating my retirement although the timing wasn’t exactly what I had planned,” the upbeat and animated Cobb says. “Working for NANA has been the highlight of my legal career to date, and I will always be grateful for their support. That said, I’m not ready to stop working, so I’m setting up my own independent consulting business. You can say I’m well prepared to do so.”

That may be an understatement.

In from the cold

Headquartered in Anchorage, Alaska, with operations nationwide, NANA Development Corp. is no conventional company, it being owned by an outfit known as NANA Regional Corp., which is an Alaska Native Corporation established under the provisions of 1971 federal law that takes into account that while the United States bought Alaska from the Russians, the interests of some folks—the native Alaskans—weren’t afforded due consideration.

Most of NANA Regional’s 14,000 stockholders are Alaskan natives of Inupiat descent, and the company is indebted to their economic, social and cultural interests. Stock shares aren’t publicly traded or sold, but can be gifted.

NANA Development’s businesses are organized into three sectors—oil and gas support services, federal government contracting, and commercial services. The commercial sector includes primarily engineering and other professional services, hospitality and technology, and had multiple means of utilizing Cobb’s talents.

Emphasis on multiple: NANA Development owns—but used to own more—small and medium-sized companies, many in the engineering and architectural industries, each of which could not afford its own corporate counsel. Cobb’s hours would be divided among those companies, often for advice on employment law.

Cobb describes resolving to NANA’s advantage a couple costly and time-consuming disputes. The Army Corps of Engineers unsuccessfully sought $7.8 million from a NANA engineering subsidiary for work done at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. It took eight years for the company to vindicate itself.

It took almost as long to settle a claim over alleged overruns at the federal courthouse in El Paso, Texas, a situation that Cobb blamed, in large part, on design and construction work bookending Hurricane Katrina, which spiked the prices of steel and other materials.

“Our practice was that we would stand behind our work.  We did not fight a claim just to fight.  If we failed to meet the agreed-upon standard of care, we accepted responsibility. That said, sometimes clients unreasonably expected engineering to be perfect—and perfection is not the standard of care for engineering. If a claim was unjustly made, we would fight and argue our position,” she says. “We were fairly successful at that.”

There were times when the Wake Forest law grad would feel she was being spread too thin, but it broadened her legal savvy and placed a premium on time-management—skills that should be readily marketable in her new pursuit.

Well grounded

With NANA refocusing its resources, it didn’t need Cobb. After 15 years living in Alaska, Cobb moved home to North Carolina in 2010 to care for her elderly, ailing mother and had been working remotely for the past six years, which meant commuting to and from Alaska. Those trips were becoming exhausting.

“Today’s air travel is much like bus travel was when I was in college, and the commute to Alaska is not only long—often taking over 10 hours in travel time—but the time zone shift is exhausting,” she says. “I am extremely grateful to NANA for allowing me to work remotely all these years.”

Nana Development

In North Carolina, Cobb sees a void she can fill; a wealth of small to mid-sized companies that may not be able to afford a full-time in-house lawyer or want to pay for pricy outside counsel.

“I’ll be offering in-house services on demand for an affordable rate,” explains Cobb, whose overhead will be minimal. “I’m not your litigator; I’ll be the one you’ll call when you want someone to investigate an internal concern or draft, review, revise an employment handbook or provide specific training to your management and employees or create a compliance program.”

Employment law appeals to Cobb, intellectually and philosophically. It’s basically the same whether a company employs a few people or a few thousand, and as long as everyone’s playing by the rules, it doesn’t have to be acrimonious.

“It’s not like family law where everyone loses,” Cobb says. “You can do the right thing for people and prevent problems for companies, and everybody is the better for it. I would rather be part of the management structure that avoids the problems and keeps companies on ethical grounds than have to come in later and straighten out a mess.”

No slam-dunk

Preventive action, however, isn’t fail-safe. Cobb chuckles when recalling a situation that arose pre-NANA, when she was the staff attorney for Long, Haymes, Carr Inc., a national advertising agency at the time located in Winston-Salem whose clients included Hanes.

Basketball superstar Michael Jordan had contracted to pitch underwear for local apparel maker Hanesbrands Inc. With an athlete’s endorsement worth more when he’s playing rather than retired, Cobb worked with Jordan’s legal counsel to draft a contract that took into account that he was still the dominant player of the NBA champion Chicago Bulls. The contract included what should have been a straight-forward compensation clause that adjusted Jordan’s fee for pre- and post-retirement.

But Jordan would retire from the Bulls prior to 1993-1994 for an unsuccessful attempt to play pro baseball, then returned to the NBA for four seasons, then re-retired for three, only to come back for two more years in a futile attempt to breathe life into the Washington Wizards, of whom he had become part-owner.

“That’s legal life on celebrity road,” says Cobb, who also drafted contracts for San Francisco 49er Joe Montana and supermodel Carol Alt, and had to settle a claim brought forth by the Elvis Presley Charitable Foundation, which took exception to Long, Haymes, Carr alluding to “The King” in another ad campaign.

Cobb’s recent career shift as an employment-law consultant may not be as adventurous as her NANA career nor as much fun as sealing deals with celebrities. But she gives every indication she’ll find it just as satisfying.

Maybe even more conducive to other plans, which may involve a writing project with her husband, Richard Cobb, a Vietnam-era Marine who survived the Tet offensive of 1968 and returned home with a Vietnamese flag marked with the names of six fellow Marines killed in that famous battle.

“We want to research those names, and that’ll take some effort,” she says. “I feel for those boys who didn’t make it back. We want to tell their stories. We want their families to know that their sacrifice is appreciated and that they have not been forgotten.”

The opportunity to do so while offering her independent consultant services should make for an interesting next chapter of what’s been an adventurous life.

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.
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.
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.

LATEST EDITION

Fall II 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.