Laurence Grayer serves as senior vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary for DynCorp International where he manages the company’s in-house legal department.
Prior to DynCorp International in 2006, Grayer served as assistant general counsel with the Amalgamated Transit Union and is also a former associate of Hack, Piro, O’Day, Merklinger, Wallace & McKenna.
In his conversation with ExecutiveBiz, Grayer discusses how to hire the right lawyers, how to get reduced rates on legal services and his biggest accomplishment since joining the Falls Church, Va-based firm.
ExecutiveBiz: In your view, what is the role of the legal department?
Laurence Grayer: Act as a true business partner. It’s easy to provide advice on the details of the law, but that should only be the first step in providing meaningful counsel. To me, giving appropriate legal counsel involves an analysis of all legal risks involved so that an informed business decision can be made. Also, you should use your knowledge of the law and the business to assist with the development of alternative courses of action that may achieve the same or similar result, but with reduced risk. Over time, using this approach will promote a positive reputation for the legal department. The department will be viewed as problem solvers not as a roadblock, and management will actively seek advice and counsel before an issue develops.
Grayer: Smart hiring. I’m amazed how little effort is sometimes placed on making sure you are hiring top talent, with the perfect skillset and the right personality for the company and your department. We have a multi-step interview process that ultimately results in 3 or 4 rounds of interviews by many of the lawyers in the department and the business leads who will be regularly relying upon the new lawyer for legal advice. Once you find the right candidate, don’t forget that you are also being interviewed. Develop a positive and professionally rewarding culture, and let the candidate see and understand what it would be like to be part of the team. Following these steps can help establish a high-functioning and efficient department. Last week, it was announced that our legal department is 1 of 5 finalists selected for Outstanding Law Department by the Washington Metropolitan Area Corporate Counsel Association (more than 700 legal departments are members). The lawyers work very hard and it’s great to see the department recognized. It was also announced that I am 1 of 3 finalists being considered for Outstanding Chief Legal Officer.
How do you deal with pressures to reduce costs when there are legal challenges that need to be addressed?
Grayer: With the right staffing, the majority of daily legal issues can be handled internally, without the need for outside counsel. For litigation where outside counsel is clearly needed, we have an established process that allows outside counsel to compete for the new work. The law firms know their competitors are also attempting to obtain the same business. If a law firm is willing to offer a large percent rate reduction, we still push for 5% or 10% more, and we freeze all rates for the duration of the litigation. One large firm is still charging us the rates we negotiated in 2008. The cases are also closely managed. Push back on legal bills when necessary, develop budgets early on and carefully monitor, explore alternative fee arrangements if appropriate, and know your insurance contracts. With a skillful analysis, insurance coverage can be obtained for a much broader set of claims than anticipated; you’ll be surprised what you discover.
In today’s fast-paced business environment, do you experience challenges in communicating legal advice?
Grayer: Developing an appropriate communication style for your business is critical. A good general counsel knows when to raise issues, what issues to raise, and communicates legal advice and information in a clear and concise manner. A long memo filled with legalese and legal citations may be confusing and may fail to effectively highlight the true legal concerns. It is essential to know your audience. I also find it helpful to discuss lessons learned examples whenever possible, as they can clearly illustrate the value of following legal counsel.
What is your biggest accomplishment since joining DynCorp?
Grayer: There are many accomplishments that I am proud of, but I’ll mention just one recent significant litigation victory that occurred earlier this year. The lawsuit is an extremely complex mass tort action, originally filed as a class action with 1000’s of individual plaintiffs and several provinces in Ecuador suing the company. A federal appellate court upheld the dismissal of the vast majority of the claims, and I have been personally involved with crafting, structuring, and directing the defense of the case for more than eight years. It was extremely rewarding to eliminate this risk to the company.
How can the legal department increase DynCorp International’s competitive advantage?
Grayer: By keeping management fully informed about current legal issues and possible future legal concerns, the company can make informed business decisions early on and revisit those decisions as needed. If high risk legal challenges are identified regarding a possible new business pursuit, the pursuit can be abandoned or added protective measures can be taken to reduce the risk. We also closely monitor and track the legal mistakes made by our competitors and use this information in lessons learned presentations.
What advice would you give a new general counsel?
Grayer: Fully understand what is expected from you and the legal department and then strive to exceed those expectations. Your integrity should be unquestionable. Early on, develop positive business relationships with senior management and stakeholders. Always focus on protecting the company and making decisions that promote to the long term success of the company.