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February 13, 2013 Articles

Corporate Counsel Spotlight: Gary Armstead II

Insights from associate general counsel for ARCADIS US.

By Windy Bitzer

Gary Armstead II joined ARCADIS US, Inc. in May 2010 as associate general counsel. Prior to joining ARCADIS, Gary served as an assistant attorney general for the Colorado Department of Law and as a litigation associate with large law firms in Colorado and Louisiana. Gary recently visited with Windy Bitzer, an editor of the Corporate Counsel newsletter, to discuss his in-house experience.

Q. Tell us about ARCADIS US, Inc., including how its legal department is structured.
A. ARCADIS is an international company providing consultancy, design, engineering, and management services in the fields of infrastructure, water, environment, and buildings. With more than 21,000 employees worldwide and more than $3.2 billion in revenues, the company has an extensive international network that is supported by strong local-market positions. We rank among the top 10 management and engineering consultancies in the world. ARCADIS US, one of several operating companies around the world, is a subsidiary of ARCADIS NV, headquartered in the Netherlands.

Our legal department is fairly small, with nine lawyers and several staff members. I report directly to the executive vice president and chief legal officer, Steve Niparko. There are two managers that head Claims and Litigation and Shared Services. The Shared Services group provides general corporate and real-estate legal services. My group, Claims and Litigation, manages and advises on professional and general-liability litigation, corporate health and safety, human resources, third-party subpoenas, and discovery-related issues. Three division counsels provide day-to-day support for each of the business units (infrastructure, water, environment and buildings). The company’s contracts group is embedded within the legal department and is staffed by non-lawyer professionals who administer contracts with support from the attorneys.

Q. On what types of matters does ARCADIS US, Inc. engage outside counsel?
A. We use outside counsel for an array of legal issues to support our business objectives. We rely heavily on outside counsel for litigation pending in various jurisdictions around the country. We also seek assistance from outside counsel from time to time to support governmental relations and regulatory agendas.

Q. What is keeping your legal department the busiest at the moment?
A. These days it is not enough to bring down or control legal costs, which we have done successfully. Our management is interested in exploring ways to avoid litigation altogether. We identify trends and risk patterns for each business unit. We then use the data and develop risk-avoidance models. Essentially, we try to extinguish fires before they begin to burn. We accomplish this through reviewing and revising contract terms and through improving delivery of our design services through first-in-class quality controls. We believe this proactive approach toward risk management will have a direct impact on the balance sheet.

Q. What motivated you to make the transition to an in-house legal position?
A. Since I was in law school I have always been interested in an in-house career. However, I knew that I wanted to get training and practical legal experience before transitioning to in-house. After 10 years of litigation experience, I felt it was time to explore in-house opportunities.

Q. Was working in-house something you wanted to do for a while?
A. I have always been keenly interested in using my legal education to help businesses navigate their way through the legal maze towards prosperity. Not knowing anything about how to secure an in-house position, I did some research through the Minority Corporate Counsel Association, and it became clear to me that I needed to first learn how to practice law from outside firms with corporate clients.

Q. What skills did you develop in private practice that have helped you become a successful in-house lawyer?
A. Being responsive to the needs of your client. Working in law firms taught me how to deliver high-quality legal services. To do that, one must be dedicated to their craft. That takes time, patience, and courage. Working long hours including weekends in the first few years of practice helped me develop discipline and a strong work ethic. I was also exposed to a variety of sophisticated legal issues. Learning to develop focused solutions for complex legal problems was the take-away from my private-practice experience. It has served me well since I have been in-house.

Q. What do you find to be the primary advantages of working in-house?
A. One of the advantages is that you have one client: the corporation. Another advantage is being able to know your client’s business so well that your legal advice includes strategic business advice. My work-life balance is about the same as it was in private practice. Managing lawyers, your own caseload, and other administrative responsibilities makes an in-house position far from a 9–5 job that some may think it is. But the workload is manageable without the billable-hour pressures. That is the real advantage for me.

Q. What aspects of in-house representation do you find the most challenging?
A. The constant challenge is managing your internal client’s expectations regarding risk and the need to drive the business objectives. As in-house counsel, you are not the “department of no-go,” but you strive to calibrate your risk-adverse tendency with the need for practical solutions to complex business issues. That means it is not enough to tell a client not to do something because of risk. Instead, it is better to advise the client on better or alternative options to accomplish the objectives with less risk.

Q. When selecting outside counsel, what factors are most important to you?
A. Regional reputation, trial experience, cost efficiency, motion-practice skill set, negotiation skills, and willingness to share risk.

Q. How do you describe your management style with outside counsel?
A. Litigation is about a practical means to an end. When it becomes too much of a chess match, it becomes a very expensive proposition for all interested parties. I work with my lawyers to find the most efficient and practical way to achieve resolution that is aligned with the business objective. I am hands-on, so my lawyers understand and appreciate the objectives of the engagement: efficient value-added case management and resolution. I like to think I am part of the legal team and not just the guy who pays their bills. I have a desire to be involved in every phase of the litigation process while allowing them to do what I hired them to do. I also believe that a diversity of ideas yields the best result for my company. A collaborative approach to solving issues promotes inclusion of differing thoughts to accomplish the same goal.

Q. Do you have a pet peeve that outside counsel should try to avoid?
A. Lack of communication. The worst thing you can do is start working a file without first advising me what you would like to do to advance the case strategy. There is nothing worse than reviewing a bill for services you did not authorize or had no idea were being provided. I don’t like it when lawyers fail to listen to my needs and instead provide me with what they think I need. Each client is different and each case is different. Lawyers miss an opportunity to be an asset when they fail to know the client’s pressure points and embark upon a one-size-fits-all approach. Bottom line, partner with your client through effective communication.

Q. From the in-house perspective, describe an effective working relationship with outside counsel.
A. Clarity and operational freedom. This is my overarching objective to litigation management. I desire to develop a clear path toward resolution so that the business units can focus on profitability. Outside counsel is an integral part of this process. The most effective working relationship with outside counsel comes from clearly communicated objectives and collaborative decision making processes. I don’t hire lawyers to tell me the obvious—“you have a terrible case.” I hire them to assist me in finding a way out of all the chaos that comes with litigation. Sometimes outside counsel are not provided with the best direction. Nevertheless, it is incumbent upon outside counsel to seek direction from their client (the in-house lawyer) and confirm the objectives.

Q. You attended the Corporate Counsel CLE Seminar in February 2012. Was that the first time you attended the Corporate Counsel conference? Did you enjoy the conference, and would you recommend it to other in-house counsel? Why? 
A. Yes, that was my first time at the Corporate Counsel conference. I would recommend it to other in-house counsel because it provides seminars on relevant issues facing in-house counsel. The topics were timely, and the panels consisted of seasoned professionals who seemed to speak to the very issues that I was confronting at that moment.

Q. Do you plan to attend the Corporate Counsel CLE Seminar in Hollywood, Florida, February 14–17, 2013? (Registration for in-house counsel is FREE!)
A. I am interested in attending provided I can resolve a particular matter beforehand.

Q. You were a speaker at the last Corporate Counsel Seminar on the topic of how associates can provide value to corporate clients. What advice would you give associates in private practice concerning their interactions with in-house counsel?
A. Do not be intimidated and quickly demonstrate your value to the matter. An associate can demonstrate value by knowing the client’s business, providing quality work, efficiently using their time, and advancing the litigation strategy.

Q. If not an attorney, what would you most like to be?|
A. An architect. I would love to design buildings and other structures that are influenced by nature, the world around you, and life itself. Sort of like John Portman.

Keywords: litigation, corporate counsel, Armstead, ARCADIS US

Windy Bitzer is a member of Hand Arendall LLC in Mobile, Alabama.