As the general counsel for SOS International, Gregory Hayken isn’t just here to put out the fires. Unlike your personal lawyer — “somebody who you call after things have gone wrong” — an in-house attorney has a very different role to play, he said.
“My job is to help efficiently and effectively protect the company, minimize risk and maintain compliance,” he said. “My role is to enable the success of the business.”
By engaging early and helping others in the company to understand why and how the law applies to their situation, an in-house legal team can protect the business and help it grow.
One of the most important things is working across functions where each has legal implications, Hayken said.
“For example, many groups deal with contracts,” he said. “Like, when we lease facilities or when we want to buy office supplies or software. All of those contracts require not only legal review, but also assistance in training and helping people to understand how to read these contracts, how to negotiate these contracts and how to operate under the contracts.”
The legal team can help, too, by vetting suppliers, especially in the conflict zones where SOSi tends to work.
“In the austere areas in which we operate, we developed relationships with reliable and compliant suppliers,” Hayken said. “It is our continuous and robust vetting that enables us to find the most trustworthy partners of goods and services. The legal department oversees the compliance aspects of vendor vetting.”
The legal team also works across the enterprise to improve essential business functions. It helped SOSi scale for success by updating its forms and contract templates and centralize them into a contract management software system that allows workflows to be automated.
“This is a force multiplier when it comes to our ability to manage lots of transactions,” Hayken said.
All these proactive moves by the legal department help SOSi respond quickly to new marketplace opportunities. Where many may view legal as the people who slow things down — the champions of corporate heel-dragging — Hayken says attorneys can leverage their unique skills to drive nimbler business operations.
“I’ve got a fantastic legal team: We have a different perspective than the operations folks,” he said. “We can help the company to be agile and to operate very quickly. Especially during this COVID period, we need to act quickly to seize an opportunity when it pops up.”
That legal perspective can help make the wheels turn more smoothly, for example, by clarifying ambiguities at the start of a contract. And the attorneys don’t just look to pick nits — they share what they know to make the entire company stronger and smarter.
“We spend a lot of our time explaining to folks why we’re making the recommendations that we do,” Hayken said. “We’re not just going to come in and say: ‘That is not the right way to do it.’ We have long conversations with the different teams, explaining why the regs were written that way so that we can explore solutions together.”
As a result, “we’re not just growing the company. We’re developing our employees as well,” he said. “You don’t really think of it as ‘training’ when you’re talking to a lawyer, but that’s what I like to make it. I’m always seeking to enable a more sophisticated body of decision-makers within our company.”
In the midst of these efforts, the legal team also has had a role to play in helping the company to navigate the complexities of current pandemic.
“What happens if some of our employees have to quarantine on their way to customer sites? What happens if some people catch COVID and become unavailable? We still have to meet our contract requirements,” Hayken said.
While strong customer relationships help in these difficult times, there’s also a legal component.
“We have to know what are our legal options under the CARES Act and various [Defense Department] and other customer policies,” Hayken said.
On a personal level, Hayken said he’s pleased to be part of an enterprise that works toward a larger goal.
“The contractor community consists of people who believe strongly in the same mission,” he said. “When you look across government — whether it’s the folks in healthcare, at embassies, in the branches of the armed services — these are all vital missions. It is personally satisfying to say that you’re a part of that.”
Before coming to the GovCon world some 17 years ago, Hayken worked for a while as a litigator. He said being part of a team, all working toward a common goal, is far more satisfying than the courtroom environment.
“That’s a cultural constant among those in the defense contracting world,” he said. “It’s all about enabling the mission.”