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Andrew Shipley is senior corporate counsel for Northrop Grumman, a Los Angeles-based company that designs and manufactures military aircraft and ships, space technology, and electronics for the defense industry.
Can you tell us something about the company? Most people likely assume it’s involved only in defense work. We’re a global defense company with headquarters in L.A., but we have employees and operations in all 50 states and in 25 countries. We have over 120,000 employees. We provide technically advanced projects and services in a number of areas, including system integration, defense electronics, advanced aircrafts, shipbuilding — we make all the aircraft carriers for the U.S. Navy — and space technology that we supply to the U.S. and international military and to federal and state governments and commercial customers. The company operates through different sectors. Each sector has a primary business mission and contains any number of business units, each focusing on a different aspect of that mission. For example, in Baltimore, we have the Electronic Sensors sector; Northern Virginia has Mission Systems headquartered in Reston, Information Technology in McLean, Technical Services in Herndon, and Newport News shipbuilding in Newport News. I’m in what we refer to as our Washington corporate office. Our corporate headquarters are in L.A., but we also have a corporate office in D.C. It’s actually in Rosslyn [Va.], but we refer to it as our D.C. office.
So how are you set up as a law department? We have slightly over 100 lawyers. Most of our lawyers fall into one of two broad categories: either operations counsel, who provide day-to-day legal advice to the business they support and who are sited at the business, or specialist attorneys, who may or may not be on site. The specialists focus on a practice area such as environmental, employment, IP, or litigation. But we are all of us, regardless of where we sit, part of a centralized, independent law department that reports up the chain to the general counsel, and that gives us the flexibility and the credibility to service the client. As a centralized department, we can understand where the skill sets are and leverage them across the company.
Who is the company’s general counsel? He’s Burks Terry, and he’s based in Century City, California.
So what goes on in the D.C. office? The East Coast corporate office does a number of things besides law, such as government relations and public affairs, but what I know most about, obviously, is the law group. I’m the senior lawyer in the Washington law office, which houses about a dozen lawyers, ranging from international to antitrust to mergers and acquisitions to environmental to litigation. I have administrative responsibility for the entire office, but only the litigation lawyers report to me on a day-to-day basis. We all work together across the department — we’re one department, and I cannot overemphasize that. It’s an extremely collegial and cooperative group.
Can you talk about the work that you do? Many in-house counsel wear a number of hats, and I’m no different; we’re not as stovepiped as attorneys in law firms tend to be. There is an administrative responsibility that goes with being the senior person here, which is managing the office. I also chair the company’s preferred-provider program for outside counsel, through which we’re evaluating who we retain and how we retain them. I also head the Eastern operations litigation group, which has the responsibility for litigation in the Eastern states as well as internationally, primarily in Europe and Canada but occasionally in Asia and South America. Beyond that, in our group we all work with each other and transfer skill sets across practice areas. As part of that, we regularly work with our colleagues on issues such as drafting contract language in due diligence.
Do you get to do any litigation these days? I still keep my hands in litigation, especially if it’s significant in terms of dollars or issues, but I’m blessed to have extremely talented people who work with me.
What are the big legal issues you encounter? I would call them challenges. What I find to be the most amazing thing about challenges is that they’re what makes the job interesting and rewarding, and so I’m quite happy to say that we have quite a number of them. At the technical-lawyering level, because we have such a huge subject matter and geographic charter, we need to stay abreast of and informed about developments here and abroad, ranging from the impact of the new e-discovery rules to how the members of the European Union have implemented the concept of “commercial agent” as set forth in the EU Directive guidelines. But beyond technical lawyering — and this is extremely important — we need to be able to extract the details from the matters we’re handling and abstract them into trends and patterns that allow us to advise the client of what’s over the horizon. Being in house allows us to do that because we have a true sense of the business mission and client concerns and we’re focused on client services. We have one client, the company, but numerous client representatives. We keep up with our technical-lawyering skills by reading journals and learning all we can about issues as they come to the fore during a case. But I do think that the next level, the abstraction from individual cases, is the critical-thinking level and is extremely important.
What do you enjoy about the job? Well, first, there’s more to enjoying a job than just being challenged by it. The other thing that’s terrific about this job is that I’m surrounded by exceptionally bright and motivated attorneys, and I take a great deal of pride in the law department across the board. For example, our preferred-provider program proves to me that the collective intelligence of a group of motivated people is greater than the intelligence of any one person in the group. Beyond that, it’s a pleasure to see that talent level reflected in the company outside the law department. Smart people are often described as rocket scientists or nuclear engineers. We have both, and we’re all dedicated to a critically important mission. Sometimes I forget that when I get caught up in the day-to-day responsibilities of the job, but then I’ll be at a football game with my boys, and a B2 will fly overhead, and they’ll say, “That’s the plane our company makes!”
Can you name the outside counsel you use? Well, what I would say is that we work with a number of law firms. It’s often remarked that there are too many lawyers in the world, but the upside of that is that there are very good lawyers to work with. Our preferred-provider program is the mechanism we use. It’s been in the works for a while.
Can you describe the program? One should always be willing to review how one does business, and this was part of our effort to think about how we were providing client service in the best way possible. I think the company as a whole engages in this type of review. If we want to be an innovative and successful company, we have to be willing to take a good, hard look at what we are doing.
What’s your background? Before I was here, I was a partner at Goodwin Procter in Boston. At the time, the firm prided itself on being the largest single-office firm in the country. Before that, after graduating from Harvard Law School, I was an associate at what was then Piper & Marbury. I left Goodwin Procter to build an Eastern litigation office for Northrop Grumman. It was originally located in Bethpage, N.Y., which is the former headquarters of Grumman Corporation. When Northrop acquired Grumman, I was asked to come on board and do that. Since 1999 I’ve been in the D.C. office. I’m from Maryland originally.
Where would we find you outside the office? I’m usually with my wife and our two sons, whether it’s for pizza and a movie or going to the theater or watching our boys play soccer on weekends. They’re 9 and 14. Or if I’m not with them, I’m at the gym or out running or at a bookstore.
Speaking of books, have you read any good ones lately? Lots. I don’t sleep much. I’m either up early or awake late working through any one of the three or four books that I’m reading at the time. In novels, I’ve just read The Dante Club, by Matthew Pearl; The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zaf�n; and The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. I love literature. I recently read Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf and Frank Kermode’s book Shakespeare’s Language. I’m a book addict. I read everything I can get my hands on. I enjoy history, and I loved Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. That was one of the best studies of leadership I’ve ever read. Another great book on leadership is Caroline Alexander’s Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition. I enjoyed Brian Greene‘s The Fabric of the Cosmos and an interesting little math book, Zero: the Biography of a Dangerous Idea, by Charles Seife, which is all about the way the number zero impacts everyday life. I enjoy philosophy, such as The Sense of Beauty, by George Santayana. And I read business books as well, including Jack Welch’s Straight from the Gut, and I just started Good to Great by Jim Collins.

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