Julie Grantham has done it all: practiced law in private firms, worked as a nonlawyer executive for a tech company, raised funds for a political group and generated sales for a forensic-investigation company. Now, with her roots planted firmly back in Texas, she is the first general counsel of Boerne-based COI Enterprises.
"I have come full circle," says Julie Grantham, who works in a Houston office. "I have the best of both worlds: making business decisions and also practicing law."
Grantham is the first in-house lawyer for the privately held company. COI specializes in construction subcontracting services, such as architectural design or electrical work, for construction companies working on government projects. She joined COI in January 2011. The company has 144 employees and 2012 revenue of $45 million, Grantham says.
"Most of our work is done in embassies overseas," she says. The company has a niche market: "[B]ecause of our security clearance, only four subcontractors in the U.S. do what we do."
Grantham’s first job after earning her law degree in 1999 from DePaul University College of Law in Chicago was working for about a year as a bankruptcy associate with now-defunct Sheinfeld, Maley & Kay in Houston.
She then spent a year working as a fundraiser for Bush for President Inc.
"For me it was a decision to be politically involved," she says. "It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get involved at the grass roots level."
When the campaign ended, returning to Sheinfeld, Maley wasn’t an option, because the firm had disbanded. In 2001, she became an associate with the corporate bankruptcy and litigation groups of Floyd, Isgur, Rios and Wahrlich in Houston.
After a little more than two years, she became a managing director for a Houston-based technology services company, LIT Group. It was a nonlawyer position, but it suited some of her skills.
"Electronic discovery technology was pretty new at that time, and I was very familiar with the technology," she says.
As managing director, Grantham established and ran the company’s London office for two years before deciding to return to Texas. She had attended middle and high school in Tyler and considered it her home town. She had earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas at Austin in 1996.
"I was at a point where I was ready to put down roots and start that next chapter of my life, and I wanted to be in Texas," she says. Grantham says she also knew that she wanted to combine her experience in business and law and eventually be a general counsel at a company.
She took a job as a senior legal consultant with Houston-based LuciData Inc., marketing the company’s data-collection and forensic-investigation services in the Texas market. Through the LuciData job, she met executives of Austin-based Scarab Acquisition LLC.
To the Top
Scarab hired her as an assistant GC in 2007, and she became the company’s GC about six months later when the company’s then-GC retired.
"That was a really great opportunity for me to really learn how to be a GC — how to effectively use outside counsel, work with shareholders and also grow a company," she says.
In 2011, her network paid off again, when she became GC at COI Enterprises. Grantham says she was attracted to working with the people she knew at COI and with being the company’s first in-house lawyer.
She’s also the company’s lone in-house lawyer. Grantham says she handles contract negotiations with government contractors and with vendors, as well as nondisclosure and confidentiality agreements. She also stays abreast of government regulations regarding independent contractors.
"In our situation, in construction, my job is to make sure that we are following Department of Labor guidelines properly, and EEOC guidelines correctly," she says.
"A lot of what I do is in the labor area."
Grantham says she relies on outside counsel for specialties such as tax or intellectual property and also for any matter that becomes litigation.
Frank Ruttenberg, a corporate shareholder in the San Antonio office of Winstead, is outside counsel for COI. He says that Grantham understands her own strengths and knows when to rely on someone else’s expertise.
"Her ego is not so great to where she has to prove herself and prove she knows everything," he says. "She is real comfortable asking for advice, and following that advice."
Christine Reinhard, a partner in San Antonio’s Schmoyer Reinhard, works with Grantham on labor and employment matters.
"She quickly is able to pick up on what are key issues we are facing in particular litigation or a particular situation," Reinhard says. Reinhard says that Grantham’s leadership style is "polished."
"I think that pays off, because she presents herself so well. In her thought processes, in everything that she does, she is very thorough and comes across as prepared." Reinhard says.
Grantham says she treasures the chance to both practice law and be involved in COI’s business decisions.
"I wake up every day and it’s something different. I’m building something. I’m not pushing paper. We’re building, we’re creating, and I feel like I’m contributing, like I’m growing something," she says.
Best Practices: Communication and a Can-Do Attitude
Julie Grantham, general counsel of Boerne-based COI Enterprises, says that to exceed her expectations outside counsel must think critically and ask questions.
Texas Lawyer research editor Jeanne Graham emailed Grantham some questions about best practices. Her answers are below, edited for length and style.
Texas Lawyer: What criteria do you consider most important when selecting outside counsel?
Julie Grantham: Competence and expertise in the particular area for which I am seeking counsel are two of the most important factors. The cost of legal services, responsiveness and overall quality of the work are all important factors as well. With my past experience in litigation technology, I also want to make certain that outside counsel has a good understanding of the current law regarding discovery obligations and electronic information. COI generally retains outside counsel who have strong experience in their local jurisdictions, but we do supplement with national counsel on an as-needed basis.
TL: For what types of matters do you typically hire outside counsel?
Grantham: COI typically hires outside counsel for matters that involve a specialized area such as tax law or IP law. Also, COI engages outside counsel for any matter that reaches the litigation stage.
TL: What can outside counsel do to perform beyond your expectations?
Grantham: Similar to the relationship between COI as my business client and me as in house counsel, outside counsel need to develop a comparably trusted relationship with me. Outside counsel that works to build a rapport and maintain constant communication helps to sustain that relationship. Second, outside counsel should think critically and ask questions to perform beyond expectations. What is the exit strategy? Is this a matter which the company is willing to take to trial? Is this a case that is to be settled early? Is reputational risk to the company a concern? If outside counsel is concerned with the answers to these questions, they are thinking along the same lines as I am.
TL: What one thing from your previous work experience is helping you most on the job today, and why?
Grantham: Living overseas and building an office for a technology company was a phenomenal experience. I learned that work and life is much broader once you discover that everything around you can be changed, but you have to make it happen. One thing I took away from the experience and apply every day to my work life is that anything is possible. When COI’s shareholders’ ask me "How can we do X"? My answer is, "Let me do the research to find out how we can make X happen." And we do.
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