A lot of government contractors describe their businesses in vague, impenetrable terms: They provide “government solutions,” “back end data integration platforms,” or other eye-glazing generalities. So hearing General Counsel James Williams describe the business of contractor Liquidity Services, Inc. is a relief. “We’re like eBay for the wholesale goods market,” says James, in language even we at Bisnow can understand. James has been running such a tight ship at LSI that he’s a nominee for the 2007 Corporate Counsel of the Year award given by WMACCA. (The event is Oct. 25. More info)
Liquidity Services has figured it out: an office in Scottsdale as well. And that’s where James played his first round of golf less than two years ago. As his display case (and the scorecards on top) attest, he caught the bug. He’s also a huge tennis fan and picked up some souvenirs at a Roger Federer match in Key Biscayne.
Through contracts with the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service (don’t blame James for DOD’s jargon), other government agencies, and large commercial retailers and manufacturers, LSI obtains surplus goods to unload on its auction websites govliquidation.com, liquidation.com, and liquibiz.com (a European version). Many of LSI’s top buyers, James says, are eBay “power sellers” who turn around and sell their bargain lots to the public. The business is the brainchild of CEO Bill Angrick and COO Jaime Mateus‑Tique, who attended B-School at Kellogg together. James, who had previously been a GC at Acterna (communications test equipment), signed on as the company’s first and only lawyer in the fall of ’05, on the very day that LSI filed its S1 for an IPO. (Michael Williams and Joe Gilligan at Hogan led the effort before James took the reins.)
Jim poses with one of his legal heroes, Honest Abe. After graduating from the University of Chicago law school, James put in time at Wilson Sonsini in Palo Alto and Kirkland in DC.
One of James’s initial duties at LSI was educating employees on how, when and why to use their shiny new in-house legal services. James thinks he’s built up trust, in part, by making sure to deliver satisfying explanations for his responses to employees’ legal questions. For example, communications director Julie Davis found it hard to let go of some media opportunities during “quiet periods” around public offerings, but she understood once James told her that Google had to insert the text of an ill-timed interview with Playboy into its IPO documents.
In the Sarbanes-Oxley era, James says, some make the mistake of always running to the safest positions. James finds it important to understand the business motivation behind desired actions, and to identify a level of risk acceptable to the company.
James likes to use a diversity of outside firms; he calls on Venable for IP work, Gibson Dunn on corporate, and A&P for regulatory. James gives each firm enough business to “move the needle” on their billings, and he insists on the specific lawyers to be staffed on LSI matters. As for new engagements, he isn’t one to hold a beauty contest over lunch, where it’s “difficult to engage.” Before hiring Gibson Dunn, James brought Steve Glover and his entire team (including associates) over for the third degree about their budget and each attorney’s experience on specific cases. He warns firms up front that his interviews are rigorous—and the WMACCA nod is a sign of his effectiveness.
Speaking of WMACCA . . . James is the fourth and final Corporate Counsel of the Year nominee that we’re featuring on Bisnow. Don’t forget the party October 25 to celebrate them.