You don’t learn much about M&A while representing the University of Memphis in disciplinary cases against frat boys. So Jim Daniel lacked experience in the field when he arrived at defense contractor SI International in 1999. As the company’s only in-house attorney, he had to get up to speed fast. He did it—now having overseen eight acquisitions in as many years—most recently of Dayton-based logistics firm LOGTECH in a $59m cash deal. Today SI has 4700 employees and offices in 17 states. We dropped in for tips from the do-it-yourselfer, who just scored a nomination as Corporate Counsel of the Year from the Association of Corporate Counsel’s Washington chapter (WMACCA).
Jim shows off his growing collection of deal trinkets. Might have to toss out some of those law books to make room for more——SI International emphasizes growth.
Jim deflects credit for his success to others, including his in-house team—Deputy GC Robert Lanz and two staffers—and Larry Yanowitch at MoFo’s Tyson’s office, who has served SI through all its acquisitions. SI also turns to Isler Dare's Eddie Isler and Michelle Radcliffe on employment issues, and Pillsbury's Jeff Grill on securities.
What’s Jim looking for from his outside counsel? “Firms that have succeeded with us are the ones who commit the time to understand our company. Larry is interested in SI’s business.” That business made $20 million back in 1999 and now has revenue 23 times that. It does everything from processing VISA applications for the Department of State to constructing a secure web portal for the National Guard.
It’s a two-lawyer in-house team now that SI has added Deputy GC and former Wilmer lawyer Robert Lanz. Based on Jim’s rule of thumb that companies average one lawyer for every $250 million in revenue, that’s the right size—SI took in some $460m last year.
As Chief Legal Officer (he’s also Secretary to the Board), Jim oversees the four-person legal department and supervises a 30-person contracts and procurement group. Jim and Robert get the majority of the operation’s legal work done in-house, and are developing their own securities expertise. “It’s great having a colleague here,” says Jim, after years of going it alone. The company has become adept at due diligence on acquisition targets. Among other things, SI scrubs financial statements and conducts surveys to gauge a company’s customer satisfaction. “Getting our hands dirty is the part we do well,” Jim says.
Not sure what Jim’s constructing here, but it could be an airplane. He grew up as an Air Force brat (his family made a stop in the Netherlands, among other places, before settling in the Washington area), and more than half of SI’s business comes through the Air Force.
The biggest case that Jim assisted on in Memphis was an age-discrimination suit brought by 17 professors, which raised important 11th Amendment immunity issues for state universities. After deciding to come back to this area (he went to high school in Mount Vernon), Jim called an old contact for a reference. Instead of giving Jim a letter, his contact got him a job — at a company later acquired by SI.