By Betsy Rosso, for Bisnow on Business
Stephen Piper heads the legal department of Lockheed Martin’s Integrated Systems & Solutions business segment, whose 15,000 employees work all over the world and generate over $4 billion in annual sales just in that one business segment for the government contracting behemoth. Piper started in 1987 with Martin Marietta, a predecessor to Lockheed Martin, doing securities, transactions and corporate law. Piper left Lockheed for law firm McKee Nelson for three years and returned to become GC of IS&S in 2003.
Bisnow on Business: What appealed to you about securities law?
I like that it’s rules-based yet not so much so that there isn’t room for creative solutions. There’s enough room for interpretation that you can bring great value to clients.
How do you compare working for a law firm and in-house?
When you’re inside, you have one client as opposed to multiple clients, so you come to know that client much better. When a client comes to a law firm, they have a problem and a view. In a corporation, there isn’t just one view. On any given issue, tax, accounting, PR, and legal all have a view. In a law firm you only get the synthesis, not the components, so it denies you the ability to craft a more elegant solution that gets each component group what they want.
What made you leave the private sector for a law firm and then return?
I started at a law firm and went from there to the SEC. Part of the reason I had gone inside from the SEC rather than return to a firm was the work-life tradeoff. I thought that going inside would give me a reasonable salary and more importantly, better hours than I would have in a law firm. Over the course of time it became clear that, if anything, my hours were worse than in a law firm. So I returned to a law firm and it was great and the people were nice, but I realized I liked the in-house type of practice better. Law firms are valuable, but I liked the influence being in a company gave me to try to get a better result.
How did your long hours affect your family life?
I have two kids—a daughter turning 18 and son who’s 15. Back in the day when I did deals and I was working 80 hour weeks, I was famous for marking up documents in different colored highlighters. In order to spend any time at home, I’d do that review at home, and I would involve my kids by giving them different colored highlighters and telling them what to highlight. For a long time they thought what I did at work was “color.”
How do you learn everything you need to know about a client once you’re in-house?
The truth is, it’s like when you throw someone into a pond and say “Learn to swim!” It‘s by immersion. Going to meetings, paying attention, doing extra work behind the scenes to try and understand why people are developing different positions.
What’s the most interesting part of your work right now?
I’m interested in the tension between the need for national security and balancing of individual privacy rights. The law is a developing area in that intersection, particularly as it relates to individual privacy rights and the Internet. What information can you and can’t you seek to find about individuals or situations on the Internet, staying on the right side of the law?
Shortly after 9/11, the US government looked into improving passenger security on airlines. They talked to contractors about how to develop a better system to make sure the people getting on airplanes were who they said they were and to see if they presented risks. That program ran into difficulties. There were lawsuits against contractors and airlines about passenger privacy rights. So the capability of the system was scaled back and even that system has been reviewed skeptically by the GAO.
What’s it like to work with a staff that’s all over the country?
The biggest challenge is making sure there is a strong communication chain among attorneys so everyone understands what everyone else is working on. Also, you get a certain number of questions that are closely related. You need to be sure there’s a comparable answer given no matter what an attorney’s location to ensure consistency.
What’s great about your job?
I think the corporation as a whole is doing something important for the country, and I like the fact that I’m contributing to that. Providing for national defense and the intelligence aspect of national defense have always been important, but now especially.
What’s one of the biggest challenges in your job?
This job for me has been the first time that I’ve had a large number of people working for me. In my old job, I was pretty much a solo act. While I think I’ve been extremely fortunate in the people who work for me, it’s a different way of operating. You need to delegate, and to make decisions involving other people’s lives. It’s a team sport versus an individual sport. I’m temperamentally more wired for individual sports. I have to work hard; it doesn’t come naturally to me.
What do you do when you’re not at work?
My son is in Boy Scouts and I’m an assistant scoutmaster, so we spend a fair amount of time going camping. I also like sea kayaking. My son, my father, and I hand built a sea kayak in my garage. It’s made of strips of cedar, covered in fiberglass cloth, with graphite on the inside. We used no power tools. The cedar is 20-feet long, a quarter-inch thick and half-inch wide, shaped with a hand plane. I primarily take it out on the Potomac from the Dyke Marsh marina. Before I became a lawyer, I wanted to be a park ranger. When I was in high school and through college and law school I did a lot of backpacking and climbing. On all my family’s vacations until recently, we made an effort to see every national park west of the Mississippi. We’re 99 percent of the way there, with some exceptions in Alaska. :)