Government contractors and the goods and services they provide are essential to our country’s success, but most people know little about them—and even less about the laws that regulate them. Enter Barron Avery, a partner at BakerHostetler and the leader of its government contracts team.
We asked him about his career path, what his firm looks for in an associate and his predictions for the government contracting landscape under the new administration.
Want to know more? Check out his CLE programs, Government Claims and Default Terminations: The Other Side of the Coin and Keeping Compliant: Compliance Requirements in Government Contracting.
Why did you decide to pursue a career in law?
I could say that my father, grandfather and so on were all lawyers. But the real reason I decided to pursue a career in law was actually law school itself. I went to law school while working on the hill, with every intention of becoming a lawyer-lobbyist. I quickly found the interrelation of the law and its effect on business objectives, however, much more exciting. Contracts and administrative law were much more interesting than I ever thought they could be.
What drew you to your practice area specifically?
It started with a first-year contracts class. With all the legal theories floating around in the first year of law school, I thought that a contract was something tangible. But I also liked how the exceptions to general rules came into play and how those exceptions impacted parties’ business objectives. Government contracts add another layer of exceptions to the arrangement and make things much, much more interesting. After I joined a law firm, I found government contracts as a first-year associate and was fortunate to have a great practice group and great mentors to welcome me into the practice.
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing government contractors right now?
Uncertainty in Washington. There is significant uncertainty, not only about budgetary priorities in the federal government but also about substantive policies that affect government contractors. The budget issues will resolve themselves just as they have over the years, where the government will get tighter in certain areas and contractors and the government will simply resolve those disputes through the dispute resolution process. The uncertainty regarding the substantive policies is a much larger concern. In several instances, contractors are now devoting substantial resources to compliance efforts when those same compliance efforts could change as quickly as the issuance of an executive order. Staying on top of developments in this area is critically important in a changing political landscape.
How do you see the field evolving over the next few years?
I see the government contracting legal sector becoming more and more specialized. Companies can no longer afford to have counsel that isn’t specialized in this area. As the regulatory basis for federal government contracting has expanded over the years, clients require and demand more specialization. With the Trump administration, I also see an expansion of business-like incentives to bolster the federal government contracting sector. The mentor-protégé programs for small (and large) businesses will likely expand, and revisions to domestic preference regimes will serve to benefit the domestic contractor population.
What does your firm look for in a first-year associate?
We look for associates who combine their legal education with critical thinking and go beyond the surface to dig into each and every project. We can teach, and associates can learn, the mechanics of any area of the law, including government contracts. But it’s the associates who, from the beginning, understand the task—understand the context of the task and how it fits into the big picture—that are the most productive and provide the best value and service for our clients.
Why do you teach CLE programs?
I enjoy teaching CLE programs because it gives me another opportunity to share knowledge. That’s one of the things I like about being a lawyer. It’s gratifying to help our clients through difficult issues and tough spots, where my experience in government contracts can solve a problem or create an interesting new opportunity. CLE programs let me share my knowledge in an area that is perceived as complex and often byzantine, and let me shed light on that area.
If you had to choose a career path other than law, what would that be?
I would be a government contractor. Government contracting is a fantastic business model that has the added benefit of filling a vital need for our country. Our government wouldn’t run without contractors. Government contractors find satisfaction in contributing to their clients’ missions. I get some of that satisfaction in supporting government contractors on the legal side. But if I chose another career path, I think it would be rewarding to be on the business side of government contracting.