Top Gun

Whether he’s asked to broker a tricky negotiation or land a fighter jet in treacherous waters, Andy Scott never shies from a challenge

Published in 2004 Georgia Super Lawyers — March 2004

When Andy Scott is in a tough spot at work, such as when a recent negotiation anticipated to take four days instead dragged on for 28 days, he doesn’t center himself with thoughts of a Caribbean cove or a hilly vista in a New England autumn. He does recall a time he spent long ago and far away, but it’s not peaceful or especially pleasant.Andy Scott reminds himself that whatever he’s doing is not as difficult as landing an F-14 on an aircraft carrier, in deep seas, on a moonless night.

In his previous career as a fighter pilot in the U.S. Navy, Scott had to do just that with frightening regularity. Not that the commercial law he now practices at the Atlanta office of Paul Hastings, one of the largest international law firms in the world, is all cupcakes and ice cream; there are commercial transactions he handles that could approach the physics of flight in terms of complexity. But he’s no fool. “I often think about problems as, this is not as bad as the back of the boat on a real dark night,” Scott says.

Scott and I spoke in a conference room at Paul Hastings, on the 24th floor of Atlanta’s tallest building. The city’s enormous sprawl was laid out before us on a perfect, sunny day in September. Andy Scott looks quite a bit like the actor Treat Williams, which he should take as a compliment, and I’m not saying anything about whether Williams dyes his hair or not but Andy Scott does not. It’s gray, and it’s cool. He wore khakis and a blue blazer with an Hermés tie.

What jumps out at you when talking to Scott is that he loves to talk about his work — whether it’s flying jets out of Isfahan, Iran, in 1978 or signing a deal at the site of the Potsdam conference in 2003. Which should not come as a surprise, because it all sounds pretty exciting.

Scott’s practice focuses on commercial transactions and multiple forms of intellectual property licensing, especially franchising. His clients include manufacturers, software developers and other tech firms. He’s also active in the International Bar Association, being something of an expert on the subject of international expansion in a regulated environment. He’s coauthored a three-volume work, Franchising Law: Practice and Forms. Scott was made partner in 1995. 

Scott’s previous career was slightly more perilous, though the transition wasn’t as wrenching as one might expect.

You’re using your brain plenty to do it, but Scott says that “flying is still a physical exercise, and as you get older you look for different challenges.” He adds, “Going to law school represented that, practicing law continues to represent that for me. To operate in Paul Hastings, a very high-level environment, to be challenged every day, exposed to different kinds of companies and to need to understand their business in order to represent them effectively — there’s always a learning curve.”

Get Me a Bigger Boat

It was in college, during the Vietnam War, that Scott decided to join the Navy. “It was an interesting time to go to college because, like it or not, everyone was forced to take a position on the war and on politics generally,” Scott recalls. He found himself somewhat to the political right of most of his fellow students at the University of North Carolina. In law school, at USC in the early ’80s, interestingly, he’d be more to their left — though his politics did not change in the interim. “I certainly had good friends who took positions different from mine,” Scott says, which was that the United States had good reasons to be in Southeast Asia. “I’m not sure now that I was correct, but  I believed it at the time,” he allows.

The military’s policy was that volunteers ould choose their deployments, unlike draftees, and since he wasn’t interested in breaking federal law or moving to Canada, Scott enrolled in the ROTC program at UNC. Summers spent sailing on Cape Cod as a youth inspired him toward a preference for the Navy. His first summer tour aboard a destroyer, farther out and on higher seas than he had experienced as a kid, made him realize one thing: “I need to get on a bigger boat,” Scott remembers thinking.

That meant aircraft carrier. And the best way to guarantee a spot on an aircraft carrier is to pilot the aircraft they carry. Scott was accepted into flight school. After finishing advanced jet training, he once found himself on a mission where he had to eject from his burning F-4 over the Pacific. (The weather was so calm Scott landed his parachute in the raft he had dropped from the air, and never got his head wet.) He was assigned to his first squadron in August 1972; the team had just arrived back from the Gulf of Tonkin and was in a four-month turnaround. By that time, the Paris Peace Accords had been signed and Andy Scott’s reason for joining the Navy evaporated.

“It was disappointing in one respect,” he recalls. “Once the war was over, how could I prove I was among the best in the world? But that said, was I anxious to go to Vietnam? Not particularly. I didn’t regret the war had ended; you can be a great pilot and still get shot down.”

Instead, Scott’s squadron deployed aboard the USS Kitty Hawk (which, coincidentally, he had visited on a field trip to Philadelphia’s Navy Yards as a school kid), and cruised through the Pacific and Indian Oceans to the Persian Gulf. He almost made the Blue Angels — a miss that was pretty much his only career disappointment. Eventually, Scott cameback to San Diego to train American pilots; later, he was busy training the Shah’s air force in Iran when the revolution broke out in 1978.

So Scott came to the practice of law after achieving more or less all there was to achieve as an aircraft pilot. He’s modest for a flyboy, so it’s easy to believe his statement that he “had done pretty much everything it’s possible to do in an airplane.” When he decided to go to law school, he had been in the Navy for 15 years and was no longer flying often enough to maintain his peak skill level. He had a job piloting 727s out of LaGuardia for American Airlines — which he describes as “a great job with pretty good pay” — to fall back on if he couldn’t keep up with the kids at USC. But the search for a new challenge was a strong, driving force.

“I didn’t really enjoy flying commercially after flying fighters,” Scott says. “Some like it and I would never criticize, but it was not something I found exciting. Basically all you do is take off, put it on auto-pilot, monitor the aircraft’s performance, do the descent checklist and land. Unless something happens, it’s pretty tedious after having been in such a maneuverable airplane.”

The challenge of law school proved more attractive. “I don’t know if it’s this way for everybody, but for me law school was very intellectually rich and stimulating,” he says. Scott kept flying in the Navy Reserves, which paid his way through school and made the transition easier.He lived with a friend in the Hollywood Hills — next door to a cast member from “Laugh-In” — and went running every day to stay in shape.
The life of a fighter pilot and that of an attorney share some skills that transfer, Scott says. “One is working with, and knowing and understanding, people. I think I’ve become a pretty good judge of character, and that helps in working with clients as well as when you’re sitting across the table from someone in a negotiation. Knowing what motivates someone helps you. The other thing is leadership. And, as a pilot, you have to make quick decisions and follow your choice. That’s been extremely instrumental. And having been in the Navy, I know how I’ll react under extreme pressure.”

The other skill Scott somehow picked up along the way, according to a client, is acting. In a negotiation on behalf of Scientific Atlanta, he and Corporate Senior Vice President Dwight Duke came up with a strategy to deal with the “heavy hitters” the other side had brought in from Washington, D.C. Scott and Duke decided that they needed to get the highpowered lawyers out of the way. “With 10 to 14 people around a table,” Duke says from experience, “you get nowhere. So there was this one guy — the definition of the extreme lawyer — we decided if he started poppin’ off again, Andy was gonna get in his face. So the guy did, of course, and Andy stood up and just got real emotional, just laid into this guy. He was stunned — but then he started poppin’ back. This went on for 40 minutes. Finally, the senior guy on the other side said, ‘We need to get a break.’ And he came up to me at the break and said, ‘You’re right, we’ll never get anywhere with the lawyers in the room.’ The strategy worked.Andy’s a good lawyer, but that was just a masterful acting performance.” Andy’s old neighbor from “Laugh-In” would have been proud.

The negotiation Duke describes was a 28-day marathon that he’d expected to last only about four. They were at the Inter-Continental in London, so you can imagine the dry-cleaning bills. And it’s measure of Scott’s personality thatinstead of getting stressed out, he befriended Dwight Duke during this period, going running with him in Hyde Park and attending Sunday services at Westminster Abbey.

“Andy knows, of the 40 things that come up in a contract, which two you need to stay locked down on,” Duke says. “A lot of lawyers are trying to show they know more about the law than the other guy, but Andy doesn’t care about that. He can move his ego aside to get things accomplished.”

However he does it, Scott seems to get a lot done: he does pro bono work for charities on Saturdays; he’s run a halfmarathon; he has a wife and two sons; and he’s writing a novel. So he maintains some healthy interests away from the office. And he knows that no matter how stressful it gets there, or when nother four-day negotiation turns into four weeks, or some guy from Washington, D.C., starts thinking he’s pretty tough — whatever it is, he won’t be asked to land a giant plane on a small moving target on a dark night in the fog of the North Sea. Nothing at work will be as hard as “the back of the boat, on a real dark night.” 

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