Oorah

Brian Kaveney called on his Marine Corps training to build Armstrong Teasdale’s security clearance practice from scratch

Published in 2016 Missouri & Kansas Super Lawyers — November 2016

Nine years ago, when Brian Kaveney was a rookie lawyer, he found himself about to deliver an elevator pitch to Armstrong Teasdale’s leadership that would make (or possibly break) his career. “I was pretty nervous,” he remembers. 

Except Kaveney had been in tougher situations: A Marine Corps infantry officer and Pentagon staffer in the late ’90s, he served under then-Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig. While he can’t say much about his deployments or his Pentagon work, he can speak to the preparedness those posts command. 

“The Marine Corps teaches you to plan. In the Corps, we call it ‘rehearsals,’” he says. “But the Corps also teaches you don’t ever fall in love with your plan.”

Kaveney observed that companies were facing an increasing need for guidance in obtaining and maintaining security clearance for defense and other government contracts, and he wanted to build the firm’s first-ever security clearance practice. 

“It’s companies that want to prevent issues before they occur,” Kaveney says. “The training that I received in the Marine Corps to be forward-thinking and preventative, and really prepare for combat—to analyze situations perhaps differently than a lawyer would—came into play.”

And although the Marine Corps might take issue with the outcome, the partners fell in love with the plan. 

In nine years, Kaveney has turned the practice from zero clients into an internationally regarded, lucrative niche. But, he notes, the world has changed dramatically since its inception.

“If you think about where the world was nine years ago, and about what has happened since then—the Edward Snowden event, the Washington Navy Yard, and other situations that have involved significant compliance issues for large, sophisticated companies and research labs—that part of it was not in my original business plan. I never could have anticipated that we would have an Edward Snowden event that would happen at the level that it did.

“So what started out as a fundamental business model ... has now evolved into a much different regulatory world from a compliance standpoint. The issues that need to be identified early on have increased, and the consequences have gotten far graver.”

His work is broad and, you guessed it, he can’t say too much about it. 

“It’s unique every day,” Kaveney says. “From the litigation side, which might involve hearings or complex investigations, an example might be an investigation where you find out something harmful, or even involving the F-word—fraud—has occurred. Or we get called when acquisitions happen—a publicly traded company purchases a facility or an entity, and there are certain regulatory issues that have to be accomplished. But if that’s not done in the appropriate manner, the government can take very drastic steps towards that entity that include telling them: no new business, and we’re going to tell all your customers. You only have a certain amount of time to resolve those issues.”

There are also the blood-pumping situations, like the time Kaveney was asked to intervene in a matter in which a high-profile company couldn’t get its air traffic controllers into a combat area. “It was important for the men and women in uniform that our aircraft get to that airbase,” Kaveney says. “The government was extremely helpful and expeditious, and recognized the seriousness of the situation.”

Although there are similar practices across the country, Kaveney says a key difference is Armstrong Teasdale’s collaborative approach with the government. “We would prefer to partner with them, even if something negative has happened, and propose viable solutions,” he says.

The practice also boasts a few ringers, like a former U.S. attorney, partnerships with retired FBI and other agency professionals, and fellow former infantry officer associate Tod Stephens. 

“He went to West Point, did three tours in combat in Iraq and was shot in the chest,” Kaveney says. “He’s so dedicated. You talk about those calls we get where our adrenaline is absolutely pumping because we know the consequences—we know what it means to be deployed; we know what it means when things have gone wrong, and the delays that could occur that are costly to the company—but could critically impact our men and women in uniform. There’s really no other way to say it than we feel like we have skin in the game.” 

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