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Navigate360 is a US-based company that provides holistic physical, social and emotional safety and wellness solutions to schools and communities. Through their suite of offerings, including SaaS products, risk assessments and training for violent critical incidents, suicide awareness, threat assessments, and more, Navigate360 works closely with partners toward a common goal of zero incidents. For the mission-driven organisation, doing anything less is simply not an option.

At a time when Navigate360 was doubling down on growth and acquiring numerous companies, Denny Cowger joined as their General Counsel, and, interestingly, he is, to date, their only in-house attorney.

“Being owned by a private equity company, Navigate360 prioritizes growth and compliance. In my 3 years at the organisation, I have ensured that all our products and services comply with regulatory policies and local laws. I have also played an instrumental role in facilitating acquisitions and standardizing the legal documentation at Navigate360 and its subsidiary companies.”
Denny Cowger career trajectory

Denny began his legal career at a New York-based law firm and moved to Dubai to help build its legal operations in the Middle East. He then joined a large US law firm in Vietnam and was later approached by one of his clients, OrthoLite, to join them as their General Counsel and Chief Administrative Officer. After almost a decade with OrthoLite, he returned to the US during the pandemic to join Navigate360.

In a candid conversation with SpotDraft, Denny mentioned that although Navigate360 has close to 7,000+ customers, he is the only in-house attorney. He shed light on how he manages the incredible legal workload at Navigate360 and how his experiences working with law firms abroad prepared him to become a GC at fast-growing companies.

Working as a one-man legal team in a fast-growing company

Denny mentioned that although he gets a lot of work done, working as a one-man legal team comes with numerous challenges. He, however, thinks that his experience wearing multiple hats in his previous roles prepared him for being the sole in-house attorney at Navigate360.

“We have 7,000+ customers. In addition to big picture project to help increase shareholder value, I need to do a lot of busy work, including contract vetting, redlining, etc.”

Getting senior management or the board to listen and acknowledge legal concerns can sometimes be challenging when they solely consider business perspectives.

“The most pressing issue is to ensure your viewpoints are heard and given due consideration.”

When asked how he makes his viewpoints heard, Denny said the only viable solution is to build a strong rapport and relationships with various stakeholders across the organisation, be persistent in doing so, understand their pain points, and then make a solid business case in front of the management, from a business-enabling perspective. Always communicating and being super responsive gives you additional rapport building bonus points.

Outsourcing legal work to third-party counsel

When needed, Denny outsources legal work to third-party counsel.

“I evaluate if I have the skills and expertise to do something in-house. If a legal issue arises that falls outside of my particular skill set, we seek assistance from outside counsel.”

Although Denny does not outsource legal work often, he has found it beneficial in certain situations. He recalls an incident where they sought third-party legal help on an intellectual property matter.

“Last year, we had a company infringing on our intellectual property. While I have IP expertise, engaging a large law firm to send through a cease and desist can sometimes have a more immediate impactive positive response from an infringer. Thus, we sought the help of outside counsel.”

US privacy laws are prone to constant changes, and as a private company dealing with kids under the age of 18, compliance is a concern. Therefore, Denny’s primary focus is to navigate local jurisdictions, always staying consistent with regulations.

“We also reach out to specialized outside counsel for IP-related matters and due diligence (at the time of acquisitions).”

Denny went on to mention that although he is the sole in-house attorney at Navigate360, he does have wonderful support from other teams and has been able to manage all the legal work efficiently. He thinks his experience working abroad for a US-based law firm indirectly trained him to become a GC.  

How practicing law abroad can prepare law firm attorneys to be a GC

When Denny first moved to Dubai, his primary role was to help his law firm expand its operations in the Middle East. Not only did he help set up legal operations, but he also handled local matters.

“When working abroad, you don’t get pigeonholed into one particular area of law like you would being based in the United States. Instead, you get to handle various matters, which consequently improves your understanding of the law in different practice areas.”

Denny recalls the times when his colleagues in the US offices were only handling matters in their area of expertise, while he was evolving beyond being just a corporate lawyer and tackling everything that came his way — be it finance matters, employment matters, local litigation matters, etc. This helped Denny train as a GC years before he became one.

“Being the GC of a company is like being the lawyer of a law firm when you are based abroad. You handle all the matters that come your way, and you reach out to people in your network or certain online resources if you don’t find viable solutions.”

Working abroad helped Denny develop the necessary skills to become a legal generalist, which is a necessary trait in any GC.

“Legal generalists mostly handle clients, and then they funnel the required work back to colleagues who are specialists in the particular area of law. This is very similar to what GCs do.”

Advice to law firm attorneys moving abroad to practice law

Denny believes the most important thing to do is to be able to adapt. International laws might be different, and moreover, local jurisdictions operate at different speeds.

“Practicing law abroad can be challenging. Not only will you sometimes have to be available round the clock due to different time zones, you also will have to address legal issues that go beyond your expertise and comfort zone.”

Denny thinks the most important skills an attorney needs to be a successful GC are resilience, patience, and persistence.

“Practicing law abroad will make you strong as a lawyer, and if you are resilient enough, soon enough, you will become a generalist and hone the necessary skills to become a GC of a fast-growing company.”
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