By Chuck Walker
MOBILE, Ala. – In an organization as big as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Mobile District, it stands to reason that it would require legal representation.
That is especially true when you consider all the different entities, state and local governments, other federal agencies, and private citizens, that the Mobile District comes in contact with on its many project sites.
Simply stated, the role of the Office of Counsel is to provide risk-informed legal and business advice and recommendations to leadership and teams to facilitate the District’s Civil Works, Military Construction, Environmental, Real Estate, Regulatory and Emergency Management missions.
“The office provides legal services to facilitate mission support functions to include human resources, civil works, military programs, support for others programs, contracting, resource management, emergency management, safety, security, (equal employment and opportunity, architect and engineering services, environmental programs, construction, etc.,” said Stephen Sowell, USACE Mobile District Counsel. “Where disputes between the government and the private sector arise, we represent the government in all administrative forums, e.g., GAO, ASBCA, MSPB, EEOC and assist Department of Justice with representation in Federal Court. With over 100 years of combined legal experience, the Office of Counsel’s goal is to provide competent and timely legal services to all divisions within the District to support delivery of innovative and effective solutions to the nation’s engineering challenges.”
One person who can attest to all the work the Office of Counsel has done is Joe Givhan, USACE Mobile assistant district counsel.
Givhan, who has been with the District for 39 years and started as an attorney in the Real Estate Division, said working in the district all these years has been wonderful.
“Working for the Mobile District has been a blast for the whole time,” Givhan said. “I’ve gotten to participate in so many diverse and interesting things over the years. Projects that have been important to the nation, cities, and communities, and to individuals as well. When I came to work here from the private practice, I was afraid I would find the work boring, it has been far from that!”
One area of law and one area of concern for now and in the foreseeable future is the protection of the environment.
Thomas Landry, USACE Mobile assistant district counsel for the regulatory division, said that protection of the environment will continue to be a matter of high concern to the division and to the Corps.
“Corps regulatory regulations have been the subject of considerable national litigation for many years now and I foresee that continuing,” Landry said. “The focus of my work is “preventative law”. Thus, our concern is that regulatory division acts in accord with all the applicable laws, regulations, executive orders, and policies, with an emphasis on keeping us OUT of court, and getting us out of litigation successfully if we are challenged.”
With an office that provides services to such a big and diverse district, the opportunities to a young lawyer can be endless to expose oneself to the type of law they would want to practice.
Andrea Matthews, assistant district counsel, said the Corps also offers young lawyers a chance to learn on the job with a team of very experienced lawyers.
“First and foremost, the Corps is a great place to work,” Matthews said. “Office of Counsel supports the successful practice of every attorney. This, in combination with the option to work across the nation and many places in the world alongside a team of experts makes the Corps a great choice for a rewarding career.”
With such a big office and with attorneys focused on their own specialized roles, teamwork amongst the large office staff is vital and one that Sowell says is apparent.
“There is a very collegial atmosphere within the Office of Counsel,” Sowell said. “Considering the size of the District’s portfolio, such collaboration is the norm. But this has contributed significantly to the success of the office, as collaboration among attorneys is essential. Many issues that arise cross legal disciplines, and by necessity demand the attention of more than one staff member.”