On The Record: Doug Demoss

Going in-house at Northrop Grumman was a natural progression for the US Army attorney. He reflects on his transition to the corporate world and how his tenure as a serviceman influences his civilian life

My family moved around quite a bit when I was a child. My dad was in corporate America at a time when companies did that. I lived in Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Virginia, and Florida. That primed me, in a way, for a military career.

I’ve always had an interest in military history. When I was in elementary and high school, World War II was a little more recent than it is today, so kids played soldier games. And a lot of my role models growing up were in the military—like Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy. That sparked my interest in military biographies. In high school, I looked into going to West Point or the Air Force Academy. I met some cadets and was really impressed with them. And the price was certainly right; they actually pay you to go there. I ended up at West Point, where I learned a lot about leadership and how to align and motivate people.

I thought about going to law school, but it seemed far away, inaccessible. So I studied engineering, and after college spent five years in the Army Corps of Engineers. I was doing a lot of construction management—learning not only about the engineering side of building, but also the administrative side. I began considering law again after working with corps lawyers, whose work was an interesting blend of both disciplines.

The Army sends up to 25 people a year to law school. They do that so there are attorneys who know what it’s like to be in a troop unit, which most Judge Advocates (JAGs) don’t. I applied and was accepted into the program and attended law school at the College of William & Mary.

My initial assignment out of law school was criminal defense. That’s fairly typical. When the Army sends you to law school, you’re more senior than those who were commissioned right into the JAG Corps. It gives you trial experience right away, which is needed to be eligible for the next rank. It was really interesting work, in part because it’s one of the most autonomous jobs you can have in the Army: you have to be able to represent your clients and try your cases the way you think is appropriate, and, in a way, you’re working against the Army. It also taught me to work with lots of different types of people, from those who are younger and do stupid things, to those who are older and should know better. Because of that experience, today, a lot of the outside counsel I work with have less court experience than I do.

My wife says I must be the dumbest guy in the world, because the Army kept sending me back to school. After three years in the JAG Corps, the Army sent me to get a [Master of Laws] degree in military law with a concentration in government contracts, after which I worked with the Army Missile Command in Huntsville, Alabama, which managed everything from shoulder-launch missiles to Patriot missiles. Then the Army sent me to the Army Command and General Staff School. That’s where it sends regular officers who are usually at the rank of major, to learn how to be commanders or staff officers of large organizations like brigades (3,000 or 4,000 people) or divisions (12,000 to 14,000 people). Most lawyers don’t go there, but the Army wants some attorneys to understand Army operations in more depth. I learned how to run programs with very complicated requirements, but more importantly, I formed relationships. The program helped me relate to line officers, and it helped line officers learn that JAGs are part of the team, too.

Twenty years into my Army career, I was ready to move into the private sector. After finishing the Army Command and General Staff School in Kansas, I moved my family to the Washington, DC, area to work in the Army General Counsel’s office at the Pentagon. It was interesting work: I was the legal advisor to the people who were acquiring C4 (command, control, communication, and computers) systems and IEW (intelligence and electronic warfare) systems. But I’d moved three times in the last five years, and with four children who’d attended multiple schools, it was time to stop moving around.

Working in a legal role in the defense industry is unique. Defense contractors have incredibly complex businesses. For example, my first job out of the Army was at Newport News Shipbuilding, a Navy contractor that makes aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines. What goes into those is incredibly complicated—everything from a dental clinic to a nuclear propulsion plant—and all of that stuff has to be procured. Your customer has law enforcement authority and subpoena power, and it dictates how you run your workforce with statutes such as the Service Contract Act.

One thing I’ve learned is that you have to look beyond the horizon. For many years I sat on the board of the World Affairs Council of Charlotte, an educational organization that exposes people to things going on in the world around them. We brought in ambassadors from different countries and chairmen of different companies for events such as lunchtime lectures. We offered scholarships for teachers to study abroad in the summer, so they could bring what they learned back to their schools. We’re a big, interconnected world these days, and helping people understand that is important to me.

It’s nice to know you’re making an impact every day. I started at Northrop Grumman in 2001, when it acquired Newport News Shipbuilding, but I took an eight-year hiatus to work as general counsel at a General Dynamics business unit. That was an incredible challenge because I had to learn a lot about environmental and labor law, which I hadn’t had much exposure to. But in 2013, General Dynamics decided to merge business lines and close the office I was working in. I wanted to stay on the East Coast, so I came back to Northrop Grumman in 2013.

I like the fact that I’m working for a company that makes technologies that are used by people who make important decisions protecting our country every day—and that’s even more meaningful to me because I have two sons who are on active duty in the Army.