Jason Groves was in a supermarket, buying milk for his family, when a young boy spotted him and tugged on his mom’s sleeve. Groves was wearing his army battle dress uniform: green khakis and big black boots. “The little boy looked up at his mother and said, ‘Mom! That’s a soldier!’” Groves recalls. “He turned around and he saluted me. And I stopped and I saluted him.”
At the time, Groves was a lawyer with the US Army’s Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps. He was stationed at Fort Meade, which is the home of the National Security Administration. It was the late 1990s, a time when cybersecurity was not widely understood, but those years sharing a base with the NSA foreshadowed what would become a focus of Groves’s career.
After leaving the JAG Corps, Groves worked for a year at a small firm in Maryland before joining Verizon’s government affairs division. During his decade with the telecom company, the laws governing cybersecurity continued to develop. “Over those ten years, I watched the increased importance and impact of cyber and how legislation was constantly evolving, changing, and being updated to accommodate the growing technology world,” Groves says. In 2011, Groves left Verizon and became executive vice president, general counsel, and corporate secretary at health and wellness company Medifast, Inc., and as cybersecurity has continued to advance, so have the threats that Groves protects against.
Today, attackers include state actors and competing corporations who steal company and consumer information, plant data on a company’s server to hold it hostage, and use targeted phishing attacks to gain information or access. “These are the constant threats that we are under on a daily basis,” Groves says.
Defending against these attacks requires proper front-end security and appropriate legal response, so Groves works closely with Medifast’s chief information officer to ensure that the company has the right technological processes in place to guard against potential attacks. Threats to a consumer product company such as Medifast are different than those aimed at a technology company such as Verizon. “The bigger your company is, the more access it has to things that could be detrimental,” Groves says. “You could take three major communication companies and, within those three, identify most people’s cell phones.” Although Medifast has a smaller customer base and maintains less sensitive consumer data, the company seeks to protect its intellectual property and protect against consumer identity theft. When attacks occur, Groves ensures that the company responds appropriately by complying with applicable laws and taking action against its attackers.
In addition to creating in-house protections, Groves lobbies for legislative changes that will help companies protect themselves in the event of an attack. Because cybersecurity is still a relatively new frontier, the legal landscape is constantly shifting. “Rather than knee-jerk reactions or doing things that are going to cause more damage, we need to be thoughtful in how we come up with rules and regulations that can help,” Groves says.
Because of this, Groves supports legislation that would increase a company’s discretion in response to an attack. Often, companies are required to notify the government or the public immediately after a security breach. But sometimes it’s in the company’s and consumers’ best interest to complete an investigation before giving notice. “Companies are also victims here,” Groves says. “They’re not complicit in the act. As lawyers, our job is to try to help the company. It’s helping to make sure the company’s position has not been overlooked and has not been misaligned.”
Groves’s time protecting the US Army—an entity whose job it is to protect the citizenry—prepared him for a career defending against potential threats. “As general counsel, that’s my job—to protect the company, to protect the employees, to protect the shareholders, to protect the investment, to protect the board,” he says.
Before joining the army, Groves worked in hospitality, a field that prepared him for his work in a different way. “The army gave me another level of discipline and an understanding of mission and focus,” he says. “Hospitality gave me the ability to recognize how to work with people and how to really serve them.”
Medifast’s strong vision and commitment to its customers helped the company earn a spot on Forbes magazine’s 100 Most Trustworthy Companies list in 2016 and 2017. As the head of the company’s legal department, Groves plays a key role in establishing its trustworthiness. “We have to make sure that the customer is getting a quality product and that we are doing the things necessary so that the consumer feels really good about working with the company,” he says.
Medifast’s culture is built on its origins as a family-run company and maintained through its strong leadership. “We have had a really great structure that way—leadership that has allowed leaders to lead, to make decisions,” Groves says. “It’s people like myself and all of my colleagues’ jobs to continue to enforce the vision, to enforce the objectives, to enforce the goal, to enforce the culture.”
For Groves, protecting a company whose vision he believes in is an honor. “Joining the army was a major source of pride, having the opportunity to defend the country every day by the things that I do,” he says. “I was missing that special thing that I had in the military. And I found it again here at Medifast.”
Groves’s work directly protects Medifast, but the company impacts the lives of people around the country. When he speaks at conferences across the nation, people approach him to share their stories of how Medifast’s products have affected their lives. “Women come up to me and they’ll grab my hands and hug me and say, ‘I just want you to know, your product changed my life, or it helped my health,’” he says. “It felt like being back in that grocery store with that little boy who saluted me.”
Norton Rose Fulbright:
“Jason demonstrates the essential attributes of a general counsel: sound judgment and excellent leadership skills. He is a pleasure to work with and runs a first-class team focused on achieving Medifast’s corporate objectives leading to success for the business.”
—Eric Reither, Partner