If you think Regina R. Gerrick is daunted by the prospect of walking into Boston’s largest mechanical construction firm and building up from scratch its one-woman legal department, you don’t know Gerrick.
Gerrick grew up on the small Caribbean island St. Vincent and the Grenadines, where she started high school at age 10. She moved to New York at 15 and, after attending high school for a year and getting her diploma, enrolled in Brooklyn College when she was 16.
At 20, Gerrick was once again the youngest in her class when she enrolled at Boston College Law School. Four years later she graduated with not just a J.D. but an M.B.A. as well.
“I’ve always been sort of an overachiever,” she says.
After stops in the public (U.S. Department of Housing and Development) and nonprofit (The Community Builders) worlds, she landed at J.C. Cannistraro in January.
What began as a plumbing company has expanded to offer HVAC and fire-protection systems and now boasts about 800 employees — around 200 in its offices and the rest out in the field.
As a subcontractor, the company has and continues to work on some of the area’s biggest projects, including hospital, laboratory and university buildings. Cannistraro is very much in the mix of the ongoing building boom in Boston’s Seaport District and likely anywhere else passersby are noticing large cranes and construction vehicles moving to and fro.
Given the rate at which its book of business and workforce was continuing to expand, the company’s leadership decided it was time to hire an in-house counsel to address a complex set of legal needs.
In Gerrick, with her diverse background and determined disposition, they believe they found exactly the person they were seeking. Gerrick recently spoke with New England In-House’s Kris Olson.
Q. What was your role at HUD?
A. I was a trial attorney in the litigation enforcement unit in the Boston regional counsel’s office. I basically managed their litigation and worked closely with the U.S. Attorney’s offices in New England to respond to discovery, drafting briefs, litigation reports.
I also handled Chapter 7, 11 and 13 bankruptcy cases involving single-family housing and multi-family housing, and I conducted training on the e-discovery process. We had the new e-discovery rules, and the government has to comply, and the regional counsel at HUD decided that he wanted the office to spearhead the charge for that.
Eventually, we trained all the New England offices at HUD, and then I was asked to go to D.C. and train HUD nationwide on HUD TV.
Q. From there, you went to The Community Builders. What is that, and what did you do there?
A. The Community Builders an urban nonprofit developer that develops multi-family housing in low-income communities in 15 states, including Washington, D.C. I managed their litigation. I initially was hired to provide compliance advice on their $80 million Neighborhood Stabilization Grant that they received from HUD and their $30 million Choice Implementation Grant that they received from HUD.
Eventually, because of some staffing changes in the legal department, I was also charged with managing litigation for their 500 or more affiliates. That involved me working with insurance companies and engaging outside counsel, because in instances where we were in another state, I couldn’t represent the organization so we had to hire local counsel to do that. I also conducted real estate closings and refinancing involving low-income-housing tax credits.
Q. It seems like there will be less litigation in this new role — at least you hope.
A. I was joking with the CEO about that because my background really is as a litigator, and then I have the real estate background. I don’t think there are many lawyers out there who can say in one instance they can draft a response to interrogatories or draft a complaint, and then the next day they are drafting an AIA construction contract.
I think just having that background as a litigator enables me to be able to pick up and learn new aspects of the law fairly quickly.
Q. Will you miss litigation, though?
A. I think in some instances it will still come up. We have general liability claims here that need to be managed and workers’ compensation claims that need to be managed, so I’ll be involved in that process. I don’t think I’ll be throwing away my litigation hat just yet.
It’s just a question of me now transitioning from representing a developer to actually representing a contractor. I was drafting a contract yesterday, and I was like, wait a minute, I represent a contractor now. Just getting that transition in my head is one of my main challenges here.
Q. How will your background from your previous jobs help you in your new job?
A. I think my background particularly at TCB will help me because I had to deal with so many issues there, and I expect it will be the same thing here. It’s just a question of finding creative solutions and coming up with ideas of how to fix a problem.
I think at HUD, being on the regulatory side, it was easy to say, “Listen, this is what the regulations say; you’re not able to do this.” At TCB, I had to say, “OK, this is what the regulations say, but I think you’re going to be able to do this because it doesn’t specifically state that you can’t do something.”
Here, I think it will be the same way. It’s about protecting J.C. Cannistraro’s interests and making sure that they are able to progress in the construction industry within the bounds of the law.
Q. Was going in-house something you were looking to do?
A. I considered myself in-house at HUD, and even at TCB. It was just that I was working for the federal government, and then I worked for a nonprofit company, and now I’m with a for-profit company.
The difference there is I had other attorneys to lean on and bounce questions off of, and [now] I’m basically the only attorney here. So, when it comes to running things by people, I’m calling in favors. I made a lot of contacts working at The Community Builders, and I’m reaching out to those same contacts and outside counsel for advice on issue that I’m not familiar with here.
Q. What attracted you to J.C. Cannistraro?
A. I wanted to stay in the real estate/construction industry, and I saw this position. I did some research on the company and liked the fact that it was a family-led business and had been around for a long time. I saw the job description and liked the idea that I would be basically establishing the legal department and creating policies and procedures and documents from the ground up. Just having the ability to do that excited me.
Q. What types of issues do you anticipate dealing with?
A. I think it will be a lot of contract issues. Being a subcontractor to major contractors, it’s hard to push back on contracts sometimes, but my plan is to try to do that in order to protect the company’s interests.
I’ll be working closely with our HR department and getting written policies and procedures in place there and reviewing sales agreements and employment contracts, dealing with document retention policies and things like that. The company is growing at a very rapid pace. It’s important to keep those procedures in place and ensure that we’re not letting anything slip through the cracks.
Q. Is the employment realm somewhat new to you?
A. It is, but in my role managing litigation at The Community Builders, I also dealt with some employment-related matters as well, so it’s not all too unfamiliar to me.
Q. Will you use outside counsel for certain matters?
A. I will. There are things that are going to come up that I’m not specialized in, and I recognize what my weaknesses are and when to seek out help. I’ll definitely be relying on outside counsel in instances where I’m just not familiar enough to make a decision and provide advice.
Q. So, you are the company’s first-ever in-house counsel?
A. We did have an in-house position 50 years ago, but for all intents and purposes, this is a newly created position. My weekends are spent thinking about what I can do about building a foundation, and also planning my wedding [on April 21]. I got the offer from J.C. Cannistraro and got engaged on the same day.
Q. Is your new employer going to let you go on a honeymoon?
A. I’m a good employee. Even though it was offered, I’m waiting until I accumulate my necessary time. So I’m going on my honeymoon in November.