William J. Edwards: Stantec

Engineering background offers advantage in corporate counsel role
Written by: 
Jeanee Dudley
Produced by: 
Ross Fields

Innovation, expertise and commitment to community are hallmarks of international design and engineering firm, Stantec — which makes it no surprise that the company’s in-house legal team shares these qualities. William J. “Bill” Edwards, one of several members of Stantec’s corporate counsel team, embodies distinct expertise in both law and engineering.

Edwards earned his undergraduate degree in civil engineering at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in 1995. “While I was studying engineering, I knew I wanted to go on to grad school,” he recounts. “I thought about engineering grad school and was accepted to Cornell, which is near my hometown, but I had also been considering law school to round out my education. So I took a year off in between to decide whether I wanted to focus more on engineering or broaden my education with law school.” He cites a shared component of both areas of study: problem-solving. During the year off, Edwards worked as a field engineer on a large building project in Maryland with the same general contractor he worked for at RIT.

William J. Edwards: Stantec

He then attended the Franklin Pierce Law Center, (now the University of New Hampshire Law School) in Concord, New Hampshire, and graduated in 1999. During his first year of law school, Edwards learned of a Franklin Pierce alumnus who was a civil engineer practicing construction law in Boston. He made a phone call and took a short trip to Boston, which led to Edwards working at the Boston law firm both summers while in law school and then taking a full-time position after graduation, where he specialized in construction law and litigation. After two years in Boston he took a position closer to home in New Hampshire, where he worked for a law firm again specializing in construction law and litigation. In 2005 Edwards took a project management position at a regional civil engineering firm, a firm where his fellow law school alumnus had recently become CEO. Then in 2006 Stantec acquired this regional engineering firm, where Edwards has worked since.

Signing on to the Stantec team

“It was great to have the litigation and construction law experience of my first six years as a lawyer before going in-house,” Edwards notes. “It really pays off when it comes to managing our claims and litigation, and allows me to take a hands-on approach to being involved in our matters — I can add value through the strategic and efficient management of our litigation.” In addition, his engineering and construction background helps when getting into the details on technical issues. Stantec’s U.S. legal group includes seven in-house corporate counsels geographically dispersed around the country, all with varying backgrounds — as well as outside legal partners hired as-needed for local matters. This range of expertise and geographic footprint allows for flexibility and resource sharing when dealing with the diverse legal needs of such a large company.

Stantec employs more than 15,000 employees working in more than 250 locations across the globe. The firm’s greatest presence is in the U.S. and Canada, though overseas business is also significant. Stantec’s leadership team and operations are spread throughout North America, making it easy for corporate staff such as Edwards to work from virtually anywhere the company operates. His home office is located in Auburn, New Hampshire, approximately one hour from Boston. He is the company’s general counsel for the New England and Gulf regions of the company.

Though the company is enormous, Edwards takes great pride in Stantec’s commitment to the communities it serves. The firm provides professional consulting in planning, engineering, architecture, interior design, landscape architecture, surveying, environmental sciences, project management, and project economics among other auxiliary services. “Stantec is designing the communities we live in and our services touch every aspect of mine and my neighbors’ day-to-day lives,” he explains. “The company stands out with key values: integrity and professionalism.”

Life in-house

Stantec’s in-house legal team is involved in every aspect of business. Working side-by-side with project staff, management and other support teams, Edwards is tasked with a wide range of responsibilities.

Day to day, Edwards says there’s no telling what might come his way. “It’s a free-for-all,” he laughs. “But it’s what I like. And I get to focus on the legal and business affairs of one client. My work is like being in an emergency room — you need to be able to handle whatever comes at you, when it comes at you.”

He says there is also always something to learn, another aspect of life in-house that he enjoys. It helps that he has the required skillset: working well with people, the ability to gauge intangible concepts and being able to handle a high volume of work and the stress that can come with it.

“I also have the benefit of being an engineer,” he adds. “When I was in engineering, I did know that I wanted more — in the long term what would make me happy. I loved construction and building things, plus I am a gear head — a hands-on guy.” On any given weekend, Edwards notes he is most likely to be found “working in the woods on [his] tractor, riding or working on one of his motorcycles, or swinging a hammer to build something.” That aspect of his background plays an important role in his work with Stantec and his ability to understand and relate to his colleagues.

While there is always a new challenge to tackle, Edwards says one thing remains constant. “It is an ongoing project to handle the company’s growth,” he elaborates. “After a newly acquired company joins Stantec, the integration is a project of its own. It starts with the due diligence and legalities of acquisition and continues with the training and integration of new locations and employees.”

More than a decade into his tenure with Stantec, Edwards still looks forward to new challenges that allow him to integrate his engineering and legal expertise. “The company culture and professionalism are what keep me here — in other words, the people. Stantec sets a high bar and walks the walk.”

Edwards enjoys both the challenges and the benefits of his position. As corporate counsel of a leading engineering and design firm, he is party to an informal, ongoing education. Learning from his experiences as an in-house corporate counsel and from his engineering, planning and design-oriented colleagues, the possibilities for professional growth with Stantec are boundless.