Photo provided by Moore & Van Allen
Anyone reading Brian Heslin’s resume would be right to assume he’s no run-of-the-mill lawyer. A former U.S. Army veteran, nightclub bouncer and martial arts practitioner, Heslin brings a unique background to his governmental regulatory and enforcement practice. But a recent successful pro bono case on behalf of a U.S. Army Special Forces veteran has brought everything together for the 40-year-old former JAG officer, who is now a member at Moore & Van Allen in Charlotte, N.C.
Lawdragon: Tell us about your firm?
Brian Heslin: Moore & Van Allen is one of the largest law firms in the Southeast with more than 300 legal professionals and offices in Charlotte and Research Triangle, North Carolina, and Charleston, South Carolina. The attorneys at Moore & Van Allen provide sophisticated legal services within their nationally recognized corporate, finance, litigation and IP law practices for international banks, manufacturers, energy leaders, and growing healthcare and technology companies.
LD: You represent clients involved in governmental regulatory and enforcement agencies. What does that entail?
BH: Many of my clients do business in highly regulated industries. I represent financial sector clients that often become involved with investigations by federal enforcement agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Department of Justice, Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), Commodities and Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and others. In addition, I represent energy companies that are regulated by state commissions and federal agencies such as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
At times, companies hire us to conduct internal investigations concerning alleged misconduct to determine potential civil and criminal exposure. In other circumstances, we conduct external investigations after which we report the results of our inquiry to federal enforcement agencies. However, most of the time I am retained to represent and defend a company or an individual who is the target of an investigation or who is already facing criminal indictment. The scope of the defense can range from responding to a subpoena and negotiating with governmental decision makers, all the way to defending the client at trial and appeal.
LD: How did you end up focusing on this practice area?
BH: I started my legal career as a U.S. Army JAG Corps Officer. I served as a prosecutor and brigade legal advisor with First Infantry Division (1st ID) in Germany for a couple years, trying dozens of contested criminal cases across a wide spectrum, including rape, murder, child pornography and others. When I returned from Germany, I was assigned as a defense appellate attorney, representing convicted soldiers in their appeals. In that position, I had the opportunity to represent a soldier on death row and was able to obtain a reversal of his death sentence.
I left the Army in 2002 to work for the Environmental Division of the Department of Justice. I defended federal agencies against civil claims, which provided me with some exposure to complex civil litigation. In 2004, I joined Moore & Van Allen, where I initially handled commercial litigation and some white-collar criminal work. I also began to work with a partner that specialized in representing energy companies. That experience, along with my past history, logically evolved into my current practice.
LD: You recently represented a U.S. Army Special Forces veteran in a high-profile Afghanistan sub-contractor fraud trial. Can you talk about that experience and how you got involved in the pro bono case?
BH: Bill Dupre worked for USPI, a security contractor providing security for engineers building the roads and infrastructure in Afghanistan under the USAID reconstruction project from 2003 through 2007. Due to the insurgent climate and the lack of a U.S. military presence, the work was incredibly difficult and dangerous. As a Special Forces veteran, Bill served as the operations manager, which was akin to the ground commander of the security forces. The U.S. government accused USPI, its owners and Bill of defrauding the government due to overcharging on vehicles, soldiers and fuel.
One of our partners referred Bill to my colleague and me because of our prior Army and criminal experience. From the outset, Bill vehemently denied any knowledge or participation in the alleged wrongdoing. At first, the owners of USPI agreed to pay a portion of our fees. However, a few months prior to trial, the owners pled guilty to the alleged fraud. Bill was left on his own. We decided to carry on in a pro bono capacity and try the case, which was held in Washington, D.C. Our trial team used a small hotel room as a “war room.” Some of our attorneys actually used their vacation time to help try the case.
After a two week, highly contested trial against lawyers from the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the jury declared that they were deadlocked 10-2 in favor of acquittal. The judge allowed the attorneys to speak with the jurors after the trial. As a result of the trial and the jury members’ comments to the prosecutors about our defense, the government voluntarily dismissed all charges against Bill a few weeks later. The experience was one of the most difficult yet satisfying challenges of my career.
LD: What inspired you to become a lawyer?
BH: I was always interested in the law, especially with the idea of becoming a trial attorney. After college, I worked during the day as an unpaid intern with the Washington, D.C., U.S. Attorney’s Office and at night as a bouncer at a Georgetown nightclub. I was assigned a case with the Army that prosecuted drug-related homicides, which was invaluable experience. Then one of my friends was accused of an assault in the nightclub, which he didn’t commit, and I was called as one of the primary witnesses at his trial. My friend couldn’t afford a lawyer so he was appointed one.
At the trial, I watched his incompetent defense attorney lose the case against a sharp and seasoned federal prosecutor. I realized that for the jury trial system to work, both the government and each defendant require competent and effective counsel. My experience on both sides of the “v” cemented my decision to become a lawyer.
LD: Who is the most influential person in shaping your career?
BH: Interestingly, that person is not an attorney. When I was deployed in Kosovo with 1st ID, one of my primary responsibilities was as legal officer to the civilian detention facility. As a captain, I worked closely with the Military Police (MP) facility commander, LTC Joe Ethridge. When we arrived in Kosovo, the detention facility consisted of large tents with barbed wire fencing. Troops would bring in Albanian and Serbian criminals for alleged crimes ranging from theft and weapons violations to arson, murder and rape. In addition, we housed many of the Kosovo Liberation Army insurgents, which were engaged in the most dangerous activity to U.S. troops.
With little to no law enforcement or judicial system in place at the time, LTC Ethridge and I worked closely together to bring some law and order to our sector. That effort included bringing some sense of due process to the hundreds of detainees that we processed over the months. At all times, LTC Ethridge demonstrated an unwavering sense of doing what was right, for the right reasons. He showed me that hard work and extremely challenging circumstances are not something to avoid or deplore, but rather should be viewed as an opportunity to do the hard right versus the easy wrong.
LD: What is the most challenging part of your job?
BH: Billing time. To me, there is something unnatural about valuing my contribution to the client by the amount of time that I spend on a task.
LD: What is the most interesting/rewarding aspect of your job?
BH: I enjoy the variety of my work, clients and cases. This truly is a career, not a job, which provides many challenges and opportunities. I also appreciate the personal relationships that I build with my colleagues and clients.
LD: Do you have any tips to share with lawyers embarking in a litigation career?
BH: I believe varied experience at the outset is helpful. After trying different things, choose the areas that interest you and mold your practice accordingly. Do not become a victim to inertia or complacency. Also, being a litigator isn’t for everyone. It’s a career premised upon an adversarial process, which often results in uncomfortable circumstances for attorney and client. The stakes can be extremely high – whether in monetary value or in a person’s freedom. A litigator has to be able to personally bear and navigate that discomfort to achieve the best results for the client.
LD: What do you do for fun?
BH: In addition to spending time with my wife and three children, my hobby is mixed martial arts. I have practiced it in some form for most of my life and it is a great way to let off some steam.