We are thrilled to share that Stephanie Harden—a long-time and integral member of our practice group—has been elected to the partnership. For those who haven’t had the chance to connect or work with Stephanie—which we highly recommend!—we wanted to share the highlights of our virtual chat with Stephanie (edited for the blog) to help everyone get to know her better.
First of all, congratulations on your promotion! This is obviously the culmination of many years practicing in the field—but how did you first get interested in government contracts law?
Thank you! I’m very excited about this milestone and helping our clients succeed in my new role.
I spent one of my law school summers at GAO’s Office of General Counsel, where I was first exposed to bid protest litigation. I loved the fast-paced nature of bid protests and was interested in learning more about the field. After law school, I clerked for Judge Victor Wolski on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, where I learned about a host of government contracts issues and really solidified my interest in government contracts law. Being able to observe and learn from the Judge and the advocates practicing before the Court (both from the Justice Department and private bar) gave me a strong foundation for success.
What do you enjoy most about your practice area?
I love that every day brings new challenges and the opportunity to learn about something new. Whether it’s learning about a new technology or researching a novel legal question or a FAR clause you’ve never examined before, there is rarely a dull moment in this field.
You have developed significant experience in the area of government contracts accounting, cost, and pricing; how did you first get interested in this specialized area?
Back when I first joined the practice group, I was part of a team tasked with developing arguments for a response to a DCAA audit that questioned millions of dollars of a contractor’s benefit costs. At first, I felt like I was completely in over my head. I didn’t even know what an indirect rate was, much less what it comprised or how the various pieces fit together. But after diving in and working with my more experienced colleagues who had navigated these challenges before, we developed an argument that ultimately convinced the Government that these costs should be allowable. Seeing this type of very tangible success for the client so early in my career was incredibly rewarding.
Once I understood the terminology, I became somewhat hooked on the area. Now, I find myself gravitating toward these issues, whether they arise in the context of an audit, a claim, a protest, or even a civil litigation or government investigation. Understanding cost and pricing issues is fundamental to every contract and can impact so many other issues.
What do you see as major challenges government contractors should be mindful of heading into 2021?
Audits, audits, and more audits. Between DCAA having eliminated its backlog, its commitment to focusing on defective pricing issues, and the unprecedented funding that the federal government provided to contractors via the CARES Act, we can expect an aggressive audit environment this year. It is increasingly important to push back substantively on adverse audit findings, as confirmed by DCAA’s audit statistics, which show that Contracting Officers only concur with DCAA’s incurred cost audit findings approximately 30 percent of the time.
How would you describe your client service philosophy?
Well, the foundation is always excellent legal service, which we pride ourselves on. However, on top of that, I strive to be incredibly responsive—whether it be to e-mails, budget requirements, or simply the client’s preferred way of navigating the issue—and to be creative.
Okay, now on to so more serious subjects: What makes you laugh?
My husband and his endless stream of jokes. And when our two-year-old (his little mini-me) tries to re-tell the jokes.
What is on your music playlist right now?
I’m sticking with Christmas music until the twelve days of Christmas are over! I hope to get “Frosty the Snowman” out of my head by March.
How are you keeping busy outside of the “office” these days?
Chasing around my children and learning how to cook all kinds of foods from scratch without salt to accommodate a dietary need in our family.
If you could have lunch with any living person right now, who would it be?
My best childhood friend, whose wedding I had to miss due to COVID-19.
What advice do you have for more junior attorneys in the field?
Treat every assignment as an opportunity to learn and sharpen your skills. And take ownership: whether it be over the little things, like calendaring dates and organizing documents, or the big things, like developing the legal arguments or case strategy. The more you contribute to a project, the greater responsibility you will be given, and the more you will feel invested in the outcome.
Learn more about Blank Rome’s 2021 promotions on our website.