The irony of Jason Dake’s job is that he wears a wide range of legal hats for a product with a single purpose.
Dake is the vice president for legal and regulatory affairs at Orange EV. The company, based in the Kansas City suburb of Riverside, doesn’t just make electric vehicles — it makes electric-powered terminal trucks, a specialized vehicle used to move cargo around shipping yards.
“No one really knows that these things exist, and yet you see them all the time,” Dake said.
As the only in-house lawyer for the company, Dake handles everything from contracts and human resources to regulatory and real estate matters. And while Dake has been with Orange EV for just two years, he’s spent most of his career as a one-man legal shop.
“That’s quite candidly one of the reasons why I’ve really liked all the positions I’ve been in,” he said. “Most of the time you think of an in-house attorney and you’re like, you’re a contracts guy, you’re a corporate secretarial guy, you’re litigation management, you’re this, this or this. In almost every situation I’ve been in, I’ve been the only guy.”
“Circuitous” is how Dake describes his path to the electric terminal truck field. He earned his law degree at the University of Missouri but spent his final semester of law school as a visiting student at the University of San Diego. He’d planned to become a public defender and gravitated to California, where the salaries were higher. He figured it would be too difficult to move to a new state, find a job and take the bar exam all at once.
“If any one of those things falls through, you’re either homeless, unemployed or not an attorney,” he said.
As it turned out, it was good that he hedged his bets: a hiring freeze in the public defender system derailed his plans just as he graduated in 1996. Instead, a friend pointed him to a job negotiating contracts for Pacific Bell. Apart from a brief stint with a workers’ compensation law firm in California, Dake has spent his entire career in-house, in industries ranging from telecommunications to dairy farming.
Dake joined Orange EV in 2018. Prior to that, the company, which was founded in 2012, had no lawyer on staff. In a small, growing company, he said, it’s important to be willing to take on additional responsibilities in a wide variety of subject areas. Orange EV still outsources some of its legal work, of course. But Dake’s role within the company allows him to whittle down his requests for legal advice to the most important issue for the company.
In-house counsel “are always a cost center, don’t get me wrong,” he said. “But their job is to save money. It might be money you don’t realize has been saved, but it’s been saved.”
It’s also to make sure that legal work fits within the company’s overall goals and business model. There might be a solid legal basis for a suit against, say, a supplier, Dake said. But litigation might not make sense if it would cut off the company’s supply of a critical part on short notice.
Terminal trucks look similar to the semi-tractors that haul freight over the road. But the trucks have special features to allow the driver to attach a trailer quickly, such as a door in the rear of the cab that gives easy access to the trailer connections.
Diesel terminal trucks produce a lot of exhaust concentrated in a small area. They operate at somewhere between an idle and a slow crawl throughout multiple shifts each day. Orange EV’s battery-operated versions, however, produce no emissions. The company originally retrofitted conventional trucks to electric, then began to manufacture electric versions of the vehicles from the ground up.
A large part of Dake’s job is working within the state laws and regulations that affect his unique slice of the transportation industry. For instance, as part of the settlement with Volkswagen regarding its diesel emission scandal, state and local governments and private companies have incentives to use zero-emission vehicles, including for electric terminal trailers that “operate within ports.” It fell to individual states to determine whether distribution and warehouse centers qualified.
Dake worked with state regulators, making legal arguments that “port” should be interpreted broadly, helping to expand Orange EV’s potential market. It’s all part of finding a way to let an unusual industry operate within the parameters of the law.
“I’m here to kind of mold and shape a little bit, maybe cut the edges off to make sure this fits within the legal framework,” he said.