The biggest watercraft that Ronald Fox owns is a 20-foot bass boat, but that hasn’t stopped him from making a splash in maritime law.
“The truth is that I always wanted to be a lawyer,” said Fox, 65. “It was in me from when I was very, very young.”
After graduating from Saint Louis University in 1981 and clerking for Judge Andrew Higgins on the Missouri Supreme Court, he handled a variety of matters from medical malpractice to product liability to will contestations to wrongful death work at the forerunner to Sandberg Phoenix where he eventually became managing partner.
But his hometown’s status as a major inland harbor near the meeting of two of the continent’s biggest rivers opened interesting possibilities.
“About 80 percent of all the grain that is exported from this country goes through St. Louis in one way or another,” he said. “I represent the majority of all the major barge lines that travel throughout the United States.”
In 2001, he co-founded Fox Smith, where he acts as managing partner over a 17-lawyer firm of about 40 employees.
“I think maritime law is interesting just because it is an area where you have a chance to meet some really good people and it is a specialty that not many people practice,” he said. “It is almost entirely in federal court and so you get to practice in jurisdictions throughout the country.”
In addition to numerous defense verdicts in Jones Act cases throughout the Midwest, he’s had over 15 judgments denying seaman status to plaintiffs and a million-dollar defense verdict in a maritime contract and bailment action related to the Great Flood of 1993.
He said that doing what’s right for clients is paramount.
“Our job is to provide them with outstanding service on a regular basis,” noted Fox. “As a trial lawyer, you can’t guarantee an outcome, but you can guarantee good service.”
That often means looking out for the client’s best interest, not just what makes for the best bottom line.
“I’d say the other thing that’s a hallmark of my practice is that I am always looking for ways to resolve cases efficiently,” he said. “It is not about how much I can charge in legal fees for handling a case. It is how much is going to be the collected cost to the client.”
Fox also takes care of his employees. His nominator notes that he did not lay off anyone during the financial crisis of 2008 or the COVID pandemic.
“That was central to the firm’s culture and continues to this day and, thanks to Ron’s leadership and commitment, those pledges were met,” they wrote.