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2020 In-House Counsel Awards: Sara Meinhard

Public company

Vice President, Assistant General Counsel & Head of Litigation, Cerner Corporation

Sara MeinhardGeneral counsel are prudently cautious by nature, and they generally like to stay on safe ground. The most important thing is to keep their employers out of potential problems.

“A lot of attorneys, their natural instinct would be like ‘Whoa!’” said Sara Meinhard.

But when you work for a cutting-edge company where new ground is being explored every day, things are a bit different.

“It’s about helping attorneys to be confident enough in their legal skills and their legal instincts to [say] ‘OK, we’re going to go into this area. The law isn’t quite formed. We’re pushing the boundaries here,’” Meinhard said of Cerner, which deals in health care information systems. “The law moves slower than business does, especially technology.”

Sometimes the most important question for Meinhard is how best to forge ahead.

“How do we become confident enough?” she said. “How do we hone that instinct enough that we can still give guidance that allows the business to move forward while mitigating some probable risk?”

Meinhard has worked hard to do just that. An Iowa native, she worked for law firms in Seattle and Kansas City and spent five years at Sprint before joining Cerner in 2013. Since then, she has been promoted multiple times; in April, she was named a vice president.

“She has done an excellent job of managing Cerner’s litigation for nearly six years, delivering exceptional results with limited internal resources,” her nominator wrote. “I’ve had the privilege of working with Sara on many important matters and cannot stress enough her professionalism, legal acumen and pragmatic judgement.”

According to her nominator, Meinhard took the lead in negotiating resolution of high-exposure FLSA class action litigation, and she worked with the company’s finance group to track, mitigate and resolve various revenue-cycle and client-contract claims. She also was the driving force behind the implementation of a mandatory arbitration program for U.S.-based associates.

A University of Iowa graduate and former clerk for U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey, Meinhard said the technology being developed at Cerner is “pretty gosh-darn cool” and especially important during a time when health issues are taking center stage.

“It is also an industry that is heavily regulated, so the business needs and relies upon all its attorneys quite heavily,” said Meinhard, who is part of Cerner’s COVID-19 taskforce. “I love new things and new projects, helping push Cerner forward. It is that huge variety, that great responsibility that Cerner is willing to impart to its employees.”

She also likes to find inventive means to end legal disputes so that problems don’t always wind up in a courtroom.

“It is looking at unique, creative ways to solve business problems rather than just going straight down the litigation path,” she said.

Her nominator noted the “outstanding work she does for one of the largest and most recognizable companies in Kansas City.”

“Experienced as both an in-house attorney and in private practice, Sara has settled in at Cerner, an innovative industry leader operating at the intersection of health care and information technology to connect people and systems around the world,” the nominator wrote.