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Corporate counsel share industry challenges, best practices

Robyn Buck and Noah Garcia

Robyn Buck (left), senior assistant general counsel for Bayer, listens as Noah Garcia, senior counsel for The Kansas City Southern Railway Corporation, answers a question during the Oct. 20, 2022 Corporate Counsel Roundtable in St. Louis, hosted by Missouri Lawyers Media.

Panelists from major companies with operations in Missouri confided how they select outside counsel during Missouri Lawyers Media’s Corporate Counsel Roundtable.

Husch Blackwell St. Louis Managing Partner Bob Tomaso moderated the Oct. 20 panel of seven corporate counsel attorneys and led the conversation exploring the greatest challenges in some of their respective industries.

Mosaic Health System Director of Legal and Risk Sara Juarez listed issues that hold true for the larger healthcare industry, ranging from staffing issues and statutory conflicts with pharmacies to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) violations and patients harming the employees treating them.

Ungerboek Systems’ general counsel and risk management officer, Beatrice Zdrodowski, said her industry’s biggest challenge is navigating data privacy laws in different countries where the international events and venue software provider operates.

Carrie Wrisberg is chief compliance officer and general counsel of Moloney Securities. She noted the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s “most aggressive agenda” to date is leaving companies scrambling to keep up with new regulations.

The entire panel agreed that in addition to specific law area expertise and the jurisdiction their companies find themselves litigating in through outside counsel, flat fee billing is a present demand for their companies from outside counsel they hire.

Robyn Buck is senior assistant general counsel for Bayer. She called for all outside counsel to consider flat fees and other billing formats.

“The hourly billing is just so difficult because it just — it’s this environment, and I don’t want to accuse anyone of ever doing that, but it’s an environment for abuse, it just has that stigma to it about putting a bunch of unnecessary hours onto a matter,” Buck said. “We know we lose value.”

The Kansas City Southern Railway Corporation Senior Corporate Counsel Noah Garcia said the company is considering purchasing blocks of time from law firms they hire and other alternatives.

Tomaso noted that he dreads the hours it takes to read bills and fill out timesheets required for hourly billing.

“I am all for the companies who want to use the fixed fee approach,” he said.

Juarez said in the last three years, Mosaic Health System has been pushing flat fees as well as doing business with law firms who don’t double up on fees because they rely on a “middle man” to provide the main source of contact for experts in the firm rather than connecting her to that expert source in the firm.

“I was paying $500 for this guy to send an email to this other person,” Juarez said, “… If that’s how you’re going to work, we’re not going to work with you.”

Steve Gallant, who serves as Maritz’s general counsel and executive vice president (Missouri Lawyers Media operates from its office in Maritz’s campus in Fenton, Missouri), noted that he prefers to have established strong relationships with someone at an outside firm so he has “a throat to choke” when he needs something done.

“I believe very strongly in relationships and the continuity of those relationships,” Gallant said. “What you do get from that is when you call, they call back. When they call back, they respond very quickly.”

RELATED: Photos from the Corporate Counsel Roundtable

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