How is it that one of the nation’s top products liability attorneys would choose to go in-house when he candidly admits that trial work is in his DNA?
Boston Scientific Corp.’s Timothy A. Pratt says it was all about the challenge of taking on an unfamiliar role involving new responsibilities.
Pratt became the medical device maker’s general counsel in 2008 and was a natural fit for managing the products liability aspects of his new job. After all, he had spent the previous 30 years handling mass tort cases for chemical, pharmaceutical and medical device companies across the country as a trial lawyer at Shook, Hardy & Bacon in Kansas City, Missouri.
But Pratt says what lured him to leave a job he loved was the challenge of handling all the other various responsibilities of general counsel for a big corporation.
He recently spoke with New England In-House’s Pat Murphy, fresh on the heels of Boston Scientific notching a win in Massachusetts state court in a suit alleging injuries from the company’s vaginal-mesh device. The case was the first to go to trial of the more than 20,000 products liability claims involving the device.
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Q. How significant was it for Boston Scientific to win the first vaginal-mesh trial?
A. We were pleased with the jury’s defense verdict finding no design or warnings defect for our pelvic repair product. The jury reached its verdict after considering all the evidence and science presented to them. It’s a good outcome, but we have other cases to defend, and we plan to defend them aggressively.
Q. How did you become Boston Scientific’s general counsel?
A. I was perfectly happy at Shook, Hardy & Bacon. I had a great practice. I had no interest in leaving and pursuing an in-house job. That was the farthest thing from my mind. When [former Boston Scientific general counsel] Paul Sandman retired, he reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in being considered for the general counsel job. I first said no. But Paul invited me to come out to Boston to talk to him and then-CEO Jim Tobin. I interviewed, talked to some board members, and went through the whole process, never really expecting to get a job offer. When they offered it to me, I said, “OK, now I have a decision to make. Do I take this chance, move to a new city, and jump to something I’d never done before?” My wife and I said, “Let’s do it.”
Q. What was the key factor in your decision to take the job?
A. The driving force was I liked the business piece of the job. I could handle the litigation, but there were a lot of other aspects of the legal department that involved business strategies as well as legal execution. Jim Tobin expected me to be one of the business leaders of the firm in addition to being the general counsel. I thought that would be interesting. I hadn’t done it before and didn’t know if I could do it, but I knew it would be challenging. That part of it intrigued me more than anything else.
Q. Do you miss trial work?
A. I get asked that question a lot because people knew me as a trial horse. I loved it. I loved getting before a jury. I loved the process of putting the case together for trial. Sure, I wouldn’t mind putting the spurs on and trying a case tomorrow. However, I don’t miss it very much because what I do here is every bit as challenging as trying a major case, so the adrenaline flow is now as much as it ever was.
Q. What do you particularly like about working in-house?
A. I like the variety of things that come to my desk on a regular basis. In my legal practice, I had lots of cases that involved the same kinds of products. There were challenges within those broad litigations, but not like what I have here. Now I’ve picked up other things like corporate communications, strategy and marketing. I like to identify and solve problems. You get that opportunity virtually every hour of every day in this job.
Q. For what matters and assistance do you turn to outside counsel?
A. Clearly, on litigation you’ve got to have the outside counsel in the right geography managing the litigation. We don’t in-source our patent prosecution. We hire law firms to do that. Beyond that, every segment [of the legal department occasionally will] resort to outside counsel. For example, when we get employment claims, we have law firms on flat-fee arrangements for those matters. We also have SEC counsel who are outside.
For acquisitions, we have some extremely capable internal deal lawyers, but you will always use outside counsel to help with the drafting, negotiation and due diligence.
Q. What do you look for in the outside counsel your company hires?
A. I recently wrote an article on the three rules for the 21st century lawyer, the things that people look for. The first thing that’s critically important for lawyers is to know your value and figure out how to price it independent of hourly rates. Alternate fee arrangements are still too tethered to hourly rates.
Secondly, it’s important for me to have strategic lawyers, people who understand my pressures, who have the best interests of the company broadly in mind. Too few lawyers out there understand what someone like me wants in a strategic legal partner.
The third thing is my mantra. I simply believe that lawyers need to develop better leadership skills. Being accountable, being calm in a crisis, having confidence, and having effective communication skills — those are the kinds of things that will impress people like me. Make me like you. Make me respect you.