2018 MVP Winner Patrick Stueve Profiled by Law 360
Law360 (December 17, 2018, 11:23 AM EST) -- Patrick Stueve of Stueve Siegel Hanson LLP was instrumental in guiding corn producers and others damaged by Syngenta’s sales of genetically modified corn seed to a massive $1.51 billion settlement, earning a spot as one of Law360’s 2018 Food & Beverage MVPs.
His biggest accomplishment this year:
After years of litigation, the end is in sight for farmers, grain-handling facilities and ethanol plants accusing Syngenta of launching two varieties of GMO seed before securing import approval from China, leading to the country rejecting American corn shipments.
In March, Stueve and his fellow co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs secured a $1.51 billion deal with Syngenta. The settlement, which is the largest deal in GMO agricultural litigation, received final approval on Dec. 7.
It’s been a long road, Stueve explained, saying the agricultural giant’s premature seed sales triggered suits all over the country, including federal multidistrict litigation in Kansas and state court cases in Minnesota and Illinois.
“There was substantial risk that we took on, there were novel legal theories,” he said. “We had to get through the motion to dismiss stage, the class certification stage, the Daubert review process.”
Then came the first trial in the MDL, which tested claims brought by several Kansas corn growers on behalf of 7,000 others. The jury sided with the farmers in June 2017, finding Syngenta negligent and awarding the class $217.7 million in compensatory damages.
Only then did Syngenta agree to a settlement of the nationwide GMO claims, Stueve said.
Why he founded a firm:
The attorney spent the first 12 years of his career defending complex litigation matters. He enjoyed his work and was good at it, but he was never happy with the billing model. So he left.
Eighteen years ago, he helped start Stueve Siegel with the aim of handling large commercial cases on a contingency — or risk-based — fee basis rather than billing by the hour, and he’s never looked back.
Working in this way ensures that the interests of the client are aligned with those of the lawyer, cultivating a unique relationship that’s important to Stueve, he explained.
“I had some great clients on the defense side, but obviously, the more time you spend on a case, the more it costs your client,” he said. “When you’re handling the case on a contingency basis, the more time you’re spending on the case, our clients like that as well because they know that means we’re prosecuting the case zealously.”
His proudest moments:
For Stueve, the proudest moments of his more than 30-year career have been in what he calls “David and Goliath” cases, wherein he helped small businesses and individuals prevail against very large companies.
Many of these clients would have struggled to secure legal counsel if not for Stueve Siegel’s commitment to operating on a contingency basis, which makes the big wins all the more meaningful, the attorney explained.
“If I wasn’t willing — and our firm wasn’t willing — to represent them, they likely would not have access to the courts because they couldn’t afford a lawyer on an hourly basis,” he said. “It’s rewarding knowing that we’ve been able to provide real relief to oftentimes small businesses that otherwise wouldn’t be able to have representation in court.”
Why he does food and beverage work:
Stueve didn’t set out to handle food and beverage matters, but as is often the case with the practice of law, he stumbled into the area, the attorney said.
“You end up handling certain kinds of cases without any sort of design,” he said. “It just evolves.”
Taking on some food and beverage cases early in his career led to him tackling one dispute after another, including a tuna price-fixing suit he is currently working on and other matters involving everything from potatoes to chocolate, he said.
Along the way, Stueve said, he realized “the cases are typically incredibly challenging, and thus, very enjoyable to work on,” which keeps him coming back.
His advice for junior attorneys:
According to Stueve, young lawyers should follow the hedgehog principle, referring to the fact that the animal does one thing really well — protecting itself when someone tries to attack it.
Similarly, junior attorneys should be striving to find something they love doing and are capable of excelling at, he said.
“Find an area that you really enjoy, that you can become the very best at,” he said. “The financial part typically takes care of itself.”
— As told to Shayna Posses
Law360's MVPs are attorneys who have distinguished themselves from their peers over the past year through high-stakes litigation, record-breaking deals and complex global matters. A team of Law360 editors selected the 2018 MVP winners after reviewing nearly 1,000 submissions.