Home > Case Studies > Reconnecting with Alumni: Fredric Roth, Assistant General Counsel, Technology and Data Privacy at Compass Group USA

Reconnecting with Alumni: Fredric Roth, Assistant General Counsel, Technology and Data Privacy at Compass Group USA

Thompson Coburn (TC): When were you at Thompson Coburn, and with which group did you practice?

Fredric Roth (FR): I joined Thompson Coburn in 2015 as an associate in the Chicago office. Working with life sciences and technology companies at a former firm, I came over with a lateral partner to handle FDA compliance. At that same time, Thompson Coburn’s Chicago office was spinning up their cybersecurity practice. The timing was just right! As a self-proclaimed computer nerd, I was able to merge my interests and my practice. I split my time between the FDA and cybersecurity work for three years at the firm.

TC: Is there anyone from your time at Thompson Coburn who was a mentor to you (informally or formally)? If so, how did they positively impact your career approach?

FR: There were two partners (both of whom I worked closely with at TC) who provided guidance that was instructive to my career. In particular, these women taught me there is always a question behind every client question. What that means is that when a client asks their lawyer a legal question, they don’t only want the answer to just that question: There are always business concerns as well. Fortunate to work with attorneys who were really good at going above and beyond for clients, they taught me how to identify these hidden concerns. Ultimately, with their help, I learned how important it is to come back to a client with a business-centric answer that is applicable to the context in which they run their company. This is far more helpful to a client’s business and is a great way to provide outstanding service. And now that I am in house, I can confirm that this was huge advice to a young attorney that not everyone gets!

TC:  What is the most memorable moment you encountered at Thompson Coburn?

FR: So, this has nothing to do with the law, but it is a great memory for me. Thompson Coburn’s Chicago office overlooks Millennium Park. Back when the Cubs won the 2016 World Series, our office offered an incredible view of over 5 million people filling a quarter-mile of space. They were all celebrating at the parade, and there was just an expansive sea of red and blue. I had never witnessed that much humanity in one place. Just seeing all these people from that vantage point with my co-workers was so special. That experience has stuck with me all these years, and I will never forget it.

TC:  Tell me about your current role?

FR: I joined Compass Group USA, one of the largest food service organizations in the world, in 2021. As of a few weeks ago, I am now the lead privacy, technology, and cybersecurity attorney at Compass. That means I wear a lot of hats in our organization. In the U.S. alone, we serve 11 million meals a day, manage 1.9 billion square feet, and have over 300,000 employees. It’s a huge organization with a huge surface area exposed to cyberattacks across any industry you can name. We have a big presence in hospitals, international banks, educational institutions, and sports and entertainment, among others. So, essentially, we have lots of apps, services, and hardware open to attack. In my position, I get to work with many teams across Compass. For instance, I work with the cybersecurity group on the preventative side, during cyber attacks as the legal representative to the incident response team, the point person for data privacy compliance, and with our vendor strategy teams on a full range of issues. Even though we are huge, we are the world’s “largest mom and pop company” and here to serve our clients in the most thorough and thoughtful way.

TC:  How did your time at Thompson Coburn prepare you for your current work?

FR: One of the things I love to do is mentor young attorneys coming out of law school. My biggest message for these new lawyers is to always stay flexible. The legal industry and the industries we serve are often cyclical. As a result, to always have work, it’s important to go where the need is.

One activity that served me well at the firm was when a new partner joined, I set up a time to talk with that individual so I could understand their work and learn about new areas of law. These meetings also provided insight into where the firm’s needs were. Through this exercise, I was able to not only fill my billable requirements, but (more importantly) learn about cool, new areas of law that needed people to work on client matters. When Thompson Coburn brought me on, being flexible was what kickstarted my career. The firm was incredible, providing me the opportunity to be flexible and move toward new possibilities. If I had just stuck with what I knew at the time, I would never be where I am today. It’s how I figured out what my career trajectory could be.

TC: If you were not a lawyer, what would you be?

FR: I am a closet artist and have always loved drawing and art. Also, my family is really into complex board games that come with cool game pieces. The problem is game pieces are usually ugly, bland-colored plastic. So, recently I started hand-painting these miniature pieces to look more realistic and enhance the game experience. It is fun and allows us to really get into character!

TC:  What advice would you give younger lawyers as they build their practice and careers?

FR: Some advice I got right out of the box was this: Never graduate from law school with just a JD.  Competition is everywhere. If you think about it, the law itself is a competition, then there is the competition to get a position, for the billable hour, for partner time and ultimately to bring in business. There are too many people who are just lawyers. You’ve got to be more than that to stand out.

When I went to law school, I had my sights set on patent law. So, early on I worked to become known as “the IP guy”. As a University of Toledo student, I took all the IP classes and even got myself a “UT IP Law” license plate. Everyone knew I was the “IP guy”. This was great, but my advice is “Yes, get a JD, participate in Law Review, Moot Court, and student groups, but don’t just do that. Be more than that and set yourself and your resume apart.”

I carry this advice out in my own career. For instance, when I got to Compass Group, I found success by getting to know the software and product developers, but not as a lawyer — as a tech nerd. Over time, we built our relationships over technology, and it’s really worked great. It helps our working relationship, especially in sticky situations.

I understand that a big challenge for younger attorneys is getting billable hours in and learning the basic skills of lawyering. I get that it can be all encompassing. However, I encourage young attorneys to think big. They don’t necessarily need to stick with the area of law they thought they would practice forever (aka, be flexible!). Ask about the newest changes in the laws and talk to the partners who practice in those areas. And then go and learn about the topics on your own time. Offer to write the newsletter article or blog post and do the webinars. If you focus on building your reputation (your personal brand!) for being the person who knows emerging laws and industries inside and out, you will attract opportunities.

TC: Anything else you want to share about your time at Thompson Coburn?

FR: I am very grateful for my time at Thompson Coburn. The firm formed an incredible foundation for me. I would not have found the success I have today if the firm didn’t provide me with the chance to take hold of opportunities. It provided me with unexpected exposure to clients and an understanding of their practical needs and business worries in a way that informs everything I do.