College of Law

Fred Roth '12

Blending interests to find the perfect field

Feb. 14, 2023

Fred Roth

Fred Roth ('12) serves as assistant general counsel of tech and data privacy for Compass Group USA, a leading food service organization in the US serving more than 5 million meals daily in businesses, hospitals, and schools through cafeterias, vending machines, and unattended markets. He joined Compass USA in 2021 and focuses on technology and privacy as part of several company initiatives.

As the child of a corporate attorney, Fred never considered a career in law. His father’s work with mergers and acquisitions and contracting never interested him, and still doesn’t. Fred was interested in the sciences, so he pursued his undergraduate degree in biology, followed by a master’s degree in evolutionary sociobiology. He kept his interest in technology as a hobby on the side.

Upon completion of his master’s degree, Fred was introduced to the potential of going into patent law after learning that he didn’t want to study paper wasps (the model species for his master’s thesis) for the rest of his life. A career in patent law promised additional exposure to the technologies and systems he found interesting, while also providing access to sophisticated companies doing exciting work. “I am a huge technology geek,” says Fred. “The ability to be involved in the creation, protection, and development of new technologies from the inside was appealing. As a patent lawyer, I would be able to do that for many different companies at once and have a meaningful impact on those products.”

After graduating from Toledo Law in 2012, Fred joined the Chicago office of Husch Blackwell, LLP which at the time was a boutique office focused on patent litigation and prosecution, specifically for generic pharmaceuticals. As a young associate, he looked to connect with partners doing complementary work, and quickly joined a team focused on FDA regulatory compliance, guiding large food and drug companies through complex regulatory systems. Over the course of three years at Husch Blackwell, this work became a larger and more significant part of his work and expanded to include technologies like medical devices and medical device applications.  

In 2015, Fred made the move to the Chicago office of Thompson Coburn, LLP, leaving behind the patent work and focusing on FDA compliance and technology-related clients. He helped animal feed companies with regulatory filings, counseled a honey-coated bandage company to navigate the FDA 510(k) approval process, and helped food companies update their product labels. At the same time, he was also working in the cybersecurity incident response practice group, guiding fortune 100 companies through data breaches involving up to 3.2 million individuals’ data. While he enjoyed the work and the rewarding nature of being the “on-call” attorney for so many companies, he never felt like he really understood his individual clients as well as he wanted to, so he found himself moving in-house where he could experience the full breadth of the client’s day-to-day operations, needs, and challenges so he could take a deep dive into problem-solving from the inside.  

In 2018, Fred joined Adaptive Health, a dietary supplement company that operates many brands across different customer types. There, he acted as the go-between for the marketing team and the product development team, reading hundreds of scientific clinical studies that provided the support for marketing claims, ensuring that anything claimed in ads was supported by solid scientific evidence.  He also helped the company adapt to the new paradigm introduced by California with the passage of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).

Today at Compass, Fred's focus on technology and privacy involves data mapping, where he participates in creating a user-accessible map of the company’s entire data collection, ensuring it is classified according to the myriad of privacy laws in effect. He has also launched a data breach incident response program, improving the efficiency of breach response activities while maintaining a broad legal privilege. Finally, uniting many of these efforts together, he is part of the leadership team tasked with constructing a modern, flexible, scalable, and client-friendly data governance program. Given its size and industry access, Compass has more data than most would imagine, and being able to use that data competitively, securely, and while also prioritizing individuals’ rights is a massive undertaking. After only a year and a half, he Fred says it has already been incredibly rewarding.  

Fred earned his B.S. in Biology from The Ohio State University in 2005, his M.S. in Evolutionary Sociobiology from Oakland University in 2009, and his J.D. from Toledo Law in 2012.

Q&A with Fred Roth

Where did you grow up?
I was born in Fort Worth, Texas and moved all over the country east of the Mississippi to states including Illinois, Connecticut, Michigan, and Ohio.

What aspects of growing up had an impact on your interest in going to law school?
I want to know how things work. The law is, if nothing else, focused closely on examining, deconstructing, and understanding how people, businesses, and governments interact to do new and interesting things within a web of interconnected systems. The law is a vehicle for me to do the things I enjoy: problem-solving, meeting people, and getting involved in amazing new technologies.

How did you decide on Toledo Law for your legal education?
During a campus visit, I met Professor Gibbons during my tour, and his attitude was a big draw alongside the IP Certificate program. I also liked how Toledo was focused on practical law, as opposed to the theories and philosophy of the law.

Do you have a favorite memory from attending Toledo Law?
Professor Lee Strang’s classroom was always a favorite and has paid off during my career. His ability to make me think not just about the what of a given case or topic, but to explore the why resulted in a far better approach to problem solving in law. Also, somehow finding myself mortally wounded in each of Professor Joseph Slater’s hypotheticals kept things interesting.

What did you find difficult about your time in law school?

Knowing why I wanted to go to law school, but not knowing what my career would look like. At this point in my career, I now know that many attorneys move among different legal practice areas several times during their careers. Understanding that flexibility would be important was a tough lesson to learn. However, in the long run, it has turned out to be vital to my growth and success.

What was most helpful to you during your time at Toledo Law?
During my 1L summer, I participated in a public service externship, working for a local publicly funded technology investment program called Rocket Ventures; part of Ohio’s Third Frontier program. Gathering practical experience (and getting credit for it) in a real-world scenario was invaluable in helping me understand the kinds of questions in-house attorneys deal with daily.

Were there law school experiences that helped shape your career path? -- How did Toledo Law prepare you for your career?
Several professors I worked with clearly had a focus on teaching students how to think about problems from an analytical, and meta perspective; not just, “what is the problem and what does the case law say?” Asking students to think about “why does the law say what it does” made me a much better, business-oriented thinker. In-house attorneys are not just focused on applying the law, but about helping the business make money. Legal advice provided in a vacuum can do as much harm as good. Understanding the “why” of the law helps me advise my clients in a way that is meaningful and practical in the real world. These issues are front and center in the world of administrative agencies and the rules they create. My Administrative Law class with Professor Strang was instrumental in getting me to think properly about regulatory agencies.

What was your first position AFTER law school?
Associate attorney at Husch Blackwell in Chicago, IL.

How did you obtain your first position?
Networking. I’ve always been good at meeting people, and this skill paid off. Even before I started law school, I was working on meeting attorney family friends, picking their brains, and making connections. One of these connections ended up being an avenue to applying for a position as a summer associate at Husch Blackwell during my 2L summer. This turned into a job offer after graduation.

Some things I did set me apart according to my interviewers:

  • I made business cards for myself. Professionals have business cards, and the fact that my resume had a business card attached to it made it stand out in the crowd and in a stack of other resumes.
  • I did not just have a J.D. at graduation. By getting an IP Certificate and participating in Moot Court on the IP law team meant that I showed focus and expertise that was appealing to interviewers. I saw the other side of this when I helped sort applicants over the years. There are so many smart and qualified applicants; those “extras” set applicants apart.

What have been legal career highlights?
During one phase of my career, I was assisting large companies dealing with very public data breaches. I would be their first contact while they were in the midst of a ransomware attack, or immediately after their customer’s data was leaked to the web. Being able to help the c-suite of Fortune 100 companies or the sole owner of a small family business (many of whom were twice my age and experience) navigate the process of responding to these incidents, taking them from “on the edge of losing it” to confident in the response plan, was always incredibly rewarding.

At my current position, I have been able to take the helm of a project that aims to truly change the way a huge, global company does business. Compass interacts with consumers in hospitals, schools, sports arenas, company HQs, as well as online. Managing all of these interactions and their privacy implications is a big, meaningful, and truly relevant task in 2023.

What are some of the struggles you have encountered and how did you navigate?
Understanding that how you provide legal advice can be as important as what legal advice you provide. Too many attorneys have a tendency to provide legal advice in a vacuum and fail to take into consideration the business and personalities they are advising. Learning that you have to spend time with the business teams, understand their world and challenges long before you engage in analyzing a legal question is vital to providing meaningful advice. Sometimes it’s not about black and white advice, instead, the best advice is usually “here are the risks of a particular action” and allowing the business team to either accept the risks or work to mitigate them.

What were some career pivot-points/decisions that led you to where you are now?
Being willing to go where the work is, and being flexible and open to new practice areas, was something that paid off early. As a young associate, the billable hour was, of course, a major career concern. As the primary area of law I was practicing was cyclical, I looked for other work to fill my time during slow periods. In doing so, I linked with partners in my firm that worked in FDA regulatory guidance, technology (data breach response), and cannabis law. While these did not all end up being long-term focuses of my career, the experiences I had with clients in those spaces made me a far better attorney in terms of responding to the unique business needs of business operators in my in-house positions.

What has been the most challenging aspect of your current (or a recent) position?
Moving to Compass has been an amazing opportunity. Working with large, publicly traded international companies as an outside counsel was interesting, but being able to get under the hood of a company that moves millions of meals a day and employs hundreds of thousands of people is a different experience altogether. The time and energy needed to truly understand the business was not something I understood (nor could have) before hitting the ground in 2021.

What have you found most satisfying about your career thus far?
I am, above all else, a people person. I love to meet new people, learn what they do, and understand how my areas of expertise intersect with theirs. I have worked with the operators of companies that make cheese, dietary supplements, food products, cannabis, software applications, medical devices, and even hoverboards. Getting to know these people and help them wrap their arms around problems that distract them from their love for their business, and making money, has always been a big part of why I do what I do.

Secondary to that is seeing a consumer product I worked on in consumers’ hands and hearing how much they love them. Whether it be online reviews, app store reviews, or client feedback it is rare that an attorney can see tangible benefits of his work in the “real world.”

What do you wish you would have known in law school?
What does it mean to manage risk? Law school does a good job teaching attorneys how to solve problems, but in the “real world” there is a big difference between answering a legal question and balancing risks. On the ground legal questions are rarely about “what is legal” and “what is illegal.” In-house attorneys are focused on striking a balance between compliance, risks, and the business’ goals, and being able to articulate the recommendations you make is a very difficult skill to pick up on the fly. I was blessed with mentors that helped me understand how to communicate these concepts, and having better insight into this during law school would have given me a significant advantage.

Where do you see areas for growth on the part of the legal profession?
Leaving behind the billable hour. The practice of law and billing for those services is ultimately a question of paying for an attorney’s value. In most other industries, a service provider will provide a document describing the services to be provided and the estimated costs of those services. However, in the legal field, attorneys are hamstrung with the billable hour which is a very poor measure of value. Of course, we do this because there is a perceived financial benefit to us. A jaded view would say it incentivizes inefficient work to drive revenue. I’m always wondering when I see the bills from outside counsel. Attorneys need to be able to grow beyond the billable hour and find new ways of measuring the value of their work so that in-house counsel can better (1) shop among various firms, (2) justify the spend to leadership, and (3) analyze the benefits extracted from an engagement.

Do you have any suggestions for law students/new lawyers interested in a similar path?
Never leave law school with just a JD. There are too many attorneys who do so, and you are setting yourself up for maximum competition. Instead, pick something to specialize in and focus on that throughout your law school career. Get a certificate, join a moot court team, focus your 1L summer work in that area, and start networking with members of that industry. Do something to stand out from the crowd and make your resume interesting to a hiring coordinator. You don’t have to be married to that particular expertise, but it will enhance your ability to get that first job, setting the trajectory for your career.

How has your family supported you in your legal career?
My wife was supremely important to my legal career. During my last year of grad school and all of law school, Jennifer was the foundation for our success. She worked hard as a teacher in the Toledo area to support us, which enabled me to focus on my studies. Without her, I would not have met with the success I have.

What was the best advice you ever received?
Don’t be a “no” attorney.” In-house counsel can have a bad reputation for always saying “no” when questions are raised. Instead, be the “yes, but” attorney that provides a plan that can allow the business to take on new and interesting projects, paving the way with contracts, policies, and other guardrails to keep the business on the right side of the law.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I’m a hobbyist artist, working in mostly dry (charcoal, graphite) and digital (procreate) media. I have also recently gotten into 3D printing and the painting of 3D printed objects. My family loves complex board games (Catan, Scythe, Caverna, D&D, among others) and we enjoy shooting sports.

Who is someone you admire and why?
Dr. Francis S. Collin, one of the smartest minds of our time who is an accomplished scientist, public figure, and Christian apologist. His efforts in these arenas have pushed forward human thinking in ways I do not think we will fully appreciate for decades. True renaissance men like Collins seem fewer and farther between in an age of super-specialization, and I admire the breadth of his accomplishments and the grace with which he has reached them.

Last Updated: 4/18/23