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Job Openings  

Have questions about working at Husch Blackwell?

Reach out to one of our recruiters.

Karen Fischer

Director of Legal Recruiting

Susan Early

Lateral Recruiting Manager

Emma Hearn

Lateral Recruiting Specialist

Related Industry:

Food & Agribusiness

Career Journey

A conversation with Marshall Custer.

Why did you choose cannabis as your area of focus?

A bit over 10 years ago, I started working with Steve Levine, Food & Agribusiness group leader and co-leader of the Cannabis practice, as a junior associate at a regional firm. I had just left a short stint as GC for a technology startup with inherited insurmountable infringement issues, and Steve had just left a large firm where he was a public securities lawyer. Steve desired to work more with local restaurateurs and I wanted to continue helping early-stage startups here in the Front Range; but cannabis had recently been legalized in Colorado and it turned out that the issues the nascent industry faced matched well with our skill sets. This is how the practice started. It soon became known that the two of us were the only lawyers practicing in this space with traditional corporate transactional, regulatory and startup experience. We ended up representing the majority of large operators in Colorado – which at the time was the only state with a state-regulated marijuana industry – and pretty quickly our practice became more than 90 percent cannabis.

Why have you chosen to make your career at Husch Blackwell?

As our clients grew and other states started adopting medical marijuana programs, it became apparent we needed a bigger platform – in our minds, a firm that had agricultural and food and beverage expertise. Cannabis starts as an agricultural product, and is then turned into medical, supplement and vice products – with similar regulatory issues. We talked to a number of firms, but no one was willing to take a chance because it wasn’t a federally legalized activity. Firms are inherently risk-averse, so I understood the hesitation. But Husch Blackwell was willing to listen. Not only did they listen, but they dug into the details of how we could conduct such a practice and helped us put processes in place to satisfy the more risk-averse members of the partnership. That showed me this was a firm that could solve hard problems and not just say “no.” And this is a hard industry with no precedent. There is no room for people who just say “no.” After we came aboard, Husch Blackwell became the first AmLaw 100 firm with a national cannabis practice. We leaned heavily on the firm’s healthcare regulatory, alcohol and beverage practice, labor and employment, tax and intellectual property groups as all these things feed into the cannabis world. The practice eventually began to scale as more states legalized cannabis. Today, Steve and I dedicate 100 percent of our time to cannabis, as do seven associates. More than 70 additional attorneys within the firm spend 10-50 percent of their time supporting the practice.

What is special about Husch Blackwell’s cannabis practice?

There might be two other people in the country besides Steve and I who have practiced in this industry at our level for as long as we have. However, those individuals tend to be more focused on policy, and they do great work for the industry in that regard. On the other hand, we’ve remained focused on being a full-service firm dedicated to shepherding our clients from startup, to emergent growth, to dominant industry players. We’ve focused on slow, deliberate growth to build a team that I’m excited to work with. As co-leader of the practice, I’ve spent a lot of time ensuring that that dynamic stays the way it is. We do high-quality work and have long-term ambitions to remain the cannabis practice in this country. That said, who we bring in must be a fit. We’ve kept our team intact by ensuring we have the right people with the right mindset.

What is one thing that makes Husch Blackwell special?

The way we’ve organized ourselves by industry expertise. We have ag-related expertise. Plant genetics and seed patents are growing issues in our area and we have attorneys who focus on these issues all day long for the big industrial conglomerates. It’s that sort of industry-specific knowledge that I’ve found very helpful in this practice. It makes it easier to provide your clients with value-added service and work product. Another thing I’m excited about is some of the legal tech services we are developing. We have some things in the works that will allow us to leverage the expertise we’ve gained in over 10 years in the marijuana space and save our clients a lot of time and money.

Is there a matter you worked on involving your Food & Agribusiness area of specialty that you found particularly rewarding?

What I find rewarding is that we’re literally inventing this! Everything is new in cannabis. Every problem is some version of unique. And to me it very much reminds me of the startup scene of the late ‘90s through the ‘00s. That said, we have a unique knowledge set: We’ve seen every iteration of this industry and how things actually work. Many of the problems we are solving every day don’t have verified answers, and a lot is at stake if you get it wrong. Our clients need us to look into the future and anticipate what happens next. Many lawyers are uncomfortable with this kind of problem solving, but it is precisely what I like about our practice.

Describe any other support you have received at Husch Blackwell that has helped you in your career.

HB University is a helpful resource. There is programming for all attorney levels. For example: New or soon-to-be partners get a deep dive into firm economics and essentially a mini-MBA. Associates get insight into how the firm actually operates, what drives our economic decisions, and how their numbers play into the big picture. I like this programming because it demonstrates to associates from an early stage that we’re invested in them becoming partner. They aren’t just a cog in the hourly machine.

What is your advice for a new hire?

You could apply this to any firm, but the people who are most successful find a good mentor who will take them under their wing. Becoming a great lawyer is a still an apprenticeship. Here we have a formalized mentoring program, and because of our industry grouping we have a lot of tight-knit teams that do repeat work with each other. There is a lot of opportunity to find the person or people you can develop under.

Key Contact

Job Openings  

Have questions about working at Husch Blackwell?

Reach out to one of our recruiters.

Karen Fischer

Director of Legal Recruiting

Susan Early

Lateral Recruiting Manager

Emma Hearn

Lateral Recruiting Specialist

Related Industry:

Food & Agribusiness

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