Name: Todd Langel
Title: Corporate Counsel – Corteva Agriscience
Firm Background: Associate & Partner: December 2007 – February 2018
Practice: Product Liability and Mass Torts
Office: Des Moines, IA
Todd Langel’s story has come full-circle — his childhood roots on the family farm informed every step of his career, leading to his role as corporate counsel for agricultural powerhouse Corteva.
“I'm an Iowa farm kid through and through, said Todd. “Grew up on a livestock, corn and soybean farm in Northwest Iowa… and it’s like the old cliché: you can take the kid out of the farm, but you can't take the farm out of the kid.”
Choosing a Path
Like many college freshmen, Todd wasn’t sure what he wanted to pursue when he started undergrad at Iowa State University. After trying out a few options, Todd landed on agricultural business — a path that included great internships in the seed industry at DeKalb and Pioneer (which is now a subsidiary of Corteva). From time to time, Todd thought about packing it in and going back to the farm, but his father had other plans for him.
“I think he made it a point every time I would come home that I would get the worst, dirtiest, filthiest job so that was the freshest in my memory when I left and so I was reminded why I was still in school,” Todd recalled. “He was just like, ‘go and get your degree, go out and work, see the world and if you want to [come back and farm] we'll make room for you.’”
When Todd started thinking about law school, the choice was easy: Drake was the only program in the country with an emphasis on agricultural law at the time. Through Drake’s agricultural network, Todd was introduced to a niche ag firm where he was offered a clerkship — and later, his first full-time position out of law school.
Todd crossed paths with Faegre & Benson in 2006, when his firm represented a group of Iowa pork producers in a contract case against a large corporation. Todd recalls his excitement as a “baby lawyer” to be on the team as the trial ended favorably for the pork producers. Several months later, he received a lunch invitation from Jacob Bylund, who was on the Faegre litigation team in the pork producer case. Kim Walker was building a Food, Agriculture and Biofields practice, and needed associates who had deep industry knowledge.
“[Kim] wanted to organize the firm around the industry and said ‘okay we want somebody who can specialize in agricultural inputs, in seed and fertilizer and chemicals, and then merchandizing food processing, food distribution, food safety, you know, the whole food chain. He was quite the marketer… and never missed the chance to promote the attorneys he was mentoring. He was great at that. I really appreciate Kim and his vision for what he built, because he really built a tremendous Ag practice and made it attractive to somebody like me, you know, who lives and breathes Ag and so that became a really great platform. So I made the jump in December of 2007 and then took really every opportunity I could to remind Jacob about who won that case.”
While he made sure to rib Bylund regularly about that victory the first time their paths crossed, Todd learned a lot from Jacob during his years at the firm. In addition to Jacob’s nuggets of wisdom like “bill more than your boss and don't mess anything up,” he taught Todd a lot about client service and navigating the tight deadlines of litigation.
“Jacob didn't like to see people scrambling before trial. He didn't like to see anybody frazzled, running around the office like they weren't quite prepared for trial. Jacob always liked to be ahead of schedule, anticipating issues and getting ahead, so when it came to trial you had your ducks in a row. He was really good about… [being a] champion of client service and being responsive and always -- always conveying to the client that they’re number one.”
Another colleague who had a profound influence on Todd’s development as an attorney, networker and marketer is Andy Anderson. “With Andy, no client or project is ever too big or out of reach, and he is great about involving young lawyers in novel projects and mentoring them along the way,” Todd said. “He’s a great advocate for young professionals and really good relationship builder, both within and outside of the firm. Nobody can network and work a room like Andy can. He knows everybody, and it’s because he’s not afraid to approach anybody. If he sees somebody in a room, it doesn’t matter how famous they are, he’s going to find a way to give them his business card.”
After ten years with the firm, Todd had to make what he calls one of the hardest decisions of his life. Just as he was offered partnership — the goal he’d been working toward for a decade — he got an unexpected call from the Ag world. Pioneer Hi-Bred International, which would shortly become part of the newly announced Corteva Agriscience, recruited Todd as corporate counsel for. Pioneer was one of Todd’s first clients when he joined the firm in 2007; when an in-house opportunity opened up, they knew Todd was the right person for the job.
“It was hard to leave,” Todd said. “I had a pretty good client base of my own and a lot of relationships… and it was just a really difficult decision. But I always had in the back of my mind, you know, that if Pioneer came up… I always told myself if I had the opportunity to do it and it felt right, I was going to do it. I had interned at Pioneer, I had roots in the seed industry, my family still raises seed for Pioneer.”
The first months of 2018 brought a big transition for Todd in several ways. Not only was he adjusting to the difference between private practice to in-house counsel — he also made the shift from 100% litigation to no litigation at all. (Todd says it was probably three months before he got used to his phone not buzzing 24 hours a day!) Although he had to adjust from reading and writing briefs to reading and writing contracts, his focus on contract litigation prepared him to thrive in his new role.
“In the litigation space, you know how things could have been better worded and executed,” Todd noted. “You learn pretty quickly what can go wrong and what could have been done better from a contract drafting or contract formation standpoint. And of course, it gives you all kinds of war stories to be able to tell your clients. You can say, well, you know, if we don’t do this, if we don’t push for this provision here is what could happen. It gives you some street credibility in terms of… not only advising the client of what the guidance should be, but also providing them some real-world examples of the kind of exposure they face.”
Todd wears a lot of hats in his role at Corteva (“and not just promotional items!” he adds) and enjoys the insight and input his role on various leadership teams within his client groups gives him into business strategies. Todd counsels Corteva’s global Seed Production & Supply Chain (SP&SC) team, supports Corteva’s Multi-Channel Seed Brands in North America (all brands other than Pioneer® and Phytogen® cotton) and all North American real estate matters for the seed business. Additionally, Todd represents the in-house financing subsidiary PHI Financial Services, Inc. and leads the legal support of Corteva’s International Trade Compliance team.
Keeping in touch with the firm isn’t a problem for Todd; Faegre Drinker is one of Corteva’s firms, so he still talks weekly with the team.
Outside of work, Todd remains connected to his family. He and his dad have a hobby farm in southern Iowa, where they work together on habitat projects. Todd spends a lot of time on the sidelines of soccer fields, with three kids playing this season. He’s also stretching his musical muscles these days, as Todd is taking guitar lessons weekly with his son.