Coming soon to a theater near you: a motion picture about the life and times of attorney Steve Bartelt, portrayed by George Clooney. The film culminates with Bartelt shaking hands with opposing counsel to close a $400 million deal.
Admittedly, that’s a bit of a Walter Mitty moment for Bartelt, who said he definitely enjoys the escapism of the silver screen. So Bartelt’s work as director of legal affairs for The Marcus Corp., Milwaukee, resonates deeply with his own interests.
While there won’t actually be a biopic about Bartelt anytime soon, the $400 million transaction happened in 2004, when Bartelt orchestrated the sale of an entire division of hotels, Baymont Inn, to La Quinta. The sale involved more than 100 properties and franchisees, and required several months of effort from the entire Marcus Corp in-house team and outside counsel.
Bartelt had joined the company just four years earlier when, after a decade in private practice — first at Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren SC and then Godfrey & Kahn SC in Milwaukee — a blind classified advertisement seeking an in-house business lawyer caught his eye.
Bartelt said he always thought his talents were best suited for the corporate counsel environment.
“I answered the ad,” he said, “and 14 years later, here I am.”
Wisconsin Law Journal: Tell me about your job duties.
Steven Bartelt: Around here we all do some real estate work. I’m the guy who leads the charge on the M&A work. And we all give a lot of business advice.
WLJ: What do you consider to be your most important role as in-house counsel?
Bartelt: Helping our business people achieve the ends they want to achieve.
WLJ: How is life in-house different from private practice?
Bartelt: As an outside lawyer in a private firm, you get asked to help often times on discrete, separate engagements; whereas in an in-house role you’re more involved with things from start to finish. You’re not an outside party, but part of the day-to-day experience of your client. We live it.
WLJ: What projects are you working on right now?
Bartelt: I’m supervising some outside litigation. We’re also looking at a number of potential transactions. And as a sideline, I’m chairing a new Corporate Counsel Section for the Milwaukee Bar Association.
WLJ: Does your firm hire outside counsel, and if so, for what types of matters?
Bartelt: Yes, for litigation and projects that require very specialized expertise.
WLJ: What do you seek in outside counsel?
Bartelt: First and foremost, we hire individual lawyers and not necessarily firms. We look to hire subject-matter experts, and people we have a good comfort level with, who can provide good, sound advice.
WLJ: What piece of advice would you give to someone considering going in-house?
Bartelt: It’s an all-encompassing job; you become the client. When you’re in-house, although you might have a lot of people knocking on your door, you only have one client: the good of the company. It’s a very different mindset.