Pittsburgh-based Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott has hired Gary D. McConnell, former vice president and associate general counsel of Bayer Corp., as a member in its products liability, mass tort and commercial litigation practices.

His first official day at the firm was Jan. 20.

The move comes almost exactly a year after Eckert Seamans hired nine products liability and mass tort lawyers from New York-based insurance defense firm McGivney & Kluger, adding attorneys across the firm’s Boston and White Plains, N.Y., locations, as well as giving it a new office in Newark, N.J.

McConnell, who recently left Bayer as part of a planned retirement transition that began a few years ago, said he first started talking to law firms ranging in size from two-lawyer shops to global organizations last spring.

McConnell said he ultimately decided to join Eckert Seamans in part because of his previous experience working with the firm in his in-house role.

“I know this is a very good law firm, I’ve worked with them for 16 years and I know a number of really good lawyers here,” McConnell said, adding that he also believes the firm will provide him with the best opportunity to service the life sciences industry, particularly pharmaceutical and medical device clients.

McConnell, who spent nearly two decades handling products liability, medical malpractice and admiralty defense cases at a St. Louis firm before going in-house, said he knew all along that he wanted to rejoin private practice once he left Bayer.

“I think it presents the best opportunity for me,” McConnell said. “I was in private practice for 17 years before I came in-house so I know what it’s about.”

While he will obviously not be bringing a book of business with him to the firm, McConnell said he plans to start out working on existing matters while he builds his own practice.

“It’s going to take a lot of work,” McConnell said. “I’ll be out trying to do some client development but also hopefully working on business for some existing clients.”

Meanwhile, what McConnell does immediately bring to the firm is a client’s perspective on litigation at a time when corporate counsel are being forced to operate under increasing budget pressure.

McConnell said one of the factors that led him to join Eckert Seamans was the fact that the firm has “very competitive rates at a time in the life sciences industry where the rate structure is increasingly important.”

According to an Eckert Seamans press release, McConnell helped manage mass tort litigation at Bayer and was responsible for developing and implementing the company’s defense and settlement programs for mass tort and products liability litigation.

According to McConnell, Bayer’s legal department was not immune to budgetary constraints.

“We were not unique in the industry and I think our experience was much like others’,” McConnell said. “We had a lot of pressure in the business to control costs and that pressure flows from the company to the outside counsel.”

According to McConnell, that’s why firms’ rate structures are “increasingly important today and I think will be for the foreseeable future.”

McConnell said his time in-house has given him experience that will be useful to both Eckert Seamans’ attorneys and clients who may be navigating expensive litigation with tight budgets for the first time.

“I think I will be able to help people here at Eckert Seamans in their understanding of what the client’s looking for and going through,” McConnell said. “Also, I think I’ll be able to help clients that haven’t been through the big mass torts litigation … know what to expect and know what’s coming and how to deal with it in a way that’s more efficient for them. I’ve walked in their shoes for 16 years now.”

Eckert Seamans CEO Timothy P. Ryan could not be reached for comment but was quoted in a press release as saying McConnell “embodies our firm’s unique approach to assisting clients with complex, high-stakes disputes.”

“Many of us have known and worked with Gary for years,” Ryan said. “He is an outstanding and zealous advocate for his clients, who will bring his many years of diverse business counseling experience to the firm. We are very fortunate to have him among our ranks, where we and our clients can benefit from his experience and sound judgment.”

Zack Needles can be contacted at 215-557-2493 or zneedles@alm.com. Follow him on Twitter @ZNeedlesTLI. •