Juliet Beckwith is a recognized commercial lawyer in Switzerland with over 20 years’ experience. She has started her in-house career in the steel industry and worked on a variety of commercial deals, including the financing of a £200m Yemen mining project and a €110m operation support and maintenance services contract for a power plant in Moscow. But her curiosity and interest led her afterwards to the life science industry. She headed a newly formed Legal Center of Excellence at a pharmaceutical company and now works for a Biotech company.
Dear Juliet, please introduce yourself and your qualifications:
I qualified as an English solicitor in 2000, worked in private practice for a couple of years and then moved to an in-house legal department. I enjoyed commercial practice and was fascinated by heavy industry in those days, so I started my in-house career in the steel industry, I moved to the mining industry and then into the power sector, which brought me to Switzerland. There I was working on some great deals such as Engineering, Procurement Construction and Operations & Maintenance in the Middle East, Africa and Russia. My career then took an unexpected path, and I went to work on IT and technology projects. Now I am working in the Biotech arena on oncology diagnostic projects, and I am loving it.
From what we understand you gathered different industry experience before moving into biotech. What was your motivation for the transition?
Around the time I was moving into the technology sphere, I met someone with bipolar disorder. Curiosity compelled me to investigate what bipolar disorder actually was, and how it is caused, so I started studying neuroscience part-time. Four years later, I decided to see if I could merge the knowledge from my studies (which had become a passion for biomedical sciences) with my professional life, so I moved into biotech working on research and development projects, as well as commercial matters.
Where do you currently see the biggest challenges for legal departments within the biotech industry?
In the past few years, I have seen that technology, and now personalized medicine are two examples of areas with constantly changing landscapes, making the legal risk profile a moving target.
In many sectors, regulators are trying to keep up with the pace of change. I have often seen that if they are working at a step behind the pace of innovation, there is always a risk that what is being done today might have to be adapted later to meet new compliance requirements. So, in my view, Legal departments need to keep themselves constantly apprised of trends and advances. In Biotech, it helps when the legal team enjoys regular dialogue with their internal medical experts to keep up to date with developments in medicine This is something I particularly enjoy.
In your view, how can legal leaders in this industry segment evolve to address future areas of risk?
In my view, legal teams must be valued as a trusted business partner and must remain agile to ensure that emerging legal risks are addressed at the right time. I take the view that it is incumbent upon leaders to ensure that their legal team is seen as reliable, responsive, and approachable by the business, so that we can all be involved with projects from the outset, and nothing is missed or delayed along the way because of a legal or compliance hurdle.
If we, as lawyers, are willing to embrace those technologies which are valued by business teams, we will be seen as allies. I have always been concerned about maintaining sufficient proximity with the business teams to be able to provide the right support at the right time, but also being careful not to be so ingratiated with the business that we stop thinking as lawyers. It is a delicate balance to maintain, and in my view, exponential change makes that harder to monitor.
I see also several benefits in the digitization of some legal services. Not only does it keep legal teams updated, informed and can improve efficiency, but we are increasingly seeing that business teams are building their own tools in-house to engage with customers, etc. As lawyers, we need to be fully involved from concept stage, to ensure that development, as well as roll-out, is smooth and compliant.
For legal counsel seeking an entry into Biotech, what skills should the person possess to make the transition successfully?
Every lawyer knows that they bring more value when they have an interest in, or better, a full understanding of their employer’s value proposition. If you are interested in this field, but are worried about lack of knowledge or experience, my advice would be to demonstrate a genuine interest in the field and don’t be shy to ask questions. I have found that scientists are flattered when you show a keen interest, however rudimentary your knowledge is of their field, and are thrilled to talk with you about whatever gets them out of bed in the morning!