Karin, you work as a life sciences lawyer with a focus on high tech & functional foods and pharmaceutical products. But it wasn’t always the case. You used to work as an IP specialist with full-service firms providing legal support in the banking sector, telecommunications, fashion, and perfumery. What made you stick with the life sciences sector? Was it easy to switch between industries?
“After I spent about 10 years with full-service firms as an IP specialist, I decided to steer my career in another direction."
"I started to work with an academic hospital here in the Netherlands as an in-house counsel. My role was to provide legal and commercial assistance in bringing academic innovations to the market. I was captivated by the science behind all these inventions and by the personal drive of the inventors. These were usually highly regarded specialists in their field, who at the same time were able to explain their science to me, in very accessible terms."
“The commitment of the life sciences professionals to contribute to a greater goal than just their findings (e.g. public health and food production) is what I consider to be characteristic for the life sciences and what is for me most attractive. After a few years, I switched back from the position of an in-house counsel to that of an independent lawyer, where I feel to be more in the driving seat. But the period in academia was vital for me, as it was my initiation into the life sciences.”
What are the most common problems that the clients come to you with?
“I consider working in the life sciences to be very constructive. Clients do not only come and see me when they have a problem. They rather solicit my advice if they want to market a new product or ingredient and they need to know the way to market (‘regulatory advice’)."
“Also, I quite often work with clients who want to set up a commercial deal around their technologies, for instance an R&D collaboration and licensing agreement to use a diagnostic tool for the detection of food pathogens."
“When clients are in trouble, it is quite often because they face enforcement measures from the food or health authorities, or because they need to do a product recall. In that case I either litigate with the public enforcement authorities or advise how to execute such recall, while mitigating reputation damage.”
What does your regular workday look like? Did the restrictions related to the pandemic affect your routine?
“As the life sciences are vital to public health, our practice continued to thrive, even during the pandemic. I feel very grateful for that."
“As for my everyday work life, I usually start the day by reading a financial economic paper I receive in my inbox. This is a way for me to stay updated on economic, politic, and social developments, that quite often also involve my clients. I also read a few food tech and food law newsletters to stay updated on my field of expertise."
"During each day, my aim is to devote a block of a few hours to a task requiring deep and uninterrupted thinking (phone on silent mode and not looking at inbox). The remainder of the day is usually very interactive: either planning outstanding work with colleagues or discussing deliverables with clients.”
What is the part of your job that you enjoy the most?
“There are many! Bottomline however, I think it is truly understanding client needs and translating these into a legal and/or regulatory solution. This requires clear communication (but happily also small talk!), thorough research and sound legal skills. Applying these in this very innovative field provides me great satisfaction.”
What are the challenges that you face in your current role?
“In my opinion, valuable legal & regulatory support consists of sound advice, delivered at the time when needed and at a reasonable price. Although my colleagues refer to me as the ‘super planner’, this is the element I usually find most challenging, as I would like to strike a fair balance between the needs of many clients (not enough hours in a day!)."
“Another challenge in my field is attracting the right people to our firm. Those who we are looking for have a true interest in the sectors in which our clients are active and have good skills for communicating with them. For that purpose, we welcome people who, in addition to a legal background, also have a scientific background. But of course, we also want them to be fun to work with. Because if it works for us, it usually works for our clients."
"Luckily for us, young professionals no longer automatically turn to magic circle firms, but consider a niche firm like ours an enjoyable place to work.”
What has been the most interesting and memorable case that you have worked on so far?
“Again, there are many – our profession is not for the faint-hearted. But one from last summer I still remember. This relates to a client active in food technology (a university spin-off) that was involved in a new funding round, requiring some serious negotiations with the university and its investors."
"The purpose was to change an open-ended license agreement concluded years ago into an instrument, granting fair compensation to the university in case of success of the company on the one hand, and setting up well-defined costs for the company on the other. The challenge included not only the diverging interests but also the number of stake holders involved."
“I very much admired the patience and perseverance of the CEO involved, whereas at the same time he kept the working atmosphere very open and optimistic. Time and again, I am convinced the best deals consist of a win-win and I think we came pretty close.”
Do you often get to work with startups or do you tend to serve well-established companies in the food sector?
“We work with both types of clients and the work is entirely different."
“The big food business operators require truly specialist advice, for instance the evaluation of contracts they wish to conclude with HCPs (health care professionals) for their medical foods, early life nutrition, or due diligence into a target they would like to acquire."
“The startups require broader advice, ranking from the drafting of shareholder agreements and support in a finance round to the set-up of proper production agreements with their manufacturers and advice on how to advertise their product. I enjoy both and it provides us with a broad perspective, with is beneficial to each type of client.”
Connect with Karin Verzijden on LinkedIn.