Roberta Loomar’s New Frontier

Roberta Loomar exceeded in litigation before switching to an in-house position. With experience on both sides, she’s now pioneering the first US general counsel role at Apotex.

Before Roberta Loomar went to work for Apotex in September 2013, the international pharmaceutical company never had an in-house legal counsel in the United States. That meant some changes were overdue.

“Before I got here, some everyday contracts were never reviewed by legal counsel,” Loomar says. “I changed that; now virtually all of them are given to me for review. Sometimes a contract involving the smallest amount of money can have a disproportionate effect in terms of potential risk and exposure. An example would be fire sprinklers; the contract might be valued at only $2,000 a year, but if there’s a fire the damage could be substantially more.”

Since arriving at the Toronto-based company, she’s put in place many new processes because establishing a new position requires building an appropriate foundation. This might seem like an overwhelming task to some, but with past experience as both a litigator and in-house counsel, Loomar has always pushed herself toward projects that are fresh and exciting for her. “You need to be willing to expand the scope and breadth of the work you do,” she says, “and not be afraid to take on new challenges.”

Loomar’s path to a legal career began in childhood. She enjoyed acting, singing, and public speaking, and when she attended the University of Florida, she flirted with the idea of using her talents as a sports broadcaster, but ultimately settled on law. She reasoned that courtroom trials were a kind of performance. In her second year at the University of Miami law school, she began working as a clerk at Peters Pickle Niemoeller, a defense firm that handled insurance cases, and after graduation she joined them as a lawyer.

“I had good grades, so I could have gone straight to one of the mega-firms,” she says “But I knew it would be a long time before I got substantial litigation experience. At this firm, I got it right away. In two years I had more litigation experience than most lawyers get in 20 years at a mega-firm.”

Next came a job in the Miami office of Hughes Hubbard & Reed, an international firm with 250 lawyers, where she soon found herself defending one of the Big Six accounting firms. “I was a third-year lawyer,” she says. “But because of my experience, I had the opportunity to be one of the main lawyers litigating a half-billion-dollar case. My boss felt comfortable having me there with the heavy hitters.”

By 1999 she was at Hogan Lovells, a mega-firm with 2,500 lawyers in offices around the globe. Being at such a large firm came with its perks, one being the international intrigue; she helped successfully defend an Ecuadoran mutual fund in a federal lawsuit brought by the country of Colombia. “In Ecuador, anyone can swear out a complaint against you, and you can be detained for up to three weeks before they have to let you go,” she says. “I had to travel there secretly so I wouldn’t end up in jail. We had to limit the amount of time I spent there and who I saw.”

In late 2000, Loomar got a fortuitous phone call from a friend working as a legal counsel at Andrx Corporation, a Florida-based pharmaceutical company. It was a job offer. Although she loved litigation, she worried that the long hours required at a legal firm kept her from spending time with her two young daughters. She made the move. “When I got to Andrx, I had never reviewed a contract because I’d always done litigation,” she says. “I had to learn that. I started expanding into many other areas—transactions, employment-related matters, regulatory issues, administrative issues, corporate governance issues.”

She was also charged with establishing a compliance program to ensure the company met federal and state standards. The pharmaceutical industry is very regulated, which made the task a challenge. “I had never done anything with compliance before, but I welcomed the opportunity and learned that area,” she says. “I became the chief compliance officer.”

Watson Pharmaceuticals (now known as Actavis) eventually acquired Andrx. Loomar stayed on, and acquired new responsibilities. She now supervised the legal department, which included junior attorneys, paralegals, and staff.

She also supervised the company’s legal defense when several state attorneys general from across the US charged Watson and most of the country’s major pharmaceutical companies with falsely inflating prices. However, her team was the only one that ended up on top. “The cases were preposterous,” she says. “But the governments won virtually every case they tried, except Watson. We had the only defense verdict.”

Loomar jumped to Apotex in 2013. “They had never before had an in-house US legal counsel,” she says. “Having someone with substantial experience in the pharmaceutical industry was overdue and very welcome. There was also a period of adjustment in having me as a resource. After 40 years of doing things a certain way, having a US legal presence was going to change a lot of things.”

Since coming on board, she’s been busy putting in place processes and policies around the way the company does business. “We now have a policy as to who in the company can sign a contract, for example,” she says. “We didn’t have a policy regarding that before. It’s important because whoever signs the contract binds the company.”

Of course, she’s also advising the company on its legal risks and liabilities. Loomar takes a pragmatic approach to that side of her work. She allows nothing that is illegal or inappropriate but recognizes legal advice can range from very conservative to very liberal, and therefore gauges her situation accordingly. “At the end of the day, I view my role as helping to identify the value and the risk to the corporation when making certain decisions,” she says. “I don’t view my role as stopping the company from doing business. As an in-house counsel, it’s critical the company is aware of its legal risks. Once they’re made aware, they can make an informed decision.”

While litigation has always been her first passion, she’s excited by the challenges she faces in her current job. She also loves being part of the Apotex team. “When I got hired here, they weren’t looking for a lawyer at my level, but they were forward-thinking enough that when they saw an opportunity to hire someone with my experience, they brought me on board,” she says. “It’s a great company, and I’m blessed to be working here.”

She also has advice for other lawyers who might be contemplating a move to an in-house job. “If you’re going in house, you have to be very flexible,” she says. “You may be asked to work on matters you never expected to work on.”