“Our goal is to be health-care executives with legal expertise.”

The prescription for developing an innovative legal department

When Joe LaRosa joined Regeneron as general counsel and secretary in 2011, the biopharmaceutical company was entering a period of explosive growth. Eylea, a drug used to treat wet age-related macular degeneration and other serious eye diseases, was on the cusp of FDA approval, and the company was in the process of building out its workforce and progressing its therapeutics pipeline.

To match Regeneron’s entrepreneurial spirit, LaRosa bolstered the law department with a crop of exceptional lawyers, each of whom reflect the company’s hallmark passions for science and clinical development. As Regeneron continues to grow—in 2015, the company added more than 116,000 square feet of office and lab space to its Tarrytown, New York, headquarters—LaRosa’s team is playing a key role in its mission to bring new medicines to patients.

“The traditional model of lawyers specializing in a niche environment is not sufficient for this company. We are cross-training functional experts to have a broader skill set.”

Understand the company mind-set.

Regeneron is fully focused on translating cutting-edge science into medicine. It’s the backbone of our company, and it starts with our CEO and board and cascades throughout the entire organization. It doesn’t matter what legal team you are on—everyone is connected to the mission of bringing new medicines to patients, and everyone is immersed in the company’s scientific focus.

We don’t view ourselves as separate to that goal. Rather, we’re a part of the solution, which is grounded in compliance and business integrity and reflects the tone from the top. We understand the end game, and we’re very passionate about helping patients. We think that brings excellent outcomes.

Hire accordingly.

Given that scientific innovation drives our company, all of our patent lawyers have PhDs  and vigorous science backgrounds. We get into very deep conversations about cutting-edge research technologies, genetics, and drug development, and our lawyers are able to “walk the talk” with our scientists. Supplementing that expertise with top-flight lawyers in commercial, regulatory, business development, corporate, and compliance practices, we help marry the science and the business with three-dimensional understanding. That makes our jobs so rewarding.

Everyone at the company also has to have a very entrepreneurial mind-set. We have a phenomenal pedigree: Regeneron was founded by physician-scientists who quickly attracted a cadre of brilliant scientists and Nobel laureates to the company and its board. Because of these innovators, we have a lot of firsts under our belt. That means we have unique legal considerations, and our law department has to tackle complex problems in new, emerging areas and help develop solutions.

This type of innovation at the top level breeds innovation in the law department. We hire smart people at the top of their game, and it’s a pleasure to work with people who represent the best in the business.

Supplement specializations and disband the hierarchy.

Another pillar to our success is our commitment to cross-training. The traditional model of lawyers specializing in a niche environment is not sufficient for this company. We are cross-training functional experts to have a broader skill set. We think this provides the best development path for the lawyers and benefits the organization because they have a broader perspective when giving advice. It’s important to have people who specialize in regulatory law, patents, securities, and other areas, but the company benefits from having specialists who understand how their area intersects with the rest of the business. We try to train our lawyers so that they all can be a general counsel some day.

We also don’t have a hierarchy in the legal department. I believe no one has a monopoly on skills and ideas. If you’re the person with the knowledge, you’re the one who stands in front of the CEO and chief scientific officer. This complements the open-door policy in our company culture; our walls are windows, and in our meetings, everyone with relevant information talks with the CEO and the senior team. It’s what makes this culture so innovative. At Regeneron, you check any old-style bureaucracy at the door.

Be a champion for growth.

I think the role of lawyers in medicine has changed quite dramatically in recent years. Our goal is to be health-care executives with legal expertise, devoted to optimizing the entire drug discovery and development landscape. But as lawyers, we still have a deep understanding of the law and never lose sight of those important responsibilities.

Our team is just as focused on advancing our pipeline of medicines as the rest of the company. We look at the full range of scientific and technological knowledge that we have at Regeneron and decide how to optimize value through the creation of legal pathways. We are integrated in the labs and proactively assess how our portfolio is properly protected and advanced.