Every year, I teach a biotechnology practicum to a class of second- and third-year law students enrolled in a ten-week externship program with technology companies in the Bay Area, and I present case studies of real problems I’ve encountered as a public biotech company GC. While my day-to-day responsibilities largely fall within three categories—leadership, management, and the practice of law—a more accurate image of what I do every day is juggle water balloons (delicate and precarious matters) and knives (matters requiring dauntless initiative and strategic precision).
As an executive charged with overseeing all legal matters for the company, I lead my legal team every day toward optimized coordination and partnership with our clients on a broad range of matters, some of them sensitive, others requiring bold business judgment. Because of my 360-degree perspective on the company, combined with my legal and compliance expertise, my broad strategy experience, and my standing as a reliable leader, I’m often asked to opine on enterprise-level (bet-the-company) types of risks.
I serve not only as a sounding board for my CEO and a resource for our board of directors, but also as a “consigliere” for my peers in executive management seeking advice on how to best handle a problem or lead through obstacles to a desired goal. I spend a fair amount of time each week leading my peers by modeling resourcefulness, collaboration, and empathy. And because I’m a lawyer, my fellow executives turn to me for conversations requiring both discretion and diplomacy; I am informally viewed as a back-up CPO. I am often called upon to manage executive peer relationships and leadership team dynamics behind the scenes—which requires unwavering ethics as the foundation for my advice.
Below the executive team, employees in other service or business functions look to me for leadership in navigating risk, especially during periods of uncertainty—complex, high-stakes litigation and investigations; stock price volatility; and competitive defeats, to name a few. And in my role as the head lawyer, I’m expected to model the highest level of ethical standards at the company. Therefore, I believe it is a natural complement to my role to lead on cross-company initiatives critical to the creation and maintenance of my company’s culture. To exemplify this belief, I lead on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), which requires a willingness to listen to a variety of perspectives, an ability to build consensus, and the strength of character to fight for change. I have seized opportunities to use my leadership position, and the political capital that comes with it, to launch new initiatives. Examples include a mentoring program for, and by, women; interactive ways to give back to the community that tie into my company’s mission; company-wide DEI educational and awareness campaigns; and bringing successful women entrepreneurs to share their experiences with our employees. And by serving as the executive sponsor on the board of my company’s women’s group, I seek to continue to improve the conditions for female professional development and advancement, as well as promote broad collaboration with our other employee affiliation groups.
Finally, I take my leadership to the streets. I not only sit on professional practice panels to teach peers about recent developments in substantive areas of the law like M&A, but I also speak regularly on issues relevant to women in the practice of law or in business generally. I speak about the importance of mentoring and sponsorship, not only of women and of lawyers, but across gender and other diversity lines and professional categories. And I practice what I preach; currently, I’m mentoring three senior scientists in my company, two women and one man. I speak out for women and other marginalized people—to lead, to demand equitable opportunities, to be heard. I speak about leadership by women and offer creative approaches to bypass common pitfalls in a female leader’s path. I’m relentless in my own self-education on diversity, bias, and racism and in tackling those issues head-on—not only at my company but also in my industry, within my profession, and in my community. I believe that giving back to my profession, to other women leaders, and to the community at large is my ethical obligation as a lawyer; I learn and grow every time I extend myself as a leader outside my company.