Eli Lilly General Counsel Steps Into Big Legal Shoes
Michael Harrington has some big shoes to fill. The 49-year-old attorney will step into the role of senior vice president and general counsel at Eli Lilly and Company on January 1, replacing Robert Armitage, who will retire at the end of the year.
I feel like Im following a legend, Harrington said, referring to Armitage, who is well known in the world of in-house counsel and who played a large role in recent patent law reform in the United States. This actually isnt the first time Harrington has echoed Armitages path: coincidentally, both men attended Albion College, a small liberal arts school in Michigan.
Having such a tough act to follow doesnt worry Harrington, however. His most recent job as Eli Lillys deputy general counsel allowed him to work closely with Armitage, and he says hes learned a great deal from his predecessorespecially when it comes to influencing public policy.
Armitages tireless efforts to reform the U.S. patent system resulted in the passage last year of the America Invents Act. Harrington, too, hopes to effect change on a national scale, but his focus isand will continue to beon civil justice reform. Harrington serves on the executive committee of Lawyers for Civil Justice, a national organization of corporate counsel and defense lawyers seeking changes in the judicial selection process, judicial pay, discovery rules, and litigation costs.
Harrington, who grew up in Evanston, Illinois and attended the Columbia University School of Law, joined Eli Lilly in 1991. He has held a variety of legal and business positions at the company, including general counsel for Asia-Pacific operations and managing director of Eli Lilly New Zealand. And he says his international experience has helped him focus on the global needs of the company. Many of the more than 100 lawyers on his staff, for example, work overseas. The business has gotten more complicated, and we need to be more collaborative and speak with one voice, he said.
Bringing a group of people together is something Harrington does well, says Sedgwick partner Wayne Mason, who is president of Lawyers for Civil Justice. Whenever there is heated discussion, or if there are varying opinions among the groups members, Harrington waits before he weighs in, and his comments are always measured and thoughtful. He thinks before he speaks, and when he speaks, everyone listens, Mason said.
Nina Gussack, a partner at Pepper Hamilton who has worked extensively with Harrington, says he is a creative, talented, and unflappable lawyer. When Eli Lilly was mired in litigation related to improper marketing of its anti-psychotic drug Zyprexa, the company faced the challenge of negotiating settlements with Attorneys General from around the country. Mike was at the table speaking directly with the Attorneys General, and he always managed to find common ground, she said.
Zyprexa, which is used to treat schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder, has been an important, top-selling drug for Eli Lillybut has also proven to be a legal headache for the company. Lilly spent $1.2 billion to settle thousands of individual product liability lawsuits filed by patients who took the drug, and also paid the federal government $1.4 billion in fines in 2009 and pled guilty to charges related to the off-label marketing of the drug. In addition, it paid $245 million to settle a lawsuit filed by 13 states over its marketing of Zyprexa. The drugs patent protections expired last year.
Harrington, who ran Lillys litigation group from 2004 to 2009, was very involved in those cases. But the company has worked hard to be more transparent, he says, noting he will continue those efforts. Weve learned a lot in the last 10 years, he said. I think there will always by litigation in our business, but I dont anticipate anything like in the past.