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Kevin Marks is vice president, secretary and general counsel at Roche Palo Alto, one of four pharmaceutical research centers owned by Roche, a global pharmaceutical company headquartered in Basel, Switzerland. The Palo Alto facility was previously known as Syntex prior to its acquisition by Roche in 1994. Among the drugs developed by scientists at Roche Palo Alto are the pain reliever Aleve and CellCept, an immunosuppressant used for the prevention of organ transplant rejection. Marks joined Roche Palo Alto’s legal department in 2000 as assistant general counsel in charge of employment matters. He became general counsel of the company in 2004. Marks previously practiced employment law in the Oakland, Calif., office of Littler Mendelson. He received his law degree from Villanova University School of Law. Q: How much autonomy do you have when it comes to dealing with legal issues here in Palo Alto? Is there much interaction with corporate executives, including lawyers, at the parent company in Switzerland? A: We have a very decentralized model that we follow. Roche is set up with its local affiliates throughout the world and a great degree of autonomy is given in terms of how these separate legal entities are governed. So while we coordinate our efforts loosely — mostly keeping each other abreast of the similar issues that we’re facing — we are given a large degree of autonomy as to how we go about confronting those issues and developing our own strategies for doing various types of work. Q: At the moment, what’s the biggest legal challenge facing a company like Roche? A: From a global perspective I think the biggest challenge is trying to defeat the negative perceptions that pharmaceutical companies have. Looking at the Merck situation or at other companies that are having products withdrawn, there seems to be a sort of “hide the ball” perception that people have of big pharmaceutical companies. That’s difficult to overcome, and that’s something that we need to confront. If you look at the pharmaceutical pricing situation where people — especially the American public — view Big Pharma companies as simply gouging, it gets into the legal realm eventually because we’re faced with legislation. We’re faced with lawsuits. I think the pharmaceutical industry has not done its best in terms of educating. And I think if we get out there — and this takes it beyond the legal realm — and do a little bit more in the way of education, the public can see what goes into drug pricing, for example. They’ll get a little bit better perspective into what’s going on. Q: What kinds of litigation matters are you involved with? A: Most of our litigation falls into one of three areas. One is employment. The second is environmental because Roche Palo Alto continues to handle litigation that arose out of Syntex. The third area is patent infringement because Roche Palo Alto still holds the patent on any Syntex product that had come through. Q: Does having a background as an employment lawyer affect how you carry out your responsibilities as general counsel? A: Because we only have three attorneys in our general law group, we’ve divided up and tried to develop certain areas of expertise so that there’s little overlap. Employment law is one of those fields. My background helps me from a variety of different perspectives. The people we have here are our biggest asset and our biggest cost. So it’s a matter of how we treat our people fairly and, of course, in compliance with the laws. But there’s also a broader perspective on making sure that people are treated with integrity and with honesty. I think having an employment law background enables you to do that. It enables you to address the laws and gear your programs — benefits, compensation, etc. — to ensure that you’re always in compliance with the law. Q: Do you think there’s a difference between being a GC at a company like Roche Palo Alto and, say, a non-pharmaceutical company? A: Here, you belong to an organization hoping to produce a commodity that affects the everyday lives of people. That’s not to say that you can’t get excited about working for a computer company or some other type of company. But we almost view it here as if you’re working for a higher calling. You get excited when you come to work every day because you know that there is always the potential for a new discovery. And while you may not be in the lab actually creating it, you’re doing your best to enable the scientists to do what they do best. My grandmother, who has just recently gone into remission for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, is currently taking a Roche drug for that. That makes me excited, to be working for an organization where I’ve seen the personal benefit in my life. Q: What criteria do you use when it comes to hiring outside law firms? A: Basically I’m looking for a partnership. I don’t want to sound simplistic about it because, of course, you look for intelligence and lawyers who are at the top of their field and who are well-respected. But I’m also looking for someone with whom I can have a casual conversation. It’s a person that you can take a look at and know that you can go out and have a drink with. We can go to a sporting event. We can actually be friends. I think that’s when you really develop the partnership aspect of what you’re trying to do as an organization. I don’t spread work around a lot so I like to get people and attach to them. I don’t believe in trying to test the waters with a lot of different people. I will try through my resources to come up with the best people I can find. I give them a shot but once they win me over we’re together for a while. Q: Are you seeing more or less work stay in house? A: Simply from a cost perspective, we try to do as much in house as possible. We try to do most of our corporate work in house. Any real estate issues that we have, most of our contractual negotiations and agreements, that’s all done in house. A lot of our patent work is now being done in house, which is why we’ve expanded our patent organization. Q: How do you monitor billing from outside firms? How do you know that your company is being charged fairly? A: One, I review all the bills that come in. There’s not one bill that comes in from outside counsel that I don’t review. Two, I’m a bottom-line person. Once I’m comfortable with your billing practices — and I will actually tear apart the first couple of bills that I get to see what I’m paying for — I won’t continue with that level of review. I’m looking at bottom line. I’m typically not concerned with high billable-hour rates. I’m just looking at the total price of the package so I’m not scared away early on. Q: How can a new law firm that wants to work with Roche get your attention? A: I’m not big on promotional materials. I don’t need the wraparounds of magazines. Most of that stuff that I receive goes right into the garbage. What I do like are very topical and timely newsletters, some kind of a showing that even though you’re new to us, you’re the tops in your particular area and you have certain expertise that you can provide to us. That said, we get a lot of law firm newsletters here. Usually the first one that comes in on a particular topic gets read because I view that as the most timely. That gives me my synopsis of what a new law is, what a new interpretation is or what a new court case is. Everyone that follows suit doesn’t get my attention. So it’s a matter of timeliness and how thorough of an analysis can be provided in the five minutes that I can devote to this particular resource. That will get my interest right away. Q: When it comes to hiring in-house attorneys, what kinds of people are you looking for? A: I’m looking for initiative and, of course, intelligence, along with someone who’s got excellent communication skills. Our primary duties here are servicing the science organizations. So you need to be good enough on your feet to be able to communicate with scientists and to understand their concepts and thought processes. But on the other side, we have such a wide range of things here for which we provide guidance. We have a large IT organization. We have a significant purchasing organization. I know it’s kind of flippant to say we need a well-rounded person. But that’s really who we do need. We need someone who can grasp the scientific aspects and, while not necessarily being an expert in it, have a good understanding of what we do here as a business. But the person also needs to be able to talk to anyone who walks into the office. What I mean by initiative is someone who is really taking an interest in what we do. Our last hire sent her resume to me within three hours of a new position going up on an external Roche Palo Alto posting. That went a long way in showing that this is a person who was really interested in our organization. Q: What are the biggest challenges that you face personally in your job? A: There are a lot of things that I find challenging. I guess my biggest challenge in working for this organization has to do with coming from a non-science background and trying to understand our core business beyond a superficial level. There’s also the challenge of just growing and becoming more comfortable with my role here. I’m fairly new to the general counsel world. Q: You haven’t been around too long. A: It’s about a year and a half now. But it’s also a matter of making the transition from being just a lawyer to being a business partner and helping to run an organization, going from the responsibility of having two direct reports to now having 54 people in an organization for whom I’m responsible. It’s not only being responsible for the day-to-day things they do but also making sure they’re getting the appropriate mentorship, making sure that their career interests are being taken care of, making sure that they’re getting the kind of guidance they need. Loren Stein is a freelance journalist in Palo Alto, Calif.

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