Susan Alexander, chief legal officer of Biogen Idec, Inc.
Susan Alexander, chief legal officer of Biogen Idec Inc. ()

Biogen Idec Inc.’s legal department, like the biotechnology company itself, is grounded in innovation.

An emphasis on diversity and pro bono, a sharp focus on compliance and expertise in deal work make the 99-employee legal and compliance team a key component of the $7 billion company’s success.

“You need to have lots of people who bring different things to the discussion. We’re committed to that in our department,” said Biogen Chief Legal Officer Susan Alexander.

Diversity is part of that commitment. More than half of the employees Alexander oversees in the legal and compliance departments are women and more than 15 percent are ethnically diverse. The department also seeks to include other groups, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and those born outside the United States, she said.

“We value different perspectives, backgrounds and ways of analyzing or thinking about problems,” Alexander said.

When choosing outside counsel, Biogen scrutinizes the team assigned to the matter and uses its “power as a ­client” to encourage diversity, Alexander said. “We’re making sure it’s always brought into the conversation and valued,” she said.

Biogen develops drugs to treat autoimmune and neurological disorders and cancer. Its products include Avonex, which slows the progression of multiple sclerosis, and Rituxan for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

The Cambridge, Mass.-based company has 6,850 employees. In 2013, it posted $6.9 billion in revenues in 2013 and $2.1 billion during the first quarter of 2014.

In April 2013, Biogen purchased the rights to multiple sclerosis drug Tysabri for $3.25 billion plus contingent payments. The legal team, instead of business executives, led that deal with outside-counsel help, Alexander said. Biogen bought the rights from former partner Elan Corp.

“Teasing apart a relationship that had been close for many years had some challenges,” she said.

On other deals, the department typically helps with due diligence, negotiation of transactions’ terms and integration of the acquired businesses, Alexander said.

Other work performed in-house includes patent strategy, trademark work and employment law. Biogen farms out patent prosecution to outside firms and it teams with outside lawyers on patent and other types of litigation.

Biogen has a separate compliance department, which also reports to Alexander and turns to the legal team for advice on privacy issues. Last year, legal helped compliance revise the company’s “Values in Action” code of business conduct. The entire legal department provided input.

Outside the company, Alexander’s team participates in a wide range of pro bono projects, such as clinics run by Boston firms Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo and Ropes & Gray.

And with outside counsel, Biogen’s relationships go far beyond supervising day-to-day legal work, said Bob Bodian, managing partner of Mintz Levin, which does products liability defense, corporate and licensing work for Biogen. Mintz attorneys have provided pro bono training for Biogen lawyers, he said.

“They work hand in glove with counsel. It fosters communication,” Bodian said.

COMPANY BIO

Name of company: Biogen Idec Inc.

Headquarters: Cambridge, Mass.

Industry: Biotechnology

No. of lawyers in Boston area: 58

No. of U.S. lawyers outside Boston area: 1

Number of lawyers outside U.S.: 11

Chief legal officer: Susan Alexander

KEYS TO SUCCESS

• It’s critically important to focus on the objectives of the business and make sure your team is providing what the business needs, which is not always what they ask for.

• It’s important to challenge yourself and make sure you’re not always doing what’s expedient, but doing what’s right.

• You really have to understand your objectives and priorities and manage to those. — Susan Alexander