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They’ve Got Next: The 40 Under 40 - Jamila Willis of DLA Piper

July 14, 2021, 8:46 AM

Please describe two of your most substantial, recent wins in practice.
One of my proudest moments recently was representing Otsuka America Pharmaceutical Inc. (OAPI), as purchaser of the assets of Proteus Digital Health. Proteus created innovative digital health technology, including both “smart pill” (ingestible) and wearable sensor technology. The sale to OAPI would protect the technology and advance digital medicine. Before approval, certain equity holders challenged the going-concern sale, seeking to shut down operations and liquidate the company. It was a proud moment when the court approved the sale over their objection after a three-day, contested sale hearing.

Also, representing Abengoa and its subsidiaries in their multijurisdictional, global restructuring remains a career highlight. Winning confirmation of the plan in Delaware, after a contested confirmation hearing, paved the way for consummation of their master restructuring plan in Spain.

What is the most important lesson you learned as a first-year attorney and how does it inform your practice today?
In the midst of the Great Recession, I was given advice, by an external mentor, to “find the problems and work to solve them—that is the role of a lawyer.” This advice informs everything I do as an attorney to this day. As a debtor-side restructuring partner, I meet many of my clients while they are experiencing some of the most difficult moments of their business life cycle. Instead of shying away from difficult experiences and complex issues, my mentor taught me to run towards them, that the role of a lawyer is always to help navigate these situations to achieve successful results. As a result of her advice, I constantly seeking out the greatest challenges and working to solve them to the best of my ability.

How do you define success in your practice?
The practice of law is best when you are challenged, learning and in service to others. Success is maintaining a constant and consistent measure of all three.

What are you most proud of as a lawyer?
Practicing as a restructuring attorney affords me the opportunity to negotiate solutions to complex problems on behalf of my clients and, specifically, to help companies weather financial distress, while saving jobs and maintaining necessary operations. In 2020, I led two restructuring representations in the medical device and medical technology space—we represented REVA Medical Inc. in connection with its pre-packaged restructuring transaction, and Otsuka America Pharmaceutical Inc. in connection with its acquisition of substantially all assets of Proteus Digital Health. Through the REVA restructurings and distressed acquisitions of Proteus’s assets, my clients and I were able to ensure the continued advancement of critical medical technology during a year when health and medical advancements were front of mind for many people throughout the world. I am constantly proud of the results my clients and I are able to achieve together.

Who is your greatest mentor in the law and what have they taught you?
I’ve been fortunate to have a number of mentors in the legal community who have taught me, not only legal skills, but critical leadership skills that have helped me to advance my career. But in 2020, I learned so much from the mentors at my firm. During 2020, I watched my office managing partners transition a large office seamlessly to work from home and maintain positive morale across the office through transparency and the frequent recognition and celebration of small wins. I watched my firm’s co-managing partners make space for difficult but critical conversations, giving necessary weight to the individual experience and helping us to feel connected during a time many felt lonely and disconnected. Through them, I continue to learn to lead by listening and I feel honored to have witnessed such examples of leadership during this time.

Tell us your two favorite songs on your summer music playlist.
In the summer, I want to be reminded of the sea even if I’m in the middle of the city. Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of Brazilian and Caribbean music, but I have on repeat the song “Jamm” by the Senegalese musician Cheikh Lo.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lisa Helem at lhelem@bloombergindustry.com

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