Lawyers are great at asking questions, but how are they at answering them? Bloomberg Law is talking with lawyers and other legal industry players at the top of their fields to find out what makes them tick, what challenges they face, and how they do what they do.
Andreas von Falck, who took over as the leader of Hogan Lovells’ health and lifestyle group last month, predicts a busy year ahead for the sector.
The first half of 2021 will see “an incredible amount of legal activity,” given new diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines to combat Covid-19, he says. The second half of the year will see an increase in product liability lawsuits related to these new innovations.
“Companies will want to secure market share, and they will use every lever available to do that,” he says.
Von Falck, a partner in the firm’s Dusseldorf office, leads a 1,050-lawyer team in his new role. He says he will spend the next few months focused on strengthening communications among the global sector’s lawyers and finding new solutions to integrate their work with Hogan Lovells’ existing clients.
“I want to deepen relationships with our clients,” he said. “We have some clients that are almost entirely serviced by one practice, but there are opportunities to also help them on other matters.”
A multi linguist—he speaks English, Italian, French, and German—von Falck previously served as the practice group leader for the firm’s intellectual property, media and technology practice. He was a member of the firm’s international management committee from 2010 until 2018.
Bloomberg Law spoke to von Falck about the long awaited European patent court, the thrill of winning over a new client, and the importance of hiring lawyers who immigrate from other countries.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
Bloomberg Law: What legal question keeps you up at night?
Andreas von Falck: The future of the European Unitary Patent Court.
For decades now, Europe has been trying to find its way towards creating a single European patent court, which would be a vast change compared to the current country-by-country approach.
Each member state must approve the UPC system, which is why it has taken so long. Then, Brexit meant that the system had to be recalibrated to work without the involvement of the United Kingdom.
And while it looked like the UPC’s time may finally have arrived, shortly after the German parliament voted to approve the system late last year, constitutional complaints were lodged against the ratification decision in the German Federal Constitutional Court. This has further delayed the adoption of the system.
I eagerly await to see how these challenges resolve, and whether we will soon have our long-awaited UPC.
BL: You were recently named the firm’s health and lifestyle sector group leader. What are your next steps?
AF: When our new firm leadership, led by CEO Miguel Zaldivar, took over in July of last year, one of the first priorities was to focus on improving collaboration and coordination across our practices and offices.
Under that strategy, my focus over the next several months is to improve how the global members of our health and lifestyle group can better work together and integrate client work.
First, our market-leading sector strategy hinges on people knowing each other and being able to call on each other for help. For example, if we are helping a global pharma company explore an acquisition of a European competitor, we want our M&A partner in London leading the deal to be able to easily call our antitrust partner in Washington D.C. and our regulatory partner in Munich to help with all aspects. We do that really well already, but there is always room for improvement.
After we ensure we are all internally aligned and connected, I want to deepen relationships with our clients. In the life sciences sector, for example, we have some clients that are almost entirely serviced by one practice, but there are opportunities to also help them on other matters as well—matters they may be using other firms for and where they are not even aware where and how we can help them.
BL: Out of the sectors you’ve inherited, life sciences and health care have been upended due to the pandemic. What do you think lies ahead for the sector?
AF: There is going to be an incredible amount of legal activity around Covid-19 this year, given new diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines. The first half of 2021 will see a continued focus on product approvals and simply keeping control of the virus, while the second half of 2021 is when things will likely get more heated in the legal sphere.
Companies will want to secure market share, and they will use every lever available to do that. Small companies with a good product are going to grow fast and will seek to expand their marketing networks or become takeover candidates themselves. Pharma and medical device companies with temporary authorizations for their products will look to make those authorizations permanent. The pandemic has created a lot of business opportunities in capital markets and corporate practices.
The second half of 2021 may also see an increase in product liability lawsuits stemming from various responses to vaccines and therapeutics for Covid-19.
BL: What specific strategies are you using to attract and retain clients?
AF: Especially now that travel has become more difficult, it has remained even more critical to be vigilant about maintaining client relationships.
One particular challenge is remaining proactive. The pandemic has created a constant stream of demands and other issues, which makes it hard to simply find time to engage with clients that aren’t actively reaching out.
I’ve found that taking stock of recent work and thinking about how it can apply to others, and reaching out to tell them about it, has worked quite well. I have found that clients are generally quite happy to hear from you, and the fear of getting in touch with them, and just sitting in your office and hoping the phone rings, will not get the job done.
BL: What’s your best war story from your legal career?
AF: As a young lawyer with our legacy firm Lovells, nearly 20 years ago before the Hogan Lovells combination, I was part of a group invited to pitch a major pharma company to handle a big piece of patent litigation. We did our pitch, which we thought went quite well, but we were told that the general counsel felt we were simply too young overall, and so they went with another firm. It was extremely disappointing.
But we maintained our relationship and kept up with the company, and about a year later we were called in to serve as the opponent in their mock trial. Well, in the eyes of the mock judge, we beat the firm that they had hired over us. The client came to us after and was so impressed that they got rid of the original firm and hired us to take over the case.
BL: Does the firm have specific diversity targets?
AF: We introduced two new global diversity goals for ethnic minority (15%) and LGBT+ (4%) partners in October 2020, which we will work diligently to achieve by 2025. Our existing goal of 30% women partners globally by 2022 remains unchanged. I’m happy to say the firm met its goal for women to occupy 30% of global management positions in 2015.
We seek to achieve these through a continued focus on hiring, retaining, recognizing, and promoting diverse talent. There is always room to improve, and we have additionally made important structural changes to work towards them, including the appointment of Susan Bright to a new role of global managing partner for diversity and inclusion and responsible business, and moving the diversity team so it now sits as a separate function within the firm and reports directly to the CEO.
Here in Germany, we have experienced a wave of immigration over the last several years. There is a huge pool of talent that has come into the country, and I think it is very important that law firms in general make sure that those who have an interest in the law, or perhaps were even lawyers in their countries before coming to Germany, have an opportunity to explore that career.
BL: I’m a new associate, fresh out of law school, what should I do to stand out and advance my career in the best way possible?
AF: Handle every piece of instruction as if you are the ultimate person responsible for the case. One thing I see beginners do is that they receive an instruction on a case, handle their part, and say, “OK this is as far as I need to go,” and pass it to someone else.
What I tell every one of my associates is don’t hand over responsibility. If you are unsure what to do, ask for help, but keep the ultimate responsibility yours. Not only will this help you learn, but it will show in the eyes of the more seasoned lawyers on your team that you can handle the responsibility and bigger projects when the time comes.