Elona Kogan joined Avanir Pharmaceuticals in 2011 as vice president of the legal affairs department. She has over 17 years’ experience in commercial, compliance, regulatory, litigation and corporate governance. Most recently Ms Kogan was associate general counsel and privacy officer at King Pharmaceuticals where she was the primary legal liaison for corporate strategic and tactical commercial initiatives. Who’s Who Legal spoke with Ms Kogan about her role at Avanir Pharma, the qualities needed to succeed as an in-house lawyer and the differences between corporate counsel work and private practice.
WWL: Tell us about your role as vice president of legal affairs at Avanir Pharma.
My role is incredibly exciting and interesting and no two days are ever alike. As one of the fastest-growing small companies in Orange County, we are faced with new legal questions on a daily basis spanning the legal continuum of corporate matters, litigation, to contracts with issues of first impression.
WWL: What do you consider to be the essential qualities for a successful in-house lawyer?
An in-house lawyer is a business person with legal acumen and expertise. As lawyers in-house, we have the ability to make decisions alongside our business colleagues, rather than just advising the business people on the legal implications of the business after the decisions have already been made.
WWL: Tell us a little more about your participation in top-level management decision making. How do the day-to-day duties of an in-house lawyer differentiate from those of a private practice practitioner?
The best part of being in-house is that you get to shape the business conversation through your contributions. At our company, the top management decisions are made by the team. As a private practitioner, I would not get the opportunity to participate in these decisions, nor to grow with the business and colleagues.
WWL: Please tell us a little more about your participation in top management decision-making?
My goal is to be sitting at the table with my colleagues when the conversation starts, rather than being called to join the discussion after the business decisions have been made. This requires diligent follow-up with each department, and continually thinking ahead to ensure that I am preparing my clients and colleagues for the different initiatives that we may pursue.
WWL: When looking to retain external counsel, what does Avanir Pharma look for in terms of key skills?
The external counsel has to be an expert in the subject area; provide sound business implications for the legal strategy that is being advocated; and display loyalty to the company and its legal team.
WWL: Tell us about any recent special projects your team has been working on. Which law firms did you hire?
We have great relationships with several firms that we turn to for our everyday needs and in special circumstances: for example, litigation. We recently became involved in a lawsuit alleging securities (Section 14(A)) issues. This case is unique in that it is the first time that these types of claims have been brought in federal court. In this matter, we’re being represented by Jones Day, whose team has been incredibly responsive and supportive of the company and its lawyers, and has provided good counsel on the legal strategy with sound business implications for the positions advocated. On a day-to-day basis, Covington & Burling and Reed Smith are also solid go-to firms that can meet Avanir’s needs in the United States and in the EU.
WWL: Describe the process that led to your selection as chief legal counsel.
I was pretty lucky to be in a situation where I was recommended for the position by someone I had worked with. After the recommendation, I used my legal skills to research the company, its products and its management team. I was sufficiently impressed, and eager to relocate to accept the position. From the company side, at the time of my selection, they had recently launched their first commercial product and were looking for a commercial attorney with extensive pharmaceutical/biotech industry commercial experience.
WWL: How has the role of the in-house lawyer changed over the last few years?
There is a better understanding and acknowledgment of what lawyers bring to the table, above and beyond their legal skills. Historically, you had to be a good lawyer to succeed in your role at a company. Today, you have to be a good lawyer and a good business owner or partner. Your company has to trust that you have the ability to step into any P&L function at any time. Once that belief and trust is embedded in the business, the acceptance of lawyers skyrockets because your business colleagues understand the return on investment of inviting you.
WWL: Sources have commented on the increasing appeal of moving in-house. Is this something you have noticed and can you highlight any other current trends in the corporate counsel field?
I find being a member of the legal profession incredibly rewarding, regardless of whether it is in private practice, government or in-house. I think the appeal of certain career choices is partly driven by the economy; lawyers tend to gravitate to where they perceive employment opportunity. We have seen a trend in the United States of private practice lawyers returning to government service, and then back to private practice. I believe where you practise inevitably depends on where you believe you can make the greatest contribution. Regardless of where you sit – government, private practice or in-house – there are great contributions to be made by lawyers in all areas.