An Interview with Rafael Dantas, Bayer SA

In an exclusive interview with Who’s Who Legal, Rafael Dantas – legal director of corporate and litigation at Bayer SA – discusses his position in the company, the ever-changing role of in-house lawyers, the qualities he looks for when instructing external counsel and the challenges of practising in the life sciences sector in Brazil.

Rafael Dantas

Name: Rafael Dantas

Company: Bayer SA

Position: Legal director – corporate and litigation

With over 15 years of experience, Rafael Dantas has a valuable legal background gathered since internships in the judiciary sector (Federal Court) and the private sector, where he had the pleasure of spending four years at Honda Advogados as a specialised tax attorney (having graduated from PUC São Paulo).

Rafael moved on to become an in-house counsel and has been with Bayer in Brazil since 2006; he now runs the whole corporate and litigation team. Highly focused on bringing legal alternatives and business solutions, he takes part in country leadership team meetings and strongly believes that a modern in-house counsel must have abilities beyond the legal field – which is why he decided to study for an MBA degree, which he otained from Fundação Dom Cabral in 2012.

Tell us about your role at Bayer.

My role as a legal director at Bayer is a very dynamic one, since we act as a cross-functional team. This means providing general assistance for all of Bayer’s business units (currently crop science, pharma and consumer health). Along with talented and dedicated colleagues, I am responsible for dealing with all legal matters, including corporate, M&A, antitrust, corporate agreements, litigation, environmental issues, consumer and product liability, and labour, among others.

A key factor behind our success is that the team and I work closely together on risk and litigation management. However, I am accountable for the overall integrity of our relationships with internal clients and other stakeholders. 

How is the legal team structured locally and globally?

Locally I have 17 colleagues who directly report to me. I then report to the Brazilian general counsel, who reports to both the local CEO and the general counsel in Monheim, Germany (regional coordinator for legal functions), who reports to the global head of legal and compliance in Leverkusen, Germany. 

You spent part of your early career in private practice. What motivated you to pursue a career in-house?

The main reason I decided to become an in-house counsel was the opportunity to have only one client instead of many. Being part of only one organisation provides a lawyer with the ability to get to know a client in detail, so you can then adopt a truly focused approach, which is a powerful instrument. Also, being in-house counsel allows you to be part of strategic committees and provide real business solutions rather than a mere legal opinion.     

Since moving to Bayer in 2006, how would you say the role of in-house lawyer has changed?

The role of in-house counsel is constantly changing. Over the past 11 years, I’ve developed the impression that in-house counsels are increasingly expected to be part of the strategic decisions, rather than receiving on-demand questions about specific legal issues.

This requires the lawyers to rethink their past skills and think seriously about ways in which they can be exposed to business and leadership concepts (for example, I now have an MBA degree instead of a pure law background) if they really want to succeed within a corporate career.  

What makes a great in-house counsel?

First and foremost, the ability to balance your company’s needs with its sustainable growth. Also, a deep understanding of business and leadership concepts is highly recommended for those who decide to follow this path. This is key to driving a pragmatic approach to legal solutions that will certainly be more and more valued by all areas you deal with in your company. Last but not least, you have to build a strong pipeline of talented people to be ready for future positions. This is the only way of maintaining quality, as people assume new responsibilities.

On what matters would you look to enlist external counsel rather than conducting the work in-house?

Mostly litigation cases, as it is those matters that require lawyers to be in several locations and may happen at the same time. Also, there are some cases which demand high workload in terms of staffing (for example, antitrust), and the internal antitrust lawyer manages these activities. Finally, we aim to have relevant matters handled by our internal team, so that less complex cases (by-laws, standard contracts) can also considered for sending to external counsels whenever the cost-benefit ratio works for Bayer.   

What are the main qualities you look for when choosing an external team to instruct?

The roles of the external team, and the qualities that in-house counsels are looking at when making the decision, have been changing over the past few years. Despite this, the main aspect to evaluate when choosing an external team remains unchanged: quality of legal services. Together with quality, Bayer has been structuring a legal spend management programme that targets the selection of a low number of external partners who have not only the quality, but also the cost-efficiency in terms of how the cases are staffed, handled and eventually billed against the company.  

In a sector with an ever-changing regulatory environment, do you often find it difficult to meet the increasing demand for innovation while adhering to the legal framework?

Providing legal guidance on pharma, consumer health and crop science fields demands a close follow-up with our legal framework, particularly in Brazil where laws are changing each and every day. These constant regulatory changes are not always conducive to innovation, forcing in-house counsels to deeply understand their companies’ profiles in order to bring the best legal solution. As a company with the word “innovation” in its DNA, Bayer certainly has challenges brought by this dynamic regulatory environment. 

What do you think will be the main legal challenges the life sciences sector will face over the next few years?

I envisage regulators becoming more cautious about approving truly innovative products. Innovative companies have been heavily dedicating resources to research and development in order to have a pipeline of products created for the future challenges of our life science system. 

As for Bayer, the company has big differentiators, as it is currently the only global life science company dedicated to human life, animal life, plant life and agriculture. It’s mission is to be fully dedicated to making life better for people. This is reflected in our global slogan, “Science for a better life.”

The views and opinions expressed in this Q&A are those of the interviewed person and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Bayer. Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of the employer company.

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