In the October issue of Corporate Counsel Connect, we discussed the in-house internship program at the Allen Institute for Brain Science with General Counsel Maja Larson. In her interview, Maja mentioned that she actually hired one of her interns straight from the internship program. CC Connect had the chance to catch the other side of the story with the individual Maja describes as one of the best hires of her career, Lemuel Navarro, currently a third-year lawyer with the Allen Institute.
Being hired straight out of an internship is very untraditional, nearly unheard of. In fact, in starting the internship program, Maja gave herself the rule that she would not hire any of the interns, believing strongly that firms are better at training young lawyers on how to practice law and that the experience is advantageous for in-house. Sometimes, even with lawyers, rules are meant to be broken.
Lemuel is no stranger to the "non-traditional" when it comes to a legal career; his unique background suits him well for the science-driven Allen Institute. He graduated from Seattle University with a major in biology and a minor in chemistry, working both during and after his undergrad degree at the Benaroya Research Institute in a research lab doing type II diabetes and breast cancer research. "After three years working in an academic research institution, I decided to experience how research was conducted on the 'industry' side and joined Rosetta Inpharmatics (at the time a subsidiary of Merck). During my time at Rosetta Inpharmatics, I grew to appreciate how science can drive and benefit everyone," explains Lemuel.
He opted to pursue a law degree following several years with Rosetta Inpharmatics and after his in-house attorney girlfriend (now wife) told him that he could combine the science he was passionate about with the legal side of the business. States Lemuel, "I wanted to be in the very position that I am currently at the Allen Institute for Brain Science, an in-house attorney for a science company."
During his second year in law school, Lemuel wanted to expand his legal experience and decided to intern. "I saw that the Allen Institute had an internship program and I immediately applied," he said. While he gained other experience as a teaching assistant, the position with Allen Institute was the only legal internship Lemuel had during law school.
Lemuel continued to break out of the traditional mold and impressed Maja and others at Allen Institute. States Maja, "Even as a legal intern, he didn't just do his assigned projects – he was proactive in finding ways to make things easy for our scientists and other clients to get their work done. He has always been focused on how his work product affects the overall organization and he consistently does solid work in multiple practice areas, from contracts to tax to regulatory matters. He is an astute, practical lawyer."
Maja explained that, given the small staff and limited resources of the non-profit Allen Institute, interns worked on projects integral to the business. Lemuel recalls the work he did on the Material Transfer Agreements (MTA), an essential part of an organization working with biological materials. "These agreements govern over the transfer of biological materials in and out of the Allen Institute. I started with reviewing MTAs and transitioned to improving our process. I now spearhead the Allen Institute's MTAs," Lemuel explains.
"As only one of three in-house attorneys I am able to take on a wide breadth of project," says Lemuel. In addition to MTAs, he also works on NDAs, consulting agreements, collaborative research agreements, corporate governance matters, license agreements, and regulatory compliance. As his level of experience advances, Lemuel moves from contributing on a project to leading it.
Lemuel has also gained respect for the organization as a whole, integrating himself into the business and working closely with other departments. "The legal recommendations that I make must factor in what the priorities are for the business. The overall goal on any agreement is to ensure that the Allen Institute is able to move forward in our mission of driving science forward," shares Lemuel.
From human resources to finances to facilities, Lemuel has the opportunity to interact with almost everyone at the Allen Institute. "Really one of the great benefits for working for a smaller organization," he says, "is the opportunity to work with so many departments and gain valuable experience as an attorney."
Being non-traditional means you have a very different experience. In this case Lemuel skipped the law firm experience entirely. "There is certainly some feeling that I missed something," he says. Both Maja and Allen Institute's Senior Attorney Michael Williams started their legal careers at a law firm. States Lemuel, "Both talk about their time at law firms and how it was a great training ground for new attorneys." He has come to realize how many skills that law firms can teach that law school never will. However, he has two great mentors in Maja and Michael. "As a young attorney with two experienced lawyers to learn from, I think that I get a comparable experience and then some. They have taken me under their wings and have taken the time to ensure that I am gaining the necessary skills," Lemuel shares.
When queried what, beyond the quality of mentors, makes the Allen Institute's intern program successful, Lemuel attributes it to the longevity of the internship, which runs the school year. "It extends beyond a summer/quarter/semester and this allows interns to understand the business and to apply 'lessons learned' from a project onto future projects. In addition, this allows interns to tackle multiple projects and gain a wide breadth of experience."
As a third-year lawyer, Lemuel now gets to help mentor the current interns. "I am able to relate to what they are going through as they try to juggle the internship with the demands of laws school," he shares. Now that he is on the "other side" of the internship program, he looks forward to "growing as an attorney by learning as much as I can under Maja and Michael and the Allen Institute."
The mission of the Allen Institute is to accelerate the understanding of how the human brain works in health and disease and one of the ways this is done is by generating useful public resources. Maja's legal team, which is responsible for the legal, regulatory, risk management and grants management functions, works to ensure that the organization can do the science it wants to do and distribute the products and tools the way it wants to distribute them to support this mission. The legal team is responsible for ensuring that the organization can work with collaborators at other institutions and that the Institute can bring in the biological materials that are needed for its science. The legal department also submits grants for funding the science; reviews all of the abstracts, posters and journal publications relating to brain science; manages the regulatory approval process for all of the scientific protocols; and ensures that the Institute can distribute products and tools, including software, data and biological materials, as openly as possible with few restrictions.