IP Draughts has just returned from Barcelona, where he attended the inaugural meeting of BioLawEurope, a referral network of European lawyers who advise the life-sciences sector.
The network currently comprises lawyers from Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. Many of the member firms are small, specialist practices. Many are listed in Chambers Directory and other reputable guides.
One of the conclusions that we came to at our meeting, was that BioLawEurope is not intended to be a vehicle for attracting new work – it is not a marketing organisation. If it is successful, it will help us to provide more and better services to our existing clients.
The value of such a network depends to a large extent on trust. Just as a client trusts you to provide a good service, you need to trust the other members of the network to provide an equally good service. If you refer work to them and they don’t provide a good service, your reputation suffers.
For this reason, we are not going to ‘promise the world’ for this network until we have had time to get to know one another better, and worked together on a few projects. Let’s take stock in 2, 3 or even 5 years’ time, and see whether it has been successful.
In the meantime, many of our clients are engaged in international activities, whether it be conducting research or clinical trials in several European countries, or licensing IP for an international territory. Despite some international harmonisation, many of the laws affecting such activities remain resolutely national. Even in the largest firms, multi-jurisdictional legal advice on life-sciences agreements is hard to obtain. And even harder to obtain to a consistent standard. For many large firms, there simply isn’t the volume of work in a niche area like life sciences, to justify hiring teams of specialists in every jurisdiction.
Some clients rely on the brand name of an international firm, and don’t think too closely about whether the service they get is consistent across jurisdictions. As the saying goes, no-one got fired for choosing IBM – or its equivalent for legal services. Many of the firms in the BioLawEurope network have made a living out of sophisticated clients who know what they want, and who find the best lawyer for the job, wherever they are located.