Michael Astle heads the legal team at Quotient Sciences, a company that provides a unique set of services to the global pharmaceutical industry.
Michael Astle is Senior Director, Legal Affairs at Quotient Sciences, a role he has held since joining the global drug development and clinical trial manufacturing company in 2017. Quotient Sciences, which was founded in 1990 as a spinout from the University of Nottingham, employs more than 850 staff across six offices, three in the United States and three in the UK.
Michael, who is based in the company’s headquarters in the village of Ruddington, on the outskirts of Nottingham, was the company’s first legally qualified member of staff when he joined just over two years ago. He now leads an in-house legal team of four.
Michael told The Brief about a day in his life.
My working day starts with a relatively relaxed 20-minute commute, after which I log in and see what has come in from our colleagues in the United States overnight. We have three offices over in the US, two in Philadelphia and one in Miami, and the legal team here in the UK supports them as well as our operations in Nottingham, Edinburgh and Reading.
Quotient Sciences is a unique company in the drug development industry. We provide both drug development and clinical trial manufacturing services to the global pharmaceutical sector, and this means the combination of legal issues we deal with is unique too.
Most of our sales force is based in the United States, so we tend to receive a lot of email communication from them overnight, mainly in the form of client contracts that need to be reviewed. The time difference works in our favour so, as a legal team, our first goal every day is to try to get these reviewed and back to our US colleagues by the time they start work.
Every day is a mixture of the reactive and the proactive.
The long and the short (term) of it
Like most in-house roles, there is a combination of reactive work and longer-term projects. When I first started here my role primarily involved contract reviews but now the remit has expanded to cover wider compliance issues, some corporate support work around acquisitions and property matters, and to put into place structures around privacy that have come into focus since GDPR came into force.
The legal team leads on privacy issues for the business. We do a lot of awareness raising in this area, training colleagues and implementing new policies and procedures.
One of the major activities we carry out as a business is conducting clinical trials with volunteers. As you can imagine, this involves a lot of personal information which we need to take good care of, and it is part of the legal team’s remit to train our colleagues to do this.
Training and development
We try to be a very outward-facing legal team, and one of the things we do regularly is to design and deliver classroom-based training for colleagues on wider corporate governance issues like ethics, compliance and anti-bribery regulations. This can be quite time-intensive, bearing in mind we have almost 900 employees and a legal team of four, but it’s a really good way of making sure colleagues know who we are and what we do.
The overarching idea is that the more visible we are in the business, and the better the relationships we build with our colleagues, the more likely they are to bring matters to us early on. This is much better for us, and for the organisation as a whole, rather than us only becoming aware of issues at a late stage.
As a legal team we play a key role in the company’s corporate governance. For example, today I have been reviewing our Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) reporting to our private equity owners, Permira, who acquired a majority stake in the business last summer.
Permira have a keen interest is ESG matters so we are putting together all the data and statistics they require.
Other longer-terms projects that I’m working on today are also fairly representative of the work we do as a team. So, for example, we are currently liaising with external counsel with regard to a potential acquisition target.
The business has grown rapidly over the last five or ten years and we expect to double in size again within the next few years. A significant proportion of this growth is likely to come from acquisitions.
Today I am also discussing with my team some privacy documentation which is currently the subject of negotiation with a supplier based in France. Another job on my desk today is to review a long-term supply agreement for a pharmaceutical company.
The more visible we are in the business, and the better the relationships we build with our colleagues, the more likely they are to bring matters to us early on. This is much better for us, and for the organisation as a whole, rather than us only becoming aware of issues at a late stage.
The in-house dynamic
Every day is a mixture of the reactive and the proactive. I am fortunate in that I trained in-house, with a financial services company, so I came into this role with an understanding of how an in-house legal team should relate to the wider business. One of the first things you learn is that, from day one, there is very little scope for sitting on the fence!
The typical working day in the legal team at Quotient Sciences is nine-to-six, with a little work at home in the evenings. One day a week, though, I work US hours, which helps the company because I am on-hand to answer questions that come in from our American colleagues and give them extra access to the legal department that they would not usually have.
It also works well for me because I am a new father, so, on that day, I get to spend the daytime with my son. As a team we work hard when we need to but there is also an element of flexibility at quieter times and, in general, it’s a really nice firm to work for with a good work-life balance.