As part of our ongoing series of interviews with in-house lawyers at international pharma companies, PLN caught up with Stathis Mihos – Pfizer’s legal director and Greece, Cyprus, Malta, Israel and Adriatic sub-cluster lead – to discuss the challenges of doing business in the region and the company’s unique approach to working with outside counsel.

Mihos spent a decade working at various law firms in his native Greece before moving in-house as the legal manager for the Greek affiliate of building materials group Lafarge in 2001. He went on to lead the local legal team of BP, as well as serving a brief stint as the legal director for the French retailer Carrefour in Greece, before he joined Pfizer in 2013.

“I believe I was very lucky to have worked in companies that are very diverse, operating in different industries, based in different countries and using different business models,” Mihos told PLN in our interview-via-email. “This allowed me to have a better understanding of the role of the in house counsel and to improve my skills adapting to the diverse needs of the internal clients.”

Stathis Mihos

What drew you to the life sciences industry? What particular challenges face in-house counsel at life sciences companies?

The life sciences and pharmaceutical industry is, in every country, a heavily regulated one. This means that the in-house lawyer plays an important role, navigating through a maze of the various laws, directives, rules, policies and the like when providing legal advice and handling legal matters. The whole organisation expects the in-house lawyer to be aware of all the regulations in place and to raise the red flag when appropriate.

This puts enormous pressure on the lawyer, especially when dealing with important or sensitive issues. On the positive side, I would say that an in-house lawyer in a heavily regulated industry develops expertise that is indispensable to the company and essential for doing business in a compliant manner.

What issues are currently keeping you busy? Are they specific to Pfizer, or characteristic of the sector as a whole?

A lot of things have changed in Greece in recent years due to the government debt crisis. It has become particularly challenging to keep abreast of legal developments and to provide business with policy suggestions when in discussions with policy setters.

This, along with litigation management, both as defendant and claimant, as well as compliance-related projects, such as GDPR, are not specific to Pfizer, although I should emphasise the attention that Pfizer pays to compliance and, therefore, the effort required on our part is certainly above the industry average. Of course, Pfizer, being a large international company, implements many projects, most of them cross functional but with a strong legal aspect that requires the involvement of its legal division.

What is your relationship with the wider management team and the board? How is compliance handled across the company?

Legal is a centralised function in Pfizer but local lawyers are working closely on a daily basis with local management, while benefiting from a global legal division culture and the support of a strong and diverse legal team. Compliance is a separate division in the organisation working closely with the legal division and other teams to strengthen Pfizer’s culture of integrity, and to implement programmes that allow Pfizer to operate in a manner that is consistent with its many legal, regulatory and other obligations.

What does your department do differently to other life sciences legal teams?

I believe the way we engage with outside counsel is probably different from that of many other legal teams, in our sector and in general. We have developed the Pfizer Legal Alliance (PLA), a multi-year partnership arrangement between Pfizer and member law firms aimed at creating enduring relationships.

Member firms have agreed to work on a flat-fee basis that permits them to benefit from a steady flow of work, an opportunity to expand their scope of work and to deepen their knowledge of Pfizer and the pharmaceutical industry, as well as to develop junior-level talent. The PLA emphasises proactive, preventive counselling and the delivery of comprehensive solutions, and rewards partnership, collaboration, problem solving and knowledge sharing.

Alliance member firms have been selected based on criteria relating to experience and expertise, creative partnerships, and financial arrangements and discounts. They all display a solid understanding of Pfizer's business and legal issues and are positioned to deliver innovative and practical solutions to help achieve business goals and have a deep and strong team to handle Pfizer's needs. In countries where our PLA firms have no presence we use local counsel that demonstrate the same skills and values.

What mistakes do you try to avoid?

An easy response would be that we try to avoid all mistakes, but unfortunately a mistake is usually recognised as such only after the decision-making process is completed. Pfizer’s legal division tries to apply “thoughtful risk taking” in order to partner effectively with our business colleagues to enable the most appropriate business and commercial decisions with respect to our business and the ever-changing environment in which we operate. 

What development or achievement do you take the most pride in from your tenure at Pfizer?

Being the first in-house lawyer of the company in its almost 60 years of presence in Greece, I am quite content with the way the local legal department was set up, has developed relationships with its business partners and external counsels, and supports the legal needs of the company on a daily basis.

Having lived through the pinnacle of the Greek crisis, we also found ourselves being the claimants in many courts across the country, successfully asking for state debts to be repaid. We also had to work, as part of the cross-functional team, to prepare for the eventuality of a ”Grexit” that thankfully never happened. The learning curve was steep, in that we needed to assimilate the lessons learned very quickly.

I am also proud of leading the editorial team of “newsPfLAsh’”, the quarterly European legal newsletter we produce in partnership with PLA firms, as well as being a member of the innovation committee of the legal division, which is charged with enabling the development of innovative ideas and approaches in the division.