Exploring the Influx of Legal Hires at Biotech Companies – A Q&A Session with Klein Hersh’s Jake Epstein

November 8, 2023

An increasing number of biotech venture capital (VC) firms, early-stage biotech companies, and publicly traded biotechs are making the decision to hire in-house attorneys, rather than outsource this vital function. We sat down with our own Jake Epstein to discuss what’s driving this shift, the benefits of bringing on in-house legal experts, and what companies look for when filling these key roles.

Let’s begin with an overview of the legal practice area at Klein Hersh.

Jake Epstein (JE): We established this practice area several years ago in step with our overall strategy to serve as a one-stop provider for all executive recruitment in the biotech space. It was a natural extension of the work we were already doing―helping our partners attract and hire worldclass leaders. In launching this practice area, we were able to leverage our 24 years of experience building companies, our ability to develop strong relationships, our passion for recruitment, and an in-depth understanding of what success looks like.

What can you share about the various roles you recruit for?

JE: We specialize in filling a diverse range of leadership positions from General Counsel to Intellectual Property to Transactions Law, amongst others, for biotech companies and venture capital firms across all stages of the lifecycle.

What are the benefits of bringing on in-house legal expertise as opposed to engaging outside counsel?

JE: Today’s biotech companies are not simply looking for an attorney who can manage legal matters day to day, but more so, a strategic thought leader who can advise the CEO, the Board, and the entire senior leadership team on an ongoing basis. Someone who’s a core member of the leadership team. And it’s not just the companies looking for this elevated level of engagement. Candidates in this space are looking to take on these broader, more strategic roles as well.

Tell us about the most sought-after skills when recruiting for these positions.

JE: The key skills will, of course, be position dependent. That said, within the industries we serve, these skills typically comprise similar components from a cultural standpoint. The organizations we work with are looking for candidates who can move quickly in an ever-changing environment. Individuals who have the intellectual curiosity and drive to broadly understand all the different pieces of the puzzle that factor into decision-making. Our ability to identify candidates with both extensive legal expertise and a strong entrepreneurial spirit is why our partners lean on us to find the right talent to help them meet critical goals.

What’s the secret sauce to finding the right fit between a company and a candidate?

JE: This is the art of our business, and I believe what separates elite firms from the masses.  There are several factors that help us to make successful matches. One is ensuring we’re all in on understanding every aspect of the business and its unique differentiators. What makes the company tick, and who can help bring the company to the next level? What type of organization will align with the candidate’s career objectives, and will the candidate have the fire power to be successful in that organization? What has success looked like in the past, and what is the vision of the team we’re working closely with? Last and most important is open and consistent communication with everyone involved. It’s critical that we view ourselves as an extension of the organization we’re partnering with. Their success is our success, and our level of care and commitment is something that’s felt throughout the search process.

What trends do you see unfolding in legal recruitment, and what’s coming up on the horizon?

JE: As we’re seeing overall changes in the market, those changes are reflected in legal hiring trends. A lot of our VC partners and many of our VC-backed clients are cautiously optimistic, but still very far from certain regarding the timing of when money will start to flow again. Overall, as with all business cycles, we’ve been able to utilize any kind of down market as an opportunity to focus on increasing the level of our relationship-building. This helps us dramatically with search and process efficiencies as things start to rebound.

How has the firm’s legal practice area evolved over the last five years?

JE: Our legal practice has evolved in so many ways. First, in the sense that as time progresses, and we’re conducting different types of searches in different functional areas at different levels, our network grows. We’ve also evolved the practice alongside the ever-changing biotech landscape. What’s been truly gratifying for me is to see how this practice area has become such an integral part of Klein Hersh and our strategic direction moving forward.

In closing, can you share what you enjoy most about your role at Klein Hersh?

JE: I love talking to different people every day―really fascinating people doing compelling work. That I have a seat at the table and a forum with these executives, that I’m able to serve as a true strategic partner to them―a consultative expert―is amazing. With any search I conduct, it’s so rewarding to be able to say, I placed an important cog in the machine of a company that’s developing impactful science. And it’s especially rewarding when any of our partners have good news. It could be positive clinical data, or a small biotech being acquired by a big pharma company based on the trajectory or potential of the science. Maybe without the right intellectual property attorney, they couldn’t have progressed the science. Or without that very strategic chief legal officer, they wouldn’t have been able to move smoothly toward a public offering. It’s extraordinary for my colleagues and I to be on the periphery, adjacent to such incredible people doing such impactful work in the scientific community.

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Jake Epstein
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About the Author
Jake Epstein is a leader within the finance, business development, venture capital, and legal practices at Klein Hersh. He joined KH in 2018 to support the growing demand in the life sciences industry for seasoned business development, financial, and investing professionals. Jake’s responsibilities include partnering with pharma and biotech organizations of all sizes, including seed-stage and small-to-mid-sized biotechs, up to ...