Wilson Sonsini, WilmerHale and Cooley top new Life Sciences Law Firm Index

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The life sciences—particularly in biotechnology and pharmaceuticals—are among the very few industries where companies insist on industry-specialized advisors. The complex life cycle of a life sciences product demands a broad range of legal and business expertise across many practice specialties, combined with deep scientific knowledge.

The stakes are increasing particularly when it comes to companies’ law firms. Can a startup conserve capital by engaging with a corporate firm at formation and later find boutique firms with specific regulatory prowess, for example? Or should they seek out the best single firm for everything from intellectual property to FDA approval?

Plus, how experienced is a firm in navigating a diverse collection of potential investors, or negotiating the best and most nuanced royalty agreement?

That’s what motivated litigation finance firm Lake Whillans to release its first ever Life Sciences Law Firm Index , identifying which law firms are the most active and relevant for life science companies. (The research for the Index was conducted by the research team at Breaking Media, the parent company of MedCity News and Above the Law.)

“Entrepreneurs in the life sciences space face a myriad of challenges—regulatory hurdles, funding, product development, clinical trials, intellectual property matters and much more,” says Lee Drucker, principal at Lake Whillans. “Having the right legal counsel as a partner can easily make or break a business venture. We created this index with the goal of helping startups, as well as more established companies, identify the top law firms with deep experience in every aspect of the life sciences life cycle.”

New York City may be the center of the Biglaw universe, but companies in the life sciences industry largely look elsewhere for high-end legal counsel. The vast majority of the top 20 firms in the Lake Whillans index have their roots in either hubs of health care innovation in the Midwest, Boston and California, or in the regulatory hotbed of D.C.

The index was compiled using the criteria that matter most to healthcare innovators. In addition to collecting data in three practice categories — corporate, intellectual property and regulatory —we also incorporated information on the firms’ work with startup companies, as well as their thought leadership contributions in order to generate the Index scores.

Here are the Top 5 life sciences firms (a perfect score is 100), according to the new Lake Whillans index:

Congratulations to these firms. Check out the full rankings on the Lake Whillans website, including the top firms in each category (Corporate, Regulatory, Patent and Start-ups).

The rankings methodology was designed to reflect a holistic view of the role of a law firm throughout the life cycle of a life sciences company: from inception through clinical trials. We must acknowledge it is common for companies to hire one firm as general counsel during its startup days and switch to another firm(s) later on, when, for example, they're considering an M&A transaction. However, our approach rewards the law firm equivalents of “five tool players.” These firms can and do handle it all, from financings to patent prosecutions to regulatory matters. The Index firms are able to advise clients at every stage or inflection point of a company’s (or product’s) life cycle.

Note: To complement our comprehensive review of all publicly available information, we invited firms to complete a questionnaire detailing their life science practices. The data included patent analytics courtesy of Juristat, and we received general research assistance from NavForward.

Brian Dalton is director of research for Breaking Media.

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