Roberta Loomar’s Guide to Being a Legal Facilitator

How changing the corporate culture was merely the first step of Roberta Loomar’s work to establish Apotex Corp.'s in-house legal department

When Roberta Loomar first arrived at the international pharmaceutical company Apotex Corp. in 2013, she had her work cut out for her in building an entire in-house legal department from scratch. Having been founded in 1974 in Canada, Apotex lacked a concerted legal presence in the United States, Loomar says. “The risks in Canada tend to be different than in the US,” Loomar explains. Therefore, the company had not previously required a dedicated legal staff.

But now in her time as vice president, general counsel—US for Apotex, not only has Loomar built her department into an effective team, she has also found ways to incorporate them organically into the larger corporate culture.

Roberta Loomar, Apotex Inc. Photo by John Fotopoulos

As a lawyer with more than three decades of experience in a variety of legal areas, including pharmaceuticals, Loomar refers to herself as a generalist. In that time, in addition to her experience as a trial lawyer at a number of firms—including Hughes Hubbard & Reed, Gilbride Heller & Brown, and Hogan Lovells—Loomar says she was able to garner an abundance of experience in many different fields of law.

She was eventually approached by a former colleague to work for Andrx Corporation. She joined the company in 2000 as litigation counsel and then soon thereafter, was promoted to assistant general counsel.  While there, she expanded the scope of her responsibilities, overseeing employment law, corporate, transactional, and securities matters, and investor relations work, until she collected a comprehensive body of knowledge in pharmaceutical law. She later created the company’s compliance program and was also appointed its chief compliance officer. Watson Pharmaceuticals acquired Andrx in 2006, and she was the organization’s only in-house counsel asked to stay and work at Watson. While there, she acted in dual roles, continuing her pharmaceutical and compliance work, which included litigation, transactional, administrative, and privacy matters.    

Now at Apotex, she says that her level of expertise aids her in providing informed advice to the company’s leaders. “I don’t think you can do a good job as an in-house lawyer without understanding how the business works,” she says.

But establishing an in-house legal department for the US division of Apotex was no easy task.  “The first thing I did was build a culture of acceptance that established the need for a lawyer,” Loomar explains. She quickly saw gaps in business leaders’ understanding of many legal issues. “It was clear to me that there were things they didn’t know and didn’t know to ask,” Loomar adds.

Understanding how much more risk and complexity exists in the American legal system, Loomar hired additional lawyers and established an infrastructure for the company’s in-house counsel. The biggest challenge Loomar faced, though, was integrating this new department more organically into the rest of Apotex’ s corporate culture, and the first task was to break old habits.

For example, many members of Apotex were not used to going to in-house counsel first in regard to legal issues. Loomar needed to fight the company’s initial resistance to these changing patterns. “My job was helping them to understand that I was not there to be a roadblock, but a business partner and facilitator,” she says. While Loomar says many in-house lawyers are viewed as naysayers, she views the role in a different light. “I’m an advisor. I’m someone who identifies risk and makes sure that the business partners understand and know that risk,” Loomar adds.

Despite the challenges of this process, Loomar is heartened by the progress the company has made in adjusting to the need for in-house counsel. She admits that at first the volume of the work was immense, and what’s more, the pharmaceutical industry in general is constantly evolving, forcing Loomar’s team to constantly adapt. But whether it’s the shifting nature of state pharmaceutical laws, or reactionary rules and changes to policy based on political events, Loomar notes that the team is “extremely nimble.”

In fact, she says that as the department has matured, the legal department has learned to better prioritize urgent tasks, as well as gain the trust of Apotex’ s existing departments. “We started implementing more structured processes and templates to make life easier,” says Loomar, adding that this has led to better trust between departments and improved outcomes.

Looking back on all she’s accomplished thus far at Apotex, Loomar says her only regret is not having implemented some of these initiatives sooner, but the admiration she has for her team and the respect her legal department has earned at Apotex, in the United States, and around the globe has set the bar for any company in any industry.

And for Loomar, it’s about more than helping the company run smoothly. She believes in Apotex’s mission to provide affordable pharmaceuticals to those who need them. “I never planned to be in this industry, but I’m proud and grateful that I am,” she says. “It’s a job, but it’s more than that, which always helps when you’re working in an industry like this.”