Imagine a line of passengers waiting to board a plane. The gate agent gets on the intercom to let everyone know that boarding is about to begin. The agent also has one other announcement: engineers will be finishing construction of the plane during the flight.
Most people would run the other way, demand refunds, or book another flight. But Jason Marks, senior vice president and head of legal branded Rx and global litigation and government investigations at Valeant Pharmaceuticals International, Inc. would be the first person to board the plane. By takeoff, Marks would be helping complete construction, as well as piloting the plane to its destination.
This is indicative of Marks’s approach to life: he sees complex challenges that others might fear as exciting opportunities, and he relishes the opportunity to tackle them. So, in November 2016, when he was offered a position to join Valeant and create a litigation and investigation function from scratch, he says he couldn’t resist the chance to oversee some of the highest-profile and complex litigation and investigations in the life sciences industry.
“The company was in the middle of a storm, and I pride myself on being able to build something sustainable in the middle of a hurricane,” Marks recalls. “Valeant needed someone to take control and right the plane, and I knew I could help steer the company out of harm’s way.”
It was an undertaking that few have experienced. When Marks started, Valeant was facing multiple government investigations and three securities class actions, including one of the largest securities class action lawsuits in United States history. In his first year with the company, he resolved two of these class actions, in addition to multiple government investigations, and he cleared the docket of dozens of preexisting litigation matters.
While he was tackling these major legacy litigation and government investigations matters, Marks also needed to devise a strategic plan to ensure these successes were sustainable. To do that, he worked with other legal partners, many of whom are quick to praise his ability to undertake large-scale initiatives like this one.
“As outside counsel, I have had the pleasure of working closely with Jason,” says Paul Curnin, cochair of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP’s litigation department. “He is an excellent leader, savvy and strategic, deeply committed, and always up for a challenge.”
While facing this particular challenge, it became apparent to Marks how Valeant could significantly improve its future. To meet this goal, he created the legal operations function at the company and established its enterprise risk management office. Neither had previously existed at the company.
Marks knew that creating a legal operations function would be essential to building a legal infrastructure that would address the needs of the company. To complete this task, core tools had to be implemented in order for Valeant’s legal team to conduct its day-to-day work, while dealing with the legal challenges that were necessary for the company’s survival.
“We cannot run a multibillion dollar organization’s legal function without various enterprise legal management systems,” Marks explains.
Within his first three months at Valeant, Marks developed a legal billing and matter management system. Since then, he has implemented an electronic contract management system and an electronic document hold system. He also has explored other tools, including artificial intelligence programs, to optimize and improve the team’s efficiency. Additionally, he’s ramped up hiring in the legal operations department, including bringing on a director of legal operations.
“None of these things existed prior to my arrival at the organization, and lawyers were reviewing stacks of paper bills that accounted for millions of dollars,” Marks adds.
“Jason strives to improve everything he touches, and he has been doing so for years,” says George Apostolides, partner at Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr, one of Marks’ outside legal partners. “He is the kind of in-house counsel who we at Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr like to work for: passionate, driven, and relentlessly pushing for excellence.”
The presence of the legal operations team made an immediate impact on the company. In less than one year, Valeant saved more than $4 million simply by reviewing and cutting legal bills. The company also saved more than $20 million in 2017 by driving discounts with firms and vendors, Marks notes.
The benefits of the legal operations department go well beyond improving the company’s ledgers. The newly implemented electronic management systems provide Marks and his team a central repository to manage the company’s ongoing litigation, investigations, and other legal matters. Marks is also working on making this repository accessible to Valeant’s outside counsel so that they can manage case dockets on their own. This will enable his in-house attorneys and paralegals to be more efficient, he says.
Eventually, Marks anticipates that the system will be used to house drafts of legal documents, which will allow people to make and track revisions to documents in real time. System enhancements also have provided consistency and transparency when preparing for internal audits and public disclosures. Marks’ team can now easily create customizable lists and flag matters that could cause reputational harm, meet certain materiality thresholds, or require public disclosure.
Although creating the legal operations department to help manage litigation cases was an immediate task, Marks also realized there were no mechanisms in place to assess the total risk the business was taking at a given time or to establish risk tolerance. So, to ensure the company is able to properly address risk moving forward, Marks spearheaded the creation of Valeant’s enterprise risk management office.
“Every company does a risk assessment, but we’re taking that risk assessment to the next level by embedding it directly within senior leadership,” Marks says. “We don’t just want to know what the risks are; we want to know what’s driving the risks. Then, we can put action plans in place to address and mitigate the risks.”
Even with Marks’ willingness to jump into the fray, the ability to gain traction required the support and collaboration of a dedicated legal team. The key to the success of these initiatives so far has been hiring the right people and leading authentically, Marks explains.
“People can be nervous to hire good people, because they are afraid that their talents might outshine them,” Marks says. “I’ve never been concerned about that. I only want to bring in the best and the brightest. I want to bring in people who will help make a difference.”
The other aspect driving the success of these projects is leading in a way that engenders respect, loyalty, and teamwork. To accomplish this, Marks always supports his team, even through mistakes, and provides employees with continual and constructive feedback about their performance. Letting his team know that it is OK to fail is critical for developing a trusting relationship, he says.
His success also stems from Marks’ philosophy about his own work. Whether it’s leading legal functions of a major pharmaceutical company or guiding a plane through turbulent weather, he wants to inspire his team to perform their jobs with the same passion he does.
“Throughout my career, my mentality has been that if there’s a problem that needs fixing, I volunteer to do it,” Marks says. “It’s what has propelled me through my career: to never shy away from responsibility, never fear failure, and always look for things that will help me learn, grow, and improve.”
Photos by Gillian Fry
Jackson Lewis P.C. is a law firm with more than eight hundred attorneys in major cities nationwide serving clients across a wide range of practices and industries. The firm’s commitment to client service, depth of expertise and innovation draws clients to Jackson Lewis for excellent value-driven legal advice.
Greenberg Traurig, LLP:
“Jason Marks is a strong leader with intense loyalty and dedication to his in-house team and his outside counsel. He is incredibly smart, strategic, decisive and innovative. His dynamic leadership and unparalleled focus make him a tremendous asset to his internal clients. We are proud to have him as a client and friend.”
–Lori Cohen, Shareholder