Straying From Archaism at Gilead Sciences

Keeley Cain Wettan is helping turn Gilead Sciences into a shining example of the modern-day workforce

Before becoming vice president of litigation and investigations at Gilead Sciences, Inc., Keeley Cain Wettan had accumulated broad experience in both law and politics. She completed an internship at the House of Commons in the United Kingdom during undergrad, worked in politics after graduating from college, and attended UC Berkeley with a particular attraction to the public service component of her studies. During her experience as a law clerk and then through some pro bono legal work she completed, Wettan witnessed the impact law has on society as a whole and the influence her work had in determining someone else’s future.

Keeley Cain Wettan, Gilead Sciences, Inc. Alan Rosenberg/Rosenberg Photography

As Wettan’s legal career unfolded, her clients noticed the energy she dedicated to every case. She was not just there to argue a side—she was there to win. Wettan spent several years at a large New York law firm managing federal and state court litigations, arbitrations, and government and internal investigations, including representing the boards of directors in government investigations and litigations relating to the financial crisis of 2008.

As interest in Wettan’s talent increased, though, so did her workload. After having her first child, she realized that devoting energy to her own life was just as important as devoting it to her clients. Like many working parents, Wettan was faced with the complex task of juggling life and work. Just after her second child was born, she decided to take a break.

“I took a couple years off and had my third child in the meantime,” she explains. “In hindsight, I’m thankful I had the time and opportunity to do that. But when my youngest daughter turned one, I started missing the intellectual challenge of law. I didn’t want to give up on being a lawyer. I spent so much time on my education and training that I wanted to give myself another chance to try something different and see if I could make it work.”

Finding a job at Gilead was a serendipitous opportunity. After learning about the company from a mother at her daughter’s kindergarten, Wettan researched Gilead and noticed it was seeking a litigator. Within six weeks of applying, she started the newest chapter of her career.

Now, seven years later, she has built a life without having to sacrifice time on her job or with her family. She keeps her experience at her previous positions in the back of her mind while she navigates her work, allowing her team the flexibility to take on the roles of both parent and lawyer.

Wettan says that finding this middle ground is less about balance and more about prioritizing: “There’s so much work here that, if you’re not careful, you’ll never go home. I try to prioritize the most important tasks so that I am treating myself as a human being rather than a machine,” she says. Throughout her time at Gilead, she has emphasized the importance of parents staying flexible to accommodate their lives with respect to their work, whether that means coming into work early so they can also pick up their kids from daycare at the end of the day, or taking a call from home to help manage competing responsibilities.

To Wettan, putting trust in her team to protect the company while they live their respective lives is the key to making this system work. At the same time, Wettan also emphasizes the importance of maintaining a dialogue about this balance. As a result, her team has become proficient in working effectively and supporting each other through their circumstances both inside and outside the office.

Wettan’s experience as a working mother has made her an advocate for women and other working parents. She teaches women who work with her to assert themselves in law as strong, capable leaders. In a career saturated with older male colleagues, she advises women in her field to never back down and to “never be interrupted.”

Since coming to Gilead, she has used this mentality to tackle several stubborn, long-term legal cases rather than simply settling the matter. Within a short time of arriving at Gilead, she was asked to manage a high-risk arbitration that resulted in a complete win for the company. She went on to manage other litigations, including a case that her outside counsel strongly urged the company to settle. Gilead refused and went on to win at trial.

More recently, Wettan has successfully managed the daunting Gilead Sciences, Inc. v. United States ex rel Campie case, which started as a government investigation, escalated to the Supreme Court, and continues to unfold throughout a ten-year-long process. Each of these accomplishments proved Wettan’s dedication to her craft, as she rejected the easy, traditional route of settling cases and instead followed her intuition to come out on top.

Wettan extends her mentality to stray from archaism through the retention of her outside counsel. When seeking new partnerships, she only considers firms that have women or people with diverse backgrounds in lead positions, in an effort to reward and encourage law firms that are hiring and promoting women and minorities.

“Keeley is exactly the kind of person Simpson Thacher attorneys love to work with: smart, savvy, and relentlessly pushing for excellence. From her leadership on cases to her commitment to diversity and inclusion, she sets the bar for the industry,” says Brooke Cucinella, partner at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP.

Wettan also encourages the recruitment of diverse candidates internally. “We constantly question how we can reach prospective lawyers in college and high school,” Wettan says. “We want to make sure that we are finding people to recruit and develop in these roles because we need diverse leaders in our industry,” she says.

Though her work style has changed compared to her early years in law, Wettan’s drive to win for her clients never faded. At Gilead Sciences, she continually sees the impact her work has on its clients. She is particularly proud of the company’s impact on HIV treatment. “Gilead is influencing the community by changing the entire landscape of HIV,” she says. “It’s so rewarding for my daughters to see the medicines we make and show them how they truly help improve patients’ lives.”

The enthusiasm Wettan has for her work permeates through her efforts to win each case and serve as a role model for other parents, women in law, and her daughters alike. With the incredible amount of support Wettan has, she embodies what it takes to be an effective lawyer, a dedicated coach, and a working parent.

Major players across the healthcare industry—pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, medical device and equipment manufacturers, health insurance companies, hospitals and other providers—turn to Simpson Thacher for deep experience navigating the complexities of the industry. From structuring multibillion dollar mergers and obtaining antitrust approval to advising on disputes and high stakes investigations, our healthcare group combines industry-specific experience with unrivaled excellence in the legal disciplines that most affect healthcare companies.