When Justin Witzmann first joined NuVasive, a San Diego-based medical device company focused on spinal surgery, he wasn’t particularly familiar with that area of the medical world. Still, he was drawn to the company’s passion for patient care, and already had experience with some of the product liability, commercial litigation, and employment work he’d be performing in his new position as senior litigation counsel.
Before being hired at NuVasive in 2019, Witzmann practiced law at a firm doing general defense and civil litigation within California. He was on the track to make partner, but he’d always wanted to go in-house. Three years and one promotion later, he’s now the director of legal affairs at NuVasive with a primary focus on global litigation and risk management.
In-house opportunities haven’t always been easy to find in San Diego, especially ones at a company as purpose-driven as NuVasive. Witzmann is captivated by the company’s vision of changing a patient’s life every minute, and he applies this focus to his legal strategy. “Spine surgery carries risks. There are going to be lawsuits. We’re trying to defend the company, but we still do that with patients in mind,” he says.
Witzmann’s approach is emblematic of the culture at NuVasive, where innovation is a core value: not only as it relates to their products and technology, but to their cross-functional teamwork. He explains that the litigation team is not confined to their department alone, but is also involved in marketing and front-end dealings.
“We provide guidance and support on a variety of marketing projects to help promote the company’s products in a legally compliant manner that aligns with the company’s vision,” he says. But because of the rigorous manufacturing testing processes required for product approval, Witzmann and his colleagues find it easy to stand by NuVasive products.
The cross-functional nature of Witzmann’s work allows him to see the depth of commitment that everyone in the company has to the patient. “It is one thing to say we change a patient’s life every minute, but in dealing with and working with legal and cross-functional teams from executives to sales, marketing, regulatory and quality, it is really embodied in what we do,” he says.
Justin Witzmann also praises NuVasive’s partner law firms, which function like extensions of the legal department. “The lawyers we work with do a really good job of knowing our business and our employees—for instance, those who need to defend a deposition of a corporate representative,” he notes. “Often the same executives will be required for multiple cases, so they establish relationships and apply a consistent approach that is business focused.”
There is no one case that stands out to Witzmann from his tenure at NuVasive—which he believes is likely a good thing. He points out that a small percentage of cases go to trial, and litigation can take years. Sometimes cases will be resolved the day before trial.
Internally, Witzmann offers an open door to the case managers on the NuVasive legal team. His approach to guiding the team is rooted in not only his legal expertise, but also his sports background. Witzmann played football in college at Charleston Southern University and describes how the coaches he appreciated most made themselves available but also gave him freedom.
“My leadership is indicative of how I thrived: autonomy but not micromanaging. I’m always available if issues come up,” he says. “From leadership you need guidance from those who have more or different experience. You don’t want to make folks hesitate before they reach out, but also want to empower them to grow on their own.”
Long-term, Witzmann aims to ensure that NuVasive can continue to develop innovative products and procedures to improve patient lives. On the legal and liability side, he explains, the goal is to stand in the way as little as possible (while still protecting the company).
People are at the center of everything Justin Witzmann does, in both his personal and professional life. At home, he and his wife Breanne are raising a two-year-old son, Rhett (and a golden retriever, Ronan, who’s also two). But he has found another home at NuVasive, where he’s discovered his passion for working at a company that’s dedicated to helping people.