RESEARCH TRIANGLE–Sheila Mikhail, who started LifeScience Law as its sole attorney in March 2001, recently added a fifth member and is continuing its steady growth and adding patent law to its practice.

Denise Mayfield, who practiced law in Texas for the last 10 years and was a researcher at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, has joined the firm as a patent attorney.

To some extent, Mikhail’s success with LifeScience Law reflects the vibrant nature of the Research Triangle’s biotech scene. But it’s also due to the innovative approach Mikhail’s firm takes.

While many large tech related law firms downsized between 2001 and now, her firm grew from its one marquee client, Bayer, to 27 clients including Bayer, Adventis and several start-ups, Biostratum, Nobex, Asklepious, and Starlink Logistics among them.

“We wanted to practice law in a more innovative way,” Mikhail tells Local Tech Wire. “We’re much more business proactive. We help companies write business plans, find financing, and structure deals,” says Mikhail, who has worked as a certified public accountant.

“What we do is more value-added than a traditional law firm,” she says. She even acts as an interim chief executive officer for one of the firm’s client companies. “Last year we introduced two smaller clients to a larger client and they inked deals.”

The firm also handles clinical trial contracts for Bayer’s pharmaceutical group on a global basis, doing them in 18 different countries. “We also helped them acquire a company last year,” Mikhail says.

Mikhail expanded LifeScience Law by adding attorneys with areas of expertise in agricultural biotech, mergers and acquisitions, corporate governance issues so much in the news now.

Jason Conner also joined the firm as business development manager. Conner, formerly business development manager at Becton Dickinson, has an MS in technology commercialization from North Carolina State University and “is helpful to many of our clients,” Mikhail says.

Mikhail stresses that LifeScience Law is “probably the only law firm on the east coast focused only on life sciences, and by adding patent law, it’s now a full service life science firm.”

Mikhail also points out that specializing in life science law makes sense because the field requires such specialized skills. “Intellectual property issues are different, the ways deals are structured is different. And you need to know companies, their business and the individuals in an industry to make the connections that help clients do business. You get synergistic effects.”

She says most of her clients are “looking for non-dilutive or least dilutive forms of financing — government grants, private foundations. They want to get as much free money as possible so that when they go to venture capitalists they don’t have to give up so much of the company. Scientists work so hard developing their intellectual property, they don’t want to give it all away in a short period.”

Mihail says the firm is planning to move from its 2,800 square foot offices in Durham to larger offices of about 4,500 square feet in the new year to accommodate its growth and will add a sixth attorney by summer.

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