July 16, 2018

Seasoned Life Sciences Entrepreneur and Executive James Cullem Discusses In-House Counsel for Biotech Start-ups

James CullemFor more than two decades, James Cullem has helped numerous biotechnology companies rise through the ranks as an IP expert and business entrepreneur. Cullem recommends early-stage biotech companies acquire an experienced attorney who can guide them through the various legalities associated with launching a new business.

Interviewing Experts: Is an in-house attorney absolutely vital for an early-stage company?

James Cullem:  Eventually, yes. At some point in their evolution and growth, an early-stage company will reach the volume and frequency of legal needs that it will want to add an in-house Counsel in order to provide cost savings, improved efficiency and turn-around time on legal matters, and the benefit of synergizing the legal efforts with business development, marketing, and other efforts.

Interviewing Experts: What typically is the given title for this in-house counsel?

James Cullem: The most common titles for the company’s first and chief in-house attorney are Chief Counsel, Senior Counsel or General Counsel. No matter the designation, the in-house counsel will be leading the legal activities of the company and be providing seasoned guidance to its executive management team and Board.

Interviewing Experts: In your experience, how should company management decide which attorney is best for their organization?

James Cullem: A number of attributes are necessary for success.  Among them are that the in-house Counsel be experienced, competent, confident and willing to tell management and the Board what they need to hear, as well as having the right personality to fit the company’s culture.

Interviewing Experts: What’s one valuable asset that makes an attorney such a fine candidate?

James Cullem: Flexibility and breadth of perspective are key. In-house Counsel for early-stage companies will generally need to be concerned about a vast array of legal issues.

Interviewing Experts: Could you explain some of the chief legal issues that may arise?

James Cullem: Important Legal issues will include intellectual property, litigation, dispute resolution, corporate governance, real estate, contracts and employment, among many others.

Interviewing Experts: What type of outside attorneys may be beneficial in these circumstances?

James Cullem: The in-house Counsel will regularly be consulting with outside attorneys at law firms in order to seek expert assistance about litigation, financial restructuring, tax matters and several other complex subjects in which the in-house Counsel may not himself/herself have depth of expertise.

Interviewing Experts: Will the in-house Counsel need to fulfill certain licensing requirements before the official hiring?

James Cullem: Usually, yes. Most states require that the attorney be in good standing and admitted to practice within the state where the company resides.  Many legal issues such as shareholder rights, real estate, employment and contracts fall under the laws of the state where the company is headquartered. Certain exceptions will apply (for example, if an out-of-state attorney is supervised by a licensed, in state attorney), but generally this requirement is standard, thus the in-house Counsel typically needs to be fluent in the those state laws (as opposed to the laws of other states).

Interviewing Experts: What’s one last piece of advice that might assist companies in identifying the right attorney to hire as its first in-house Counsel?

James Cullem: Early-stage businesses tend to have frequently changing agendas and activities. Organizational systems and management may be in the development stages at this time. The attorney serving as in-house Counsel, therefore, will need to have the adaptability and personality to fit into such a morphing organization’s culture and work well with all parties, top to bottom.

Possessing an impressive portfolio of achievements in the biotech sector, James Cullem is most recently involved in the founding and advancement of Paradigm Oncology, Inc. Previously, he co-founded and led biotech start-up, Halcyon Diagnostics, Inc., and earlier served as senior management and General Counsel at both Enzymatics, Inc. and  Cell Signaling Technology, Inc.


A patent attorney and business entrepreneur, James Cullem has recently expanded his reach with the creation and development of Sierra Glycomics. Sierra Glycomics is an analytic services firm that supports the drug development and biofuels industries. James Cullem earlier was the co-founder and chief executive office of two biotech start-ups, Halcyon Diagnostics and Paradigm Oncology. James Cullem formerly held the position of Chief Corporate Counsel in two companies focused on life sciences. He is a Juris Doctorate recipient and proud graduate of the top patent program at Franklin Pierce Law Center, which has since been folded into the University of New Hampshire law school.

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