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They’ve Got Next: Healthcare and Life Sciences Fresh Face Diana Watral

Kirkland partner Diana Watral was featured in Bloomberg Law's “They’ve Got Next” series, which highlights the work of rising stars of the bar — young lawyers who are leading the way in variety of practice areas.

Name: Diana Watral

Firm: Kirkland & Ellis LLP

Claim to Fame: In 2018, Watral second-chaired a successful trade secret jury trial for Flexus Biosciences, a Bristol-Myers Squibb subsidiary, where $600 million in damages was at stake.

Location: Chicago

Age: 35

When AbbVie Biotechnology Ltd. was sued in 2019 by indirect purchasers of Humira it was accused of securing over 100 patents to keep other drug companies from competing with the prescription drug that’s used to treat chronic conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.

But the theory that a company could be held liable for amassing too many patents and essentially being too much of an innovator was one no court had supported before, said Diana Watral, who represented Abbvie in the dispute.

Watral and her team at Kirkland & Ellis LLP were able to get the case dismissed in June from the U.S. The District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. A federal judge concluded Abbvie had not violated federal and state antitrust laws despite claims it had.

“AbbVie has exploited advantages conferred on it through lawful practices and to the extent this has kept prices high for Humira, existing antitrust doctrine does not prohibit it,” U.S. District Judge Manish Shah said.

The district court ruling marked a major win for the 35-year-old trial lawyer, who represents a large number of health and life science companies in significant litigation, including False Claims Act cases and contract disputes.

“Companies shouldn’t be on the hook for being too good at being innovators or coming up with new inventions, or new ways to get products out into the marketplace,” she said. “Threatening that a company could be faced with antitrust liability, which is a significant liability for a company, based on getting products out to patients is something we wanted to guard against.”

The case is now on appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Oral arguments were heard Feb. 25 and a decision is pending.

Fellow partner Andrew Kassof, who’s worked with Watral at Kirkland for the last 10 years, spoke of her tenacity as an advocate.

“The thing that has always stood out to me the most about Diana is that she’s got this sort of unrelenting drive, like a never give up, never say uncle persistence,” he said. “She will fight no matter what it takes to find whatever the way is on a particular case for a client to win.”

Watral had a major victory in 2018 when she saved Flexus Biosciences, a Bristol-Myers Squibb subsidiary, from having to pay $600 million in damages and penalties for allegedly stealing research on the effectiveness of a cancer-fighting drug from Incyte Corp.

The plaintiffs were originally asking for more than $1 billion, but Watral and her team were able to convince the court at the summary judgment stage to cut the damages down significantly. The case went to trial and a jury found that Flexus had not been unjustly enriched by misappropriation. No damages were awarded.

Kassof has repeatedly seen Watral at trial, but it was her 2016 performance in a $1 billion False Claims Act case that a whistleblower brought against Abbott Laboratories for alleged Medicare fraud that really stands out.

“It was huge stakes,” he said, remembering how he passed his partner a note at the counsel’s table after Watral cross examined one of the other side’s expert witnesses.

“I just wrote down ‘Wow’ and his response was, ‘I’ve never seen anything like it,’” he said.

Watral distinctly remembers that cross examination too.

“I remember being on my feet cross examining him and having that moment where I thought ‘This is amazing. This is what I want to do for the rest of my career,’” she said.

It’s because Watral has such a complete mastery of the record in the cases she tries that Kassof said she’s able to become more of an expert than the expert on the stand. The Kirkland team ultimately won a complete defense verdict in favor of Abbott Laboratories.

“I give 100% of myself to all of my cases,” Watral said. “In my preparation, I want to make sure I’m the person in the room who knows the record best.”

In addition to her client work, Watral said she’s focused on her family. As a mother of three young boys aged 6, 4 and 1, she said she feels lucky to work at such a family focused law firm.

“I’ve had a number of women mentors who I’ve worked with since the first day I started here, who really showed me that you can be a successful woman lawyer and also be a successful mom.”

Reproduced with permission. Published 4/22/2021. Copyright 2021 by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. (800-372-1033)