Interviewed by Montana Cantagalli
Meet Maria Grazia Medici; a Partner and Head of Life Sciences and Healthcare at Osborne Clarke in Italy. In this interview, she talks about how and why she decided to go into law, her hopes for the next generation of lawyers and the transformations she has observed in the field.
You are Head of the Life Science and Health sector at Osborne Clarke in Italy. What motivated you to take on this leadership position and what drew you to specialise in the regulatory aspects of Pharmaceutical and Real Estate law in the first place?
Taking this leadership position was a natural step for me. Having previously worked in a small boutique firm, I found myself at this fantastic organisation, Osborne Clarke, which is very well structured and gives people the possibility to do what they want. I was excited about the idea of being in an international law firm with a brilliant network of people. So, I thought why not? Let’s do it.
And why pharmaceutical law? That was a bit of a “it just happened.” When I started working as a lawyer, I was given the possibility to work for clients in the pharmaceutical business and I really enjoyed it. It is law but it is also science, and I like the combination of the two. As a lawyer, having the possibility to understand scientific, technical, chemical, and biological aspects is a real privilege, particularly as this sector is developing so fast. In the fast-paced world in which we live today, it is so important to stimulate your intellect. If you don’t, you’re done for. You need to keep an open mind that allows you to look forward.
In the fast-paced world in which we are living today, it is so important to stimulate your intellect. If you don’t, you’re done for. You need to keep an open mind that allows you to look forward.
Have you always been comfortable with taking leadership roles and, if not, how did you find comfort in it? What do you think shapes a good female leader?
I never really thought about it: I just focused on doing my work and having fun in the process. I am pleased with the results I have achieved and the relationships I have built with clients and colleagues. This has given me comfort. If you are of service to other people and help them to grow and achieve their results, then they look at you as a leader. At the beginning, it can be a bit scary, but then you start gaining confidence. Historically women have had a duty of care towards their families, and this has made them adept at listening to people and their needs. It means that sometimes you are taking on a leadership role without knowing that you are doing so. Women are also well trained in taking care of many things at once, and this makes us more flexible and better able to look at and solve problems.
If you are of service to other people and help them to grow and achieve their results, then they look at you as a leader.
What excites you about the new generation of lawyers and how do we encourage younger generations of girls to take an interest in law? What are some important words that every upcoming woman in law should hear?
The new generation is smart, ambitious, and not scared of being ambitious, and I greatly admire that. They are also driven by a desire for success and to make a difference, and this is important. Younger colleagues tend to do things differently from my generation and are more technological, which is part of their strength. Being technical helps you to be creative, for instance finding solutions that do not expose clients to risk.
To be a successful lawyer, you need to have solid technical knowledge and a good understanding of the law. Lawyers are pathfinders. We are here to help our clients, to listen, understand and share our experience with them. Once again, empathy is essential to guide your client to the right legal solution.
If I had to give advice to a young woman starting out in law, I would say: listen to your client, listen to people, be empathic, never put yourself on a throne because you are not a professor. Your priority should be doing everything you can to help your clients find the right path for them.
I am proud to be at Osborne Clarke because we pay a lot of attention to the personal growth of our associate female associates and try to support them in different ways. Helping people find the right path is essential for their success.
Lawyers are pathfinders. We are here to help our clients, to listen, understand and share our experience with them.
Could you tell us about some influential figures in your life from whom you took inspiration on your own career journey?
My mother had a big influence on me. She was a professor of women’s history and women’s studies in the Middle Ages, and she always told me that women should work and pursue a career. She was a big support to me during my own career.
Later, I met many influential figures for different reasons and from different backgrounds. At 14, I got to know a fantastic American lawyer who took me to court in the US and this really opened my mind. It was thanks to her that I decided to become a lawyer.
Law is known to be a very demanding sector to be in. How do you perverse your mental wellbeing when faced with significant work demands?
At the beginning it was all work, work, work. I didn’t have much time for my personal life. My husband and I were very busy with our jobs, and having lots of fun with it, until one day, when I was a bit older, we decided to step out of our comfort zone and have two children. It was at that point that I realised that we could do and have everything we really wanted; it was just a matter of organisation. It was then that I also saw how incredibly important it is to preserve your mental wellbeing. This can involve anything, from going to the gym to going shopping: doing whatever it is that makes you feel good. It is beneficial for your work, because if you have a good mindset and reduce stress, you work better and produce better results. Personally, I don’t need to be stressed to work well.
It is incredibly important to preserve your mental wellbeing. This can involve anything, from going to the gym to going shopping: doing whatever it is that makes you feel good. It is beneficial for your work, because if you have a good mindset and reduce stress, you work better and produce better results.
Did your career feel different post-motherhood?
It did: it made me stronger, for instance it gave me the strength to change course and to go to a different firm. Having children forces you to distance yourself from work and focus on other things that are important.
Can you think of one or two significant obstacles you have faced in your career journey that you learned the most from?
Oh yes. When I had my first child I was working at another firm and was told that I would not receive a bonus because, since the bar association had coverage for women during their maternity leave, I had already been given my dues. It was not intended as an act of aggression, but simply what they thought was normal and right for the firm. I was shocked and for the first time in my life stood up very strongly for my rights. The outcome was that, after listening to what I had to say, they recognised that they were in the wrong. With this incident, I understood that while there are certain battles that it is best to let go of, there are others you need to fight strongly. Younger female lawyers should always have in mind. You have to stand up for yourself because no one will give you anything if you do not raise your hand. This is not because people are bad: I’m optimistic about that. It is simply that everyone is trying to get the best for themselves. If you think you deserve something, raise your hand and ask, otherwise you are never going to get anything and someone else will. Raising your hand forces you to explain yourself, to analyse your strengths and weaknesses, and this helps you to get better results and go further.
If you think you deserve something, raise your hand and ask.
What pivotal shifts has you witnessed in the legal sector? What impact would you like to have on the legal sector during your time as a practicing lawyer?
The first shift that comes to mind is technology. When I started twenty years ago, the firm I was at had only one email for the whole company. Technology has dramatically changed the law field in terms of timing of reply, the tools you can use, and the kind of attention you need to give to a matter to avoid a quick answer that ends up being the wrong answer. Another change has been the increase in the globalisation of the services offered by legal firms. When I started there were already some international law firms in Italy. The legal profession is not only domestic: you are not just an Italian lawyer or a French lawyer practicing Italian or French law, but you are also part of an international organisation.
In terms of impact, I think it is the responsibility of senior lawyers to inspire younger generations to get to where they want. Aspiring female leaders should not think that having a family should mean sacrificing their career. Women have the right to have a career and a family, and we can show them that they do not need to choose. There are many senior female leaders with children around the world, in politics and beyond, who also serve as living proof that women can have both. In recruitment I see how smart and hard-working women are, and how far they can go.
It is the responsibility of senior lawyers to inspire younger generations to get to where they want.
You talked about the impact of technology. Have you ever felt worried about the role of tech in your sector?
There are risks, especially for the younger generations. The fact that technology could lead to the elimination of some jobs, for instance. Technology also risks undermining person-to-person contact and a more human approach to business, which is something in which I believe strongly. At the same time, technology creates infinite possibilities. What I hope is that the moment that tech is no longer useful for helping people, it will be forced to take a different direction.
Finally, how has being a lawyer impacted you as a person?
It has taught me not to look at things from one direction. As a lawyer, when you have a problem, you must look at it from all perspectives to be able to take the best decision. If I have a problem or I am litigating, I will often play the devil’s advocate and try and think about what the other party would say. Seeing issues and problems from different perspectives and putting myself in other people’s shoes is a skill that I am now also applying in my personal life.
Video edited by Claudia Heard