Dr. Anna Gergely, Director EHS Regulatory, Steptoe & Johnson LLP

BL: What range of issues does a regulatory lawyer typically cover in private practice?

AG: Well, for starters, I wouldn't describe myself as a typical regulatory lawyer! I am a scientist with a PhD in analytical and quantum chemistry, as well as a registered European patent attorney, but I have been practicing regulatory law for the last fifteen years. It’s a pretty unique mix in which I’m very well placed to advise on legislation involving particular scientific issues. Joining Steptoe & Johnson LLP last year means I am now able to call upon a large pool of regulatory lawyers within a number of disciplines such as nanotechnology, biotechnology, GMO regulation and chemicals regulation such as REACH, and that covering biocidal products, pesticide safety and food contact materials, to name just a few. Clients seek our advice on complex legislative interpretation issues and we also assist them in their compliance and product defence.

BL: How creative do you perceive your work to be?

AG: I am considered as someone who thinks “outside the box”. I believe there are two major factors which allow for a fair degree of creativity in my work. Firstly, the ever changing nature of the regulatory frameworks leads to practicalities in implementing the law that tend to lead to many grey areas, giving room for creativity. Secondly, the large number of non-harmonised areas, resulting from several EU Member States having divergent legislation, allows for a creative interpretation of the law.  These two factors, combined with working at a law firm which is at the forefront of law and innovative technology, means I am able to work with my colleagues in Brussels, as well as our office network in the US and London, to provide creative solutions to our clients.

BL: What are the positive and negative aspects of your job?

AG: Leading on from my last answer, I love the creativity my job entails. I also enjoy its challenging nature, which often comes from working alongside industry, regulatory and trade associations simultaneously. Reading the law with a scientist’s eye makes my work so interesting that I love every day and I strive to solve the different issues that arise. Possibly the only negative side of the role, which arises from my scientific background, is that I often find the law has been written before the technicalities of it have been practically thought through. It’s often very frustrating that I can only advise on the law, rather than amend it!

BL: Why is it that both business and regulators alike are keeping a close eye on the nanotechnology sector?

AG: Nanotechnology will have a massive impact on business and society over a time span which may be as immediate as the next five years. Organisations need to take it very seriously. It is a disruptive technology with potentially huge implications which are unlikely to seamlessly integrate with current operations. Nanotechnology will also have huge societal benefits, as well as presenting real regulatory challenges, on areas such as energy, construction, electronics, telecommunications, IT, transportation, food and agriculture, healthcare and life sciences, natural resources including clean water, and a wide range of consumer products. Being so closely involved with the technology already over more than a decade puts our firm at the forefront of this huge emerging industry.

BL: How is it to be a scientist among lawyers?

AG: Although I am a scientist by training and in my heart, I am also a patent attorney which means that I naturally tend to look at things from a legal perspective. However, my scientific background allows me to see the facts and legal arguments from a different angle, adding another dimension to our work. The best practitioners in both disciplines always do research and look for solutions, and so there is much common ground between the two disciplines. Working with lawyers has taught me to appreciate clarity, thoroughness and timeliness; qualities also highly important in scientific research.

BL: Good luck.  Thank you for your time.

Other features dealing with related issues:

Jean Russotto, Partner of Steptoe & Johnson (Brussels)