Novartis taps Swiss law firm to appoint new general counsel

Pharmaceutical giant Novartis has appointed veteran Swiss lawyer Felix Ehrat as its new general counsel as current head Thomas Werlen steps down.

Ehrat, currently senior partner at Swiss law firm Baer & Karrer, will take up the role from October 2011. The appointment will also include taking a place on Novartis’ executive committee and Ehrat will directly report to Novartis chief executive Joseph Jimenez.

The Swiss-based company is one of the world’s largest drugs companies employing around 250 lawyers globally in its in-house legal team. Werlen has been group GC for Novartis since 2006 when he joined the company from the City partnership of Allen & Overy (A&O).

Ehrat will be succeeded as senior partner and executive chairman at the 120-lawyer Baer & Karrer by arbitration head Daniel Hochstrasser.

Ehrat commented: “I was contacted by Novartis to take up the position and I looked at the challenge and decided that this was a really exciting opportunity for the next step in my career. Novartis has been a client of the firm for some time and I look forward to helping it to grow and develop its legal function.”

Ehrat has been senior partner at Baer & Karrer since 2003, prior to which he was the firm’s managing partner for three years.

Baer & Karrer and A&O advised Novartis on its $28bn (£17.2bn) acquisition of a majority stake in Alcon, the world’s largest eye-care company, completed in January this year. The deal marked the second stage of a larger transaction originally struck in spring 2008, when Novartis purchased a 25% stake in Alcon for $10.4bn (£6.4bn).

A&O was one of a string of firms alongside Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Linklaters to win a place on the company’s global panel in September 2009.

Click here for a profile of Novartis’ legal team.