August 23, 2005
Ryan Peacock Special to the Business JournalJennifer McCallum has built a career around the notion of “choice.” She chooses to run an international patent law firm out of an office where a miner’s shack once stood in the quaint town of Erie, north of Denver. Instead of maximizing her billable hours and income, she chooses to volunteer a large amount of her time educating others about legal issues surrounding the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. And she uses her experience to be at the forefront of “hot button” issues that center around health care choices. One of the issues is stem cell research. In 2004, she found herself before the Superior Court of Orange County, Calif., defending 30 companies that provide storage facilities to hold stem cells for potential therapeutic use in the future. “I believe that you and your partner have the right at the birth of a child to store umbilical cord blood and use stem cells later. It is your choice, not the government’s, not the religious right; it’s nobody else’s but yours,” McCallum said. A plaintiff who didn’t believe in stem cell research and claimed the companies’ Web sites contained false advertising had filed a lawsuit against them. “It was a very interesting ruling because businesses have a narrowly protected constitutional right to free speech ... and I was fighting from a very complex, scientific and legal perspective,” McCallum said. She successfully defended the case, eliminating liability fears and allowing the companies to continue to operate. On any given day, McCallum works with clients from India to Boston. She’s garnered a solid reputation among top executives from biotech companies who have relied on her legal expertise to guide them through issues from sponsored research agreements to FDA-approval processes. Web-based case management tools help her communicate with clients around the globe and handle a large volume of work. Since opening the firm in 2002, she has expanded her staff from two to seven, while increasing revenues by 300 percent. Outside the office, McCallum is a vice chair on the bioethics committee of the American Bar Association. The position took her to Florida earlier this year and into the midst of the Terri Schiavo case. She met with Schiavo’s family, the husband’s attorney and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to study the issues surrounding the case and later present her analysis to colleagues.After receiving an undergraduate degree in biological sciences from California State University at Chico, McCallum decided she wanted to pursue an advanced degree in reproductive physiology. She searched the country for the best program and discovered that it existed at Colorado State University. The initial plan of getting a master’s degree turned into receiving a Ph.D., while becoming heavily involved with university research efforts. “I felt I could do more for my overall goals by getting out of the lab,” McCallum said. “And the people I felt who had the most direct effect on the whole process, with the most power and decision-making authority, were lawyers.” She then obtained a law degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Today, this combination of a background in biotechnology and legal judgment is what makes McCallum such a valuable asset to her clients -- she understands the complex scientific elements and knows how to navigate through the related legal issues. “She totally, completely 100 percent loves what she does,” said her husband Greg, whose real estate business resides in the same 100-year-old house as McCallum’s law firm. “I think the biggest challenge she stepped up to [after opening her firm] was the things you need to do as a business owner that have nothing to do with the law.” Even though her business pulls her across the world, McCallum continues to focus on giving back to her local community. She was instrumental in raising money and organizing support for a children’s public library in Erie. “Young kids are little sponges and need to have opportunities to gain knowledge,” she said. In addition she serves as a board member on the Erie Economic Development Council and assisted in the construction of a regional park. On the state level, Gov. Bill Owens appointed McCallum to the Colorado Biotechnology Council in 2003, an organization designed to promote the state’s biotech industry. One of her current concerns involves a debate over giving power to officials at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to decide what moral standards should be applied to the process of evaluating patents submitted by biotech companies. “Without patent protection, the biotech and pharmaceutical industry won’t develop the product,” McCallum said. “What this is, in my mind, is a direct hit to research and development in the United States.” It’s the type of issue that could have a significant impact on health care options and a battle she will wage from the frontlines.