INSIDE HAWAII INC.
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Sharon Webb, a former surgeon and surgery professor at Harvard, now is a patent lawyer specializing in life sciences with Honolulu law firm Vantage Counsel, which doesn't have traditional offices. Webb says she plans to spend a lot of time at the University of Hawaii medical school library, above, where on Tuesday she enjoyed the freedom of being able to wear slippers, which, she says, you can't do in Boston.
Assuming a new vantage
Trained in law and medicine, Sharon Webb aims to help entrepreneurs in the life-sciences field
Dr. Sharon Webb never would be considered an underachiever, or a dummy. After decades as a surgeon who held faculty positions in surgery at Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Tufts University, Webb decided it was time to embark on a second career. So off she went to law school -- at Harvard -- and worked her way through it while practicing surgery.
After graduation, she chose the intellectually rigorous field of patent law, and eventually became a partner in the "life sciences" practice of Goodwin Procter LLP.
Webb has published professional papers on surgery and law, has been an expert witness in breast implant litigation and started a video production company for medical education.
Oh, and by the way, she also has a doctorate in bioethics from Yale University.
Having moved to Hawaii to be close to family, Webb is now of counsel with Vantage Counsel, a non-traditional boutique law firm which specializes in working with startup companies.
Question:Tell us about your previous life as a surgeon.
Answer: I was a surgeon for a good 20 years, all time being considered. I did reconstruction after mastectomy. ... I did a variety of other types of reconstruction but particularly focused on breast cancer and breast surgery.
Q: Why did you go from medicine to law?
A: That is certainly a big change. I was thinking about it in the early '90s and medicine was changing a lot. I enjoyed working closely with patients. But in the early '90s we were being treated more as technicians, and I started getting involved in a number of things in which my medical expertise might be useful. ... I kind of stumbled across patents as this big black box that kept coming up, and I ultimately decided that patents were so interesting that I would work on them full time.
Q: What was your legal practice like in Boston (at Goodwin Procter)?
A: I looked at patents in the life sciences in a variety of business situations.
Q: What brought you to Hawaii?
A: Family ties. We have extended family that's here, and after many times of coming back and forth to Hawaii, three or four times a year, we decided to finally make the move and come back here where our family members are.
Q: Why Vantage Counsel?
A: I had an opportunity to meet lawyers at all kinds of firms here on Oahu, and there are a lot of great people. The advantage Vantage Counsel offers is they're really aiming at the entrepreneur, the small businesses. ... It just seems to me that the future of life sciences in Hawaii is going to rest on the shoulders of entrepreneurs, and I want to encourage that however I can.
Q: Doctors and lawyers these days tend to be viewed as natural enemies. Do you ever get the urge to sue yourself?
A: (Laughs.) The natural enmity really comes from the whole tort system, and that's really not what I do. I'm a business lawyer. Really, in that sense I regard myself as a natural ally of the doctor who is trying to take an idea out of the clinical setting and turn it into a business.
Inside Hawaii Inc.
is a weekly conversation with business and community leaders. Suggestions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org