Long-term success in an in-house legal role requires one to pivot, adjust, and reinvent oneself time and time again. Danielle Karczewski, an assistant general counsel of employment and R&D at Eisai Inc. since 2011, is up for the challenge. She’s been through the fire and knows how transformative a challenge can be.
“I’ll admit that I’m a work in progress,” Karczewski says candidly. “I’ve had to navigate plenty of difficulty, and I like to think that each adverse situation makes me stronger as a lawyer and as a person.”
Karczewski, who is of Puerto Rican descent, was born in the Bronx and lived in the borough until she moved with her parents to New Jersey at age nine. Although she prefers to think that she honed the skills of logic and debate in her childhood, others told her that she simply liked to argue. Either way, the young Karczewski got the idea of going to law school by middle school.
Shortly after her time at Rutgers Law School, Karczewski joined Lowenstein Sandler PC as an attorney. While she loved the firm and many of her colleagues, she experienced her first major test when she realized how much she disliked litigation. “I thought I wanted to leave the legal industry and wondered if I had made a horrible life choice,” she explains. Self-doubt crept in. Did she follow others’ expectations? Had she even considered other options? Was she good at her job?
At the same time, Karczewski felt a lot of pressure. After all, she had “made it” as a female minority. She had a prestigious job, a supportive firm and bosses, and a law school degree, with all the student loan debt that went along with it.
After a period of reflection, Karczewski decided to stay in her career but pivoted to an in-house role to move away from the gamesmanship of litigation and the stress of firm life. “When I moved in-house, I found something that catered to my passion of actually practicing law from my strengths. I was able to focus more on giving strategic advice to help a company fulfill its mission and carry out its vision,” she says.
Eisai Inc. is a human healthcare (hhc) company that brings together science, technology, and real-world expertise to positively impact the lives of people living with cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and other neurodegenerative diseases. Its brands include Halaven®, Lenvima®, Fycompa®, Banzel®, and Dayvigo®. Its parent company Eisai Co. Ltd., headquartered in Tokyo, Japan, has more than ten thousand employees worldwide and nearly $760 billion in annual revenue.
Eisai is focused on more than manufacturing pharmaceuticals and delivering medicines to patients. The company’s CEO has developed the company’s human healthcare mission. This concept means to give one’s first thought to patients and their families, to increasing the benefits that healthcare provides, and to addressing diverse healthcare needs worldwide.
The hhc concept places patient satisfaction before revenues and earnings and asks employees to put patients first, to listen to and learn from them. The hhc mission also means that doing what’s right for patients should drive business results.
After more than a decade at Eisai, Karczewski now has a broad role that uses the full range of her expertise. She is involved in employment issues, R&D matters, ecosystem solutions, privacy, and internal investigations. In her role, she supports business partners and leaders across the organization. Since the start of the pandemic, she has also worked with cross-functional colleagues to address COVID-19 issues at the company and develop related processes.
During her tenure, Karczewski has looked for opportunities to help contribute to the hhcmission. “Legal may be a support function at a pharmaceutical company, and although we don’t get daily patient contact, we can still use our legal skills to further the mission of this organization in a way that impacts the people we serve,” she says.
In recent years, Karczewski has helped create a wills clinic in which legal team members volunteer to draft wills, trusts, and other important legal documents for people impacted by cancer and other serious conditions. This wills clinic is now Magnolia Purpose in Planning, an important part of Eisai’s Magnolia program, which is itself the embodiment of the hhc mission to help meet the evolving needs of patients and their families.
The diversity of work that comes through the legal department keeps Karczewski engaged. She’s pushed herself to learn, evolve, grow, and change over more than ten years by volunteering for new assignments. “I’ve never been afraid to raise my hand for new things. I’ve learned the importance of saying yes,” she says.
Karczewski originally responded to a job posting for an employment lawyer but quickly agreed to also take on R&D responsibilities when the role evolved during the recruitment process. She’s since generalized her legal support, at one point even serving the company’s Brazilian affiliate. She and her team have also learned to support a growing company as it “thinks beyond the pill” and moves into creating innovative devices, tools, and resources for new and existing customers.
Karczewski has faced other trials as she’s built her career. As a former board member and current general member of the Hispanic Bar Association of New Jersey, she remembers a time when she was one of the few diverse women attorneys at her law firm. Back then, she felt a self-imposed need to stay quiet and blend in. Now, she’s found her voice and confidence.
She draws on that confidence to navigate other challenging situations. Karczewski worked hard to help develop and lead parts of Eisai’s COVID-19 response when the pandemic hit. At the same time, she was dealing with parenting an energetic toddler, navigating divorce and co-parenting, selling a house, buying another, and moving.
What has the era taught her? “Compassion for others,” she says. “I’m more empathetic today, and that fits at Eisai because empathy is woven into everything we do here.” Karczewski knows that conflicts and challenges will likely continue to come her way, but she’s survived a tough period. Now, she’s ready to help Eisai continue to fulfill its important mission of improving outcomes for people with cancer and neurodegenerative diseases.
FIVE SIMPLE RULES FOR LIFE
In recent years, Danielle Karczewski has learned a lot about her life, her work, her family, her coworkers, and herself. Here are a few reflections from the journey that she tries to implement daily:
1. Learn to read the room. There is a time to speak and a time to sit and observe. Maturity is knowing how to change your delivery based on your audience.
2. Mistakes are not the end of the world. Most mistakes are fixable and will usually lead you to improvements.
3. Admit when you don’t know something—nobody should shame you for it. Be honest. Be willing to learn. Stay humble.
4. Don’t be afraid to crack jokes and have fun. Otherwise, your days will be miserable.
5. Take the leftovers. You’ll be glad you did.