For Clara, studying law opened the door to a wide range of opportunities. Her studies in French, English and American law sharpened her taste for concrete matters. With an English father and a Czech mother, Clara is fluent in several languages. At the age of 26, in 2003, she began her adventure with INRAE after being hired as an English-speaking lawyer.
By 2021, she had worked on more than 3,500 acts concluded with public and private partners! Clara’s role is to ensure that partnership activities are governed by contracts that balance the interests of both INRAE and its partners.
Manifold skills at play
Clara’s first post brought her into contact with many different people from the CEO’s office, directorates, divisions, centres and scientists. At the time, she was the only lawyer in charge of drawing up contracts for European projects for INRAE in conjunction with the launch of the sixth European Framework Programme. “It was a post where I was immediately visible and exposed. I felt supported by an Institute that trusted me, a young lawyer, with so much autonomy.”
Clara soon began handling private partnership contracts, which came with intellectual property, commercialisation and transfer issues. In 2016, she was appointed head of the legal engineering team for private partnerships at the national level.
In 2020, she began developing a set of contractual engineering skills and services within the Common Department for Contract Engineering. This department covers partnership contracts with academic, international, public policy support and private stakeholders. Clara now oversees the department’s various activities, which include leading and coordinating contract engineering for the new INRAE institute at the local and national levels.
She appreciates the important role her eight-strong team play: they use their skills as contract lawyers, financial engineers and quality controllers to safeguard the Institute’s contracts. “I really admire my team’s ability to adapt in early 2020 – it was an extremely challenging time with everyone working remotely while also building the joint team in the midst of handling the consequences of the merger on contractual activity. We worked together to quickly develop a smooth, responsive process that was clear to those who needed our assistance.”
A one-stop shop for contract engineering
The Common Department for Contract Engineering is a one-stop shop for contractual engineering matters. It provides both partnership support services in the centres and draws up national partnership contracts for the Institute.
Transdisciplinary expertise is essential for tackling the wide variety inherent in our contracts
Clara manages a network of around fifty partnership project engineers in INRAE’s 18 centres. With the help of her team, she strives to maintain close ties by offering daily support, regular dialogue with the network, awareness-raising actions regarding best partnership practices, and training series on contractual engineering, which she coordinates in conjunction with the directorates and partnership stakeholders. Clara is especially focused on the real-world issues that land on her desk. As part of a quality assurance approach, she supports the development of contractual processes to clarify the roles of those involved while making the contractualisation process smoother and faster.
As a result, these local stakeholders have tools and methods at their disposal to move forward on the basis of common principles and clear processes. They draw up contracts that meet the needs of both INRAE and its partners. At least 90% of public and private INRAE contracts are negotiated by the partnership project engineers, who support the centres, units and scientists on a daily basis.
The Common Department for Contract Engineering also handles all matters pertaining to new initiatives (e.g. the Horizon Europe framework programme, the France Relance stimulus plan with R&D employment support measures) as well as the complexities involved in certain contractual partnerships with regards to financial issues, intellectual property rights and the use of biological material. When necessary, specialists at INRAE (in biosafety, personal data protection, etc.) are called upon to lend their expertise to ensure the partnerships are secure and appropriate to the situation. “I adopted a project mindset very early on with many stakeholders. Getting to know and trust one another is the glue that holds everything together.”
Working together and with purpose
A strong desire to work together underpins the entire contractualisation process with public and private stakeholders.
The Common Department for Contract Engineering prepares contracts on a national scope (the other 10% of INRAE contracts) for INRAE’s central management. The success of two recent strategic contracts for INRAE testifies to Clara’s expertise and interpersonal skills.
For the French Gut project, an ambitious and innovative citizen science project that seeks to collect clinical data on the microbiota of French people, INRAE partnered with three other public institutions and eleven private stakeholders. The second major partnership project is the “Ferments of the Future” Grand Challenge, a project financed by the French State as part of the France 2030 stimulus plan and which will get both public and private players involved in developing research on fermented foods.
Negotiations on these types of contracts take several months. Clara takes the time to explain to all her internal and external contacts the interest of the clauses she defends. She is attentive, patient and sometimes firm – but always with a smile. “Negotiations involving public and private partners are exciting. They involve truly listening to understand everyone’s interests and finding common ground.”
Clara is committed to striking a fair balance. “I like to work in a relaxed atmosphere and need to see my colleagues. It’s both enjoyable and very effective to talk to each other in person. This is how trust is built, especially with the partnership leaders.” She remains committed and available while also pursuing her interests outside of work. “Whenever I can, I nourish my intellectual side with art and architecture. I escape into the aesthetics of things – it does me a lot of good.” Her multilingual and multicultural life has given Clara an ability to adapt that is useful in her work. “I’m sensitive to others, to differences, to people. We can do great things when we work together. These 19 years at INRAE have gone by quickly. I’ve never had a dull moment. I’ve evolved and my work has changed in scale. I’m proud to work at an institute that is involved in key societal issues. It gives my work meaning.”
Clara sees this award as recognition for the research support professions that help INRAE’s scientists, units and central management bring their research to the world and facilitate and secure their partnerships through contracts. “I share this award with my incredible team who have impressed me every day for nearly three years with their dedication and professionalism. Mutual support, dialogue, trust and kindness are all key in our intense daily activity. We’re all in the same boat, striving to make sure this team is operational and that it works well!”
The French State’s investments as part of the France 2030 stimulus programme offer considerable opportunities for INRAE to create multistakeholder partnerships to address major societal challenges, including through the Priority Research Programmes and Infrastructure (PEPR). The Common Department for Contract Engineering, in conjunction with all partnership stakeholders, will be actively involved in the short and medium terms.
45 years old, civil union, two children
2001: Master’s Degree in Private Law
2000: LLM (Master of Laws), University of Reading, UK
1999: Master’s Degree in Business Law
1999: Diploma of Applied Legal Studies II, Anglo-American Law
1998: Bachelor of Laws and Diploma of Applied Legal Studies I, Anglo-American Law, Paris X, Nanterre.
2020: Head of the Common Department for Contract Engineering (SCIC), DPTI-DAPP-DRI-DESSE, INRAE
2016-2019: Head of the Legal Engineering for Partnerships Team, DPTI, INRAE
2004-2016: Contracts and intellectual property lawyer for the Contracts Team at the Contracts and Intellectual Property Unit, DV, INRAE
2003-2004: Lawyer, European contracts, DARESE, INRAE
Art, architecture, design, visual arts and travel