Adventure of the Month: An Interview with Ms. Katherine Lutton!

This month, I have a special treat for Ms.JD readers -- an interview with Ms. Katherine Lutton.  Ms. Lutton is a superstar attorney in California and has been extremely generous with her time in agreeing to be interviewed for my column!  Ms. Lutton does so many amazing things, including running marathons and leading litigation on high profile patent cases.  For those of you who would like to read more about Ms. Lutton, her biography can be found here.  Ms. Lutton has also just recently been named one of the 2012 Women Leaders in Law by The Recorder.  Rather than go on about Ms. Lutton (which wouldn't be hard to do), I will get right into the interview:

1)      Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I’m energized by my passions which include my family and friends, helping others, including clients, women and start-ups, technology, advocacy, photography, health, cooking, the outdoors, and trying to find ways to be present and focused in everything I do.

2)      You started your career as an electrical engineer.  What attracted you to being a litigator?

One of my passions is technology. While I was working at GE, I was in the Edison Engineering Program which was designed by Jack Welsh to grow engineering leaders. As part of the program, I rotated positions and units every six months. I loved it. One month I’d be designing software that is now flying on the C-17 cargo plane and six months later I was leading an Apache helicopter project. I soon realized though that to be successful long-term in that environment, I’d need to pick one thing and focus. Moving into the law allowed me to learn and explore numerous technologies which is far more interesting to me. I also love my clients including the technical geniuses that innovate and advocate for positions I believe in, so it is a good mix.

3)      What does your “typical” day look like?

I have no typical days. I can tell you about today.  Today I woke at 3 am. By 3:30 am I was working from my treadmill desk at work (that enables me to walk 6-10 miles a day while working). I worked on a few cases and then attended a team meeting at 6 am. I completed that to start a deposition at 7 am, where I was participating remotely. I received a call that my son, Trey, was sick so during the lunch break for the deposition I traveled home and continued the deposition from my home office while he rested at home. During the course of the day, I worked on a number of client matters relating to an upcoming Markman, mediation and depositions. I also shared my thoughts on a presentation that one of my partners will give to an outside group.  Like many litigators, I enjoy public speaking! Later in the day I helped my 89-year old Nana sort out her medications for the next week. I also spent time triaging my schedule to make sure I’m prioritizing correctly. And, of course, I answered these questions. Now, I’m going to work for a few hours, take a bath and get some sleep before I start again with a whole different day. 

4)      Many young attorneys (myself included) have experienced difficulties balancing work and personal life.  You have managed to have a family, a stellar career, stay physically active (congratulations on all of those marathon finishes!), and act as a mentor to other women through the Fortune/US Department Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership.  Do you have advice for attorneys in their first few years of practice who aspire to be the next Kathi Lutton?   

You are making me blush. My first piece of advice would be to find a better role model! In all seriousness, my advice is to find your passion, figure out what you want and then ask for it. The “ask” is key. Don’t let others choose your life for you on a micro or macro scale. Once you choose, ask and make things happen. When I  wanted more of a challenge after my first year out from clerking, I asked if I could take over recruiting for our office. I ended up soon thereafter sharing that role with Karen Boyd. When I felt I could handle more than first and second year associate work, I asked for more responsibility and specifically asked one of our partners to mentor me. He ended up letting me cross a surprise witness at trial when I was a third year.  We won one of the largest verdicts at the time in the District of Delaware. When I felt like it was important to be an expert, I asked to teach Donald Chisum’s patent course at Santa Clara when he was on sabbatical. I did that as a fourth year. The bottom line is to ask. A good book on this is Women Don’t Ask by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever. 

Asking is important not only for your career, but also for balance. Ask for what you need. If you are great at what you do, that is all that matters. Have confidence in that. You can schedule your home and other obligations just like you do your work ones. If someone at home is taking some of your attention, just make sure everyone knows what they can expect (in terms of what you will deliver and when) and then wow them.  

As for staying physically fit, you’ll always perform better and have more time if you make time to stay fit. It is one of those physical laws that just doesn’t make sense, but it works. 

My last piece of advice is to find ways to “multiply.” Don’t multi-task as that will diminish your IQ. But, instead, multiply. See every opportunity as a chance to check off more than one box.  Can you do something with clients that also enables you to spend time with your kids? Can you do something that is relaxing for you that would also let you bond with your kids? Can you work with people you really like (your friends) so that you can spend time with friends while doing exciting work? Can you exercise while achieving other benefits at the same time? For example, I try to ride my bike to work when I can because it is also relaxing, it doesn’t take much more time than driving (gets me to work) and I get to be outdoors and in the sun (vitamin D). A good book on this is Multipliers by Liz Wiseman.

5)      Do you have any advice for young women at the beginning of their legal careers who aspire to be leaders in their law firm (or elsewhere)?

Talent first. Focus on being the best at what you do. Next, relationships matter, don’t force them. If you have to force them, change who you work with. Third, start taking on responsibility before you get paid for it.



What a role model! Great interview!


I must say that I am truly impressed with Ms. Lutton.  Like many excellent role models, you can tell the she took life by the horns and put in the extra effort.  I especially liked the part about asking to do more, to take on extra-responsiblity.  I find its often too easy to get comfortable in a regular routine.  However, based on the interview, I am not sure if she ever actually sleeps!

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