By Noha Sidhom • January 04, 2010•Superwomen JDs and What You Can Learn From Them
1. How has being a woman affected your career or legal education?
Intellectual property (IP) law is male dominated. This is primarily because you have to have an engineering or science degree to become a patent lawyer and the engineering/science industry is male dominated. However, I don’t think that being a woman has negatively affected my career. I am aware that barriers exist even though I have not been directly affected by them yet. Opportunities in intellectual property law are out there and it is just a matter of time before women seize them! I’m encouraged that there are more female IP partners and I’m excited to see more women in senior level positions at the USPTO. I’m proud to be a woman and I’m proud of my intellectual property practice!
Statistics show that by the third grade children have lost their interest in math and science. I’m challenging myself to do more to attract women into the math and science industry. I’ve helped to develop a math and science elementary enrichment program to improve students’ interest and skills in these fields so that they can have the opportunity to pursue careers in science and math fields, including IP law.
2. What advice do you wish someone had given you when you first started practicing law?
I have no regrets. The challenges I’ve faced have made me a stronger lawyer. I established several mentors in law school. These individuals include my classmates and peers, junior and senior level attorneys and judges. My advice to new attorneys is to establish mentors and use them as a resource. Law school gives you the skills you need to be a great lawyer. However, mentors can provide you with invaluable information you need to advance in your career. Have confidence and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
3. What do you think the legal profession can do to increase the number of senior level females?
There are several senior level female attorneys practicing IP law. However, there is always room for more! Women face different challenges and obstacles than men in the legal industry. For example, many women come to a crossroad where they have to choose between their families and their profession. Some opt to leave their firms to care for their families. This is due to the lack of flexibility provided to working mothers in law firms. To increase the number of senior level female attorneys, more law firms need to establish effective programs that afford women work/life balance. Affording women the opportunity to work part-time or even telecommute without the stigma that they are less committed will increase retention at the firms and increase morale and productivity of the women attorneys who remain at the firm.
4. Being a first year attorney anywhere is tough. How do you think young attorneys can really hone their skills in their first few years?
Rather than being a jack of all trades and a master of none, I’d recommend that young attorneys become an expert in a specific area of law. Research trending topics and ask to work on cases related to these topics. The key to success is distinguishing yourself from other attorneys. Aspire to be the “go-to” attorney. Once young attorneys have set their goals, I highly recommend that they seek a mentor that has accomplished similar goals. Become your mentor’s shadow.
5. Our profession is male dominated. How can young women balance being feminine and professional at the same time? I meet many women that simply act like one of the boys; I do not think that is the solution. Do you have any advice for handling social situations, outings with clients, etc.?
Why should women act like “one of the boys” when the “boys” can clearly see they are a women? It takes more effort and energy. Clients retain law firms but they form relationships with lawyers. In order to build valuable relationships with clients, it’s important to be yourself. Social outings provide opportunities to become better acquainted with clients away from the confines of the office. If a client suspects that you are suppressing your true personality, they are likely to question your genuineness and authenticity as a lawyer.
6. There is a perception that senior female attorneys think that they had it tough and so should you. Do you think that this sentiment is true? If so, do you think there is value in figuring things out on your own like women before you had to?
Tough is relative. What may have been “tough” for me may not be “tough” for another attorney. I don’t see the benefit of not helping someone. Women are doing a disservice to each other if we don’t work together and help each other. Although most lawyers strive for perfection, their work is often criticized by senior attorneys. The criticism is likely to have you focus more and strive even harder for perfection. You will have to learn that on your own. However, the firm is better served when morale is high. I recommend a balance between praise and criticism.
7. What advice do you have for young female attorneys looking for a mentor? Do you feel that there is added value in finding a female mentor? What should they be looking for in a mentor, and what can they do to make themselves someone you would want to mentor?
My advice to female attorneys looking for a mentor is to recognize that you can have multiple mentors. These mentors may be on your level or more senior and can be a different sex or race. A good mentor has a willingness to share skills, knowledge, and expertise. Look for a mentor that has a positive attitude and is passionate about their career. The characteristics of a good mentee include being open to new ideas and feedback and demonstrating a commitment to the achievement of reaching your career goals.
8. What is your favorite thing about being a lawyer? I am sure you have a moment of achievement that made the sacrifices seem worth it. Can you tell us about a highlight in your career?
I love being an intellectual property attorney. My favorite thing about being a lawyer is that I know I am making a difference in the lives of independent inventors and entrepreneurs by counseling them about the importance of protecting their patents, trademarks and copyrights. I am proud that I am able to be a resource to my clients! The highlight of my career was retaining my first Fortune 100 client. When I launched my practice, several attorneys at large firms told me that I would never be able to work with large corporations because corporations only retained large firms. Disproving this has been my biggest accomplishment. Clients are looking for the complete package – high quality work and reasonable rates.
9.What are your interests/hobbies outside of the legal practice? How important do you think those interests/hobbies have been in maintaining some work life balance?
I enjoy traveling and spending quality time with my family and friends. Having a great balance between my work and my personal life has been instrumental in the effectiveness of my Firm.
10.Two and half years ago you started your own practice. Can you tell us a little bit about the process and provide any advice for someone out there who is thinking about doing the same thing?
The most difficult decision I made was the decision to leave the USPTO and launch my Firm. I felt like I was making a difference but I knew I could make a bigger impact if I had my own practice. I heard several stories from applicants who were declined representation from law firms because of the size of their company. After working five years at the USPTO as a Patent Examiner and Trademark Examining Attorney, I launched my Firm. I am extremely blessed to have tons of support from my peers, mentors and family. Also, being able to work with a range of wonderful clients reminds me that I made the right decision. Encouragement and confidence is invaluable. If you are considering starting your own practice, surround yourself around positive people who will encourage and support you. Also, be confident in your skills and abilities.
11.What opportunities do you feel that your legal education has afforded you? In other words, doors that have opened, fulfilling activities you are involved in, etc.
I am a proud graduate of George Washington Law School. George Washington Law School has been a leader in intellectual property law for over 100 years. While attending law school, I took advantage of the school’s world renowned curriculum. My instructors included experts in the IP field and federal judges. Alumni wrote patents for Bell's telephone, Mergenthaler's linotype machine, and Eastman's roll film camera, among hundreds of other inventions. Being a graduate of a law school whose graduates are leaders in the intellectual property field is an honor.
Bio for the Author of the column: Noha Sidhom is a proud graduate of the University of Nebraska College of Law. Before attending law school, Noha interned on Capitol Hill for the Honorable Charles Timothy Hagel and went on to campaign for Senate candidate Peter Ricketts. During law school, she clerked at Husch Blackwell Sanders, formerly Blackwell Sanders. She also did an internship at the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Office of Enforcement and an internship at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, where she is now an attorney in the Office of General Counsel. Noha is licensed in New York and New Jersey, and currently resides with her husband in Washington, D.C.
Andrea Evans bio continued:
Prior to working as a Trademark Examining Attorney, Attorney Evans began her career at the USPTO as a Patent Examiner. As a Patent Examiner, she examined patent applications in the electrical and mechanical engineering areas featuring printing, keyboards and time measuring devices. She researched prior art using USPTO automated tools to determine whether the applications complied with patent laws and rules such as novelty (Section 102) and obviousness (Section 103). She is extremely familiar with patent and trademark policies, procedures and USPTO guidelines.
Andrea Hence Evans, Esq. is a graduate of The George Washington Law School in Washington, DC. While attending law school, she took advantage of the school’s world renowned intellectual property curriculum and studied and excelled in the following courses: patent law, unfair competition and trademark law, computer law and international comparative patent law.
During the school year and summers, Attorney Evans worked at Staas & Halsey,LLP in Washington, DC as a law clerk where she assisted in writing patent infringement reports to clients who were considering whether or not to file patents as well as for patent owners. Also, Attorney Evans worked at Pennie & Edmonds, LLP in the Washington, DC office as a summer associate where she worked in the mechanical engineering group on patent prosecution and patent litigation projects including legal research and writing, prior art searches and writing patent applications.
Attorney Evans is a graduate of Spelman College and Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) in Atlanta, Georgia, where she obtained a Bachelors of Science in mathematics and a Bachelors of Civil Engineering, respectively. She participated in a 5 year dual degree engineering program. After high school, she received the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) full tuition academic scholarship to Spelman College and Georgia Tech from NASA and worked on numerous engineering projects at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas as a summer intern.
Andrea Hence Evans, Esq. is a member of the Texas bar and the United States Supreme Court bar. She is also a registered Patent Attorney.
A Message from the Author: This column is a Q&A with senior level female attorneys offering advice and mentorship to young female lawyers. The questions below were sent to the interviewees and responses have not been edited for content. The advice, experiences, personalities, and approaches of these women are extremely diverse and more importantly very useful to future generations of female attorneys. I hope this column will offer helpful advice, and inspire healthy discussions. I have an exciting lineup of female leaders in the profession, but if you have someone you would like to nominate, or you yourself would like to be interviewed, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.