Desiree Goff

What is the number one piece of career advice you received?

There is an old sage in medicine: when you hear thundering hooves, look for horses not zebras. The premise is that if you are searching for a diagnosis, always go with the more common (e.g. horse) diagnosis. Don’t look for a zebra when the solution only needs horse medicine. This phrase can also be applied to law as well. Current statistics show us that women are under represented in practice, partnership, and fields such as intellectual property. Women in leadership are zebras in both the legal and biotechnology worlds. According to the American Bar Association’s “A Current Glance at Women in the Law”, as of April 2019, women associates accounted for 45.91% of the legal profession. Female partners made up 22.7%, and female equity partners accounted for 19%.* Practicing women attorneys account for approximately 34% of the legal profession, but female intellectual property attorneys account for only about 25%.**  Women with technical backgrounds are similarly outnumbered. Women with degrees in STEM fields account for less than a quarter of STEM careers.*** My challenge to women is not to succumb to practicing only horse medicine but aim for becoming a zebra, by staying in the legal profession, becoming partner, or entering into an under represented area of practice, such as patent law, rather than choosing the more common horse practice.

A comment by a relation of mine, an English university professor, encouraging both my cousin and I to take science courses always stuck with me as the best career advice I received. I have never regretted taking 40+ hours of hard science courses. I learned invaluable study habits and discipline and laid the groundwork for a career in patent law. Additional career advice, given by opposing counsel advising me to specialize as a young associate, prompted me to examine my career and future growth. What did specializing even mean? Under the Model Rules of Professional Conduct attorneys are to be wary of “specializing” unless certified as a specialist by an approved organization.**** And I was gaining a wide background in a variety of civil litigation arenas. However, patent law beckoned me and I found myself determined to become a registered patent attorney.

As I steadily increase my intellectual property caseload, it is readily apparent the rarity of female practitioners in patent law. To these ends, I wish to promote and advocate for women in science and law, encouraging others to become zebras. Someday when I hear pounding hoovebeats, I want to turn around and see a stampede of zebras in the intersections of science and law and as leading partners in the profession.


*American Bar Association - Commission on Women in the Profession. A Current Glance at Women in the Law (April 2019).  

**Ciccatelli, Amanda. Are Women Under-Represented in IP Litigation? IP Watchdog. Feb. 2018.  

***Catalyst. Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM): Quick Take. June 2019.   

****ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 7.2(c)(1).


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