In honor of Women’s History Month, this Q&A features four female MBHB partners who recently were appointed to leadership positions in the firm.
Alison J. Baldwin, a partner with McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff LLP, has over a decade of experience in handling complex patent litigation matters. Ms. Baldwin served for two years as a member of the firm’s Management Board and was chairperson of the firm’s Business Development Committee. She is a co-founder and co-chair of the MBHB Women’s Group (PINK) and is the chairperson of the firm’s Recruiting Committee. email@example.com
Paula S. Fritsch, Ph.D., a partner with McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff LLP, has experience in all aspects of intellectual property law, with a particular emphasis on litigating and counseling clients on patent, trade secret, and unfair competition issues. She has litigated matters in numerous forums. She is currently a member of the firm’s Management Board and a former chairperson of the firm’s Recruiting Committee. firstname.lastname@example.org
Jennifer M. Kurcz, a partner with McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff LLP, has experience in patent, trademark, and copyright procurement and protection, with particular concentration in patent litigation. Ms. Kurcz’s extensive litigation experience spans a diverse range of technologies. She has experience litigating at both the federal district court and appellate levels. She is the chairperson of the firm’s Business Development Committee. email@example.com
Anthoula Pomrening, a partner with McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff LLP, has experience in all aspects of intellectual property law, with a particular emphasis on litigating and counseling clients on patent and trademark issues. She is a member of the firm’s Management Board, and is a co-founder and co-chair of the firm’s Partners In Networking (PINK) Women’s Group. She was a member of the MBHB Recruiting Committee from 1999-2014 and has served as the Firm’s Hiring Chair responsible for professional hiring. firstname.lastname@example.org
How long have you worked at MBHB?
Baldwin: I started at MBHB in the spring of 1997, when the firm was only six months old. I was their first law clerk hire, and have been with the firm the entirety of my legal career. During the past 20 years, I have advanced to an equity partner and have held several management positions at the firm such as being a member of the firm management board, being chair of the business development committee, being a co-chair of the firm’s women’s group and now being chair of the recruiting committee.
Pomrening: I joined the firm as a patent agent/law clerk in November 1997 (when the firm still had folding tables for desks!) and have been here ever since.
Kurcz: I joined as a summer associate in 2002, and became an associate in 2003.
Fritsch: I started as an attorney at MBHB in September 2003 after having spent the summer of 2002 at the firm as a summer associate. I’ve often said that I was “sold” on MBHB after that summer.
What challenges have you faced as a female lawyer? How have these experiences shaped the lawyer you are today?
Baldwin: When I started as an attorney, there were very few female partners in intellectual property law to look up to as mentors, and even fewer who specialized in intellectual property litigation. It took a lot of trial and error to figure out that I didn’t have to do things just like the guys in order to be successful. Because of this experience, it is important to me to mentor young female attorneys and it’s something I dedicate a lot of time to.
Pomrening: As a female attorney with a family, you never want to be perceived as not being dedicated “enough” or as being “unavailable,” so I have always strived to be extremely responsive to the needs of clients and the firm. With technology, being that responsive has become easier. To me, being in the office every day from 8-5 is not critical since technology provides many tools for staying connected. I trust attorneys with whom I work to be responsive and see to their matters from wherever and whenever.
Kurcz: I was once the key associate in a case where opposing counsel repeatedly made sexist remarks to me. Not only did I learn not to take opposing counsel’s comments personally, I also learned to funnel any annoyance into zealous advocacy for my client.
Fritsch: Since I can’t control whether others will factor me being a female (and a mom) into their decision-making process, I try to give them no reason to do so. My goal has always been to be viewed as someone who is responsible and can be depended on to do good work. Those are now the traits I look for in people when staffing teams.
Where do you see women in law 5-10 years from now?
Baldwin: I had a trial a few months ago where the majority of litigation attorneys and the majority of the in-house counsel present were female. It was the first time in my career that I ever had a line for the women’s restroom at the federal courthouse. I hope that five years from now, this is a common occurrence.
Pomrening: I hope to see not only more women entering the field of intellectual property, but more women making partner and taking on leadership roles.
Kurcz: The two greatest challenges for women in law are the family-work balance as well as unconscious bias in business. Both of these challenges play a role in preventing women from being equally represented in the boardroom and in equity levels of partnership. I hope that in 10 years we see more women in these areas.
Fritsch: I’ve seen a shift in the prominence of women in law over the last 12 years. Today, many in-house counsel I interact with are women, and increasingly, teams of opposing counsel are being led by women as well. I hope this trend continues, and that we see more women lawyers in leadership positions at law firms and in-house.
How has MBHB’s firm culture affected your experience?
Baldwin: One of the best things about MBHB is our openness to ideas. We don’t care what level, race or gender an attorney is – a good idea is a good idea. The atmosphere encouraged me to speak up as a law clerk and young associate, which not only helped me build experience early in my career, but also helped build my confidence in servicing clients and participating in firm management.
Pomrening: MBHB’s culture has helped me to achieve the ever elusive work-life balance. When I was expecting my first daughter in 2001, I approached management with a proposal for a reduced hours arrangement. The firm was forward-thinking enough to approve the proposal. Unlike stories you hear about firms that have alternate working arrangements only on paper, I am happy to report that MBHB has a program that truly works.
Kurcz: MBHB’s flexible culture has allowed me to continue to actively support our clients while balancing a busy home life. The camaraderie and team focus among attorneys at MBHB has been key to my success.
Fritsch: I was lucky to come to MBHB at a time where there were strong female role models ahead of me that I could observe and try to emulate. I have been able to work for and with great attorneys, each with their own style of doing things, but all of us realize we’re here for the same goal – to do great work for our clients.