Diversity - Law Firms An Intellectual Property Firm Meets The Diversity Challenge

Wednesday, February 1, 2006 - 00:00

Editor: Would each of you tell our readers something about your practice and how it has evolved over the course of your career?

Choi: I joined the firm a little over four years ago in its Philadelphia office and led the opening of its new Atlanta office in May. With more than 15 years of patent experience and as a former research scientist, I handle complex U.S. and international patent prosecution and counseling for clients in biotech, chemical, pharmaceutical, and medical device industries. I was former in-house counsel at the Rohm and Haas Company, Union Camp Corporation, and HP. I was actually a client of Woodcock Washburn for a number of years and was very impressed with the firm's culture. One of the attractive features for me was the number of women at the firm, especially those in management positions who serve as strong role models, and when an opportunity to join it came I was very glad to accept.

Rocci: By way of technical background, I am an electrical engineer, and I worked in industry before going to law school. My practice has focused on electronics, computer software, and the like in the areas of patent litigation, and patent prosecution and counseling. I left another firm to join this firm in 1986; at that time there were 12 lawyers. I have since seen the firm grow to our present level of about 90 lawyers. I now serve as a member of the firm's Policy Committee.

Editor: I gather a commitment to diversity is part of the firm's culture. Please tell us about the firm's diversity initiatives.

Choi: It is something that is a part of everything we do. We have a very good mix in terms of gender, and that extends to our recruiting efforts and the ways in which we staff our projects. In attempting to address a variety of client objectives, we have found that a diverse legal team is very high on their list of priorities. Diversity of all types provides more creative and effective strategies and solutions for our clients.

Rocci: Diversity is a very important at Woodcock Washburn. We have done well, but we believe we can do even better. As a specialty firm that is focused on recruiting lawyers with science and engineering backgrounds, we draw from a smaller pool of candidates than most general practices. The availability of diverse talented individuals in Atlanta is one of the reasons we decided to open an office here.

Editor: Is this initiative firm-wide, or does each office have its own diversity agenda?

Choi: The initiative is firm-wide in the sense that the entire firm embraces it. The opportunities to put this into practice vary from office to office, however. Here in Atlanta, with a really strong educational foundation and a considerable number of world-class employers, we are in a position to attract a very broad and diverse group of law graduates and young lateral hires. We were lucky to be able to build the foundation for a diverse team in our new Atlanta office, being joined by Eduardo Carreras, former chief IP counsel at Coca-Cola Company, and Chris Arena, former chief IP counsel at Cingular.

In Philadelphia, I was involved with the Philadelphia IP Law Association's Minority Initiative. This is a group that reaches out to minority students at the undergraduate level on the requirements one must meet to sit for the patent bar exam. I also served as a mentor in the Temple Law School Women's Law Caucus, which is concerned to review opportunities in the IP field with law students. A particular student might lack the credentials necessary to become a patent attorney, but other opportunities - copyright or trademark - might be available, and mentoring serves to provide that student with some direction.

Editor: What about the future? Where would you like Woodcock Washburn to be in terms of its diversity culture in, say, five years?

Rocci: There are many components to diversity. I would like us to be recognized as a firm that has actively pursued a diversity agenda and succeeded in becoming as diverse in its makeup as the clients and communities it serves.

Choi: We continue to be a Gold Sponsor of the AIPLA Education Foundation, which sponsors scholarships for minority law students seeking careers in IP law. We participate in the Philadelphia area Minority Job Fair and host a diversity reception for first-year law students. We recently co-sponsored the Microsoft Women and Minorities IP Law Summit. We participated in the Mid-Atlantic Black Law Students Association Conference. These are ongoing initiatives. Two of our female partners were listed in The Best Lawyers in America, 2005-2006, and the firm won the Pennsylvania Bar's Women in the Profession Award for the promotion of women to leadership positions. Chambers USA Guide named Dianne Elderkin as the leading IP attorney in Pennsylvania. We have tremendous momentum at present, and I am hopeful that over the next few years this will translate into a diversity culture that will serve as a model for others.

Editor: And where would you like to see the Atlanta office in five years?

Rocci: Our growth has been opportunistic, but we also have growth goals. In light of the very substantial talent presently residing at the Atlanta office, I would be surprised if we did not have an office of at least 15 professionals within five years.

Please email the interviewees at wchoi@woodcock.com and rocci@woodcock.com with questions about this interview.