Partner Jeanne Gills was prominently featured in the Bloomberg Law article, “Black IP Lawyers Who’ve Made It Look to Grow Ranks Beyond 1.7%,” which discussed why there is a paucity of Black attorneys in the intellectual property field.
Gills, who is vice chair of Foley’s IP Department and a member of Foley’s management committee, said clients are among the best sources of success for Black lawyers.
Securing a lead role on a trial team in “one of the biggest cases” in her career — a patent dispute in which a half-billion dollars were at stake — was a game changer, made possible “because in house counsel lobbied for me,” she said.
“Any lawyer that hires outside counsel, they have the power to hire a diverse lawyer to lead their matter or require the lead lawyer to staff a diverse attorney,” Gills added. “If such an individual doesn’t exist at their law firm, say to them, ‘If you want to keep my business, hire some additional individuals to put on my team.”
But she also said Black attorneys like her have faced a “higher hurdle” when trying to secure client work.
Years ago, she said, a Black deputy general counsel at a Fortune 500 company got Gills a meeting with the outfit’s White general counsel. “I could see the beads of sweat on his forehead, because he was probably like, ‘Oh my God,’” Gills said, “Is my GC going to think she is fabulous?”
In an hour-long meeting, Gills was asked questions about a statute’s legislative history, which had “nothing to do” with issues in the case. Gills, however, was “prepared for whatever curveball he could throw at me,” and the GC decided to hire her on.
“He tested me, and I know I was judged and questioned in a way, if I were a white man, I would not have been,” she said.