Partner Jeanne Gills was quoted in The Recorder article, “‘Take That On’: Black Patent Attorneys Say It’s Time They Are Recognized,” where she discussed the systemic racism she has faced in her career and the hurdles she’s faced as a black patent lawyer. She said practicing patent law while being black and female is a double challenge. “It’s almost hard to know where to start,” she said.
To understand what it’s like for a black lawyer practicing IP, she said to imagine playing a game of Monopoly where you begin with no money or property and your opponents already have significant amounts of it.
She has heard general counsel or IP counsel say they don’t know any qualified black patent attorneys. “I say it’s largely an excuse, because there are people who do exist,” she said. Organizations like the National Bar Association, the largest national network of predominantly African American attorneys and judges, or the Chicago Black Partners Alliance can provide lists.
Gills said that law firms can take relatively simple steps to ensure their firms are diverse. A law firm with a large IP department that includes paralegals and patent agents can ensure that those ranks are diverse. “Maybe some of those individuals will then go to law schools and become lawyers. And you recruit at the law schools they attend. You could start there,” she said.
And firms must provide mentors and advocates for young attorneys. Gills, who practices IP litigation and counsels clients on global IP strategy, benefited early in her career from working with pioneering attorney Sharon Barner, who’s now the general counsel of Cummins Corp. “I also had white male partners who mentored and advocated for me,” she said. “Some of them, I made them be my advocate.”
“All of us should feel terrible about black women making up less than 1% of the equity partners in law firms,” Gills said. “We should be saying that cannot stand in 2020. Take that on.”
Gills is the vice chair of Foley’s Intellectual Property Department and is a member of the firm’s management committee.