Five minutes with ... Jeanna Wacker, partner at Kirkland & Ellis
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Five minutes with ... Jeanna Wacker, partner at Kirkland & Ellis

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Each week Managing IP speaks to a different IP lawyer about their life and career

Welcome to the second instalment of Managing IP’s new series, ‘Five minutes with’, where we learn more about IP lawyers on a personal as well as a professional level. This time we have Jeanna Wacker, partner at Kirkland & Ellis in New York.

Someone asks you at a party what you do for a living. What do you say?

I usually say I am a trial lawyer, which means I go to court, and I focus in life sciences-related patent litigation. The case example I have recently been giving is the patent litigation we are handling for Moderna relating to their Spikevax COVID vaccine, as most people are familiar with the company and product.

Talk us through a typical working day.

I have a child in elementary school so my typical work day may be a bit different than others. I generally log in early to go through late-night emails and emails from foreign clients before school dropoff. I prefer working from the office so I then spend the day at the office until I try to leave to have dinner with my family. Most evenings I end up logging back in and working until around 10pm or 11pm.

What are you working on at the moment? Does one big piece of work usually take priority or are you juggling multiple things?

Currently I am working on a number of matters for companies including Moderna, Bristol Myers Squibb, Alcon, Boehringer Ingelheim, Vertex Pharmaceuticals, and Samsung Bioepis. It ebbs and flows on cases depending on when I need to be in court or filing a particular motion. On a given day I can be working with my team on several at once.

What is the most exciting aspect of your role and what is the most stressful?

The most exciting aspect of my role is going to trial, which can also be the most stressful. I really enjoy challenging situations with multiple moving pieces and trial is my opportunity to put all those pieces together and tell our story to the judge or jury.

Tell us the key characteristics that make a successful IP lawyer.

To be a successful IP trial lawyer you have to be able to explain complex technology and concepts to a layperson which can be very challenging. For me, that can often mean understanding medical and pharma topics well enough that I can explain them easily to a judge or jury.

What is the most common misconception about IP?

The most common misconception about IP is that you have to be a nerdy scientist with a PhD to be an IP lawyer. Having a science background can help, but it is also helpful to have individuals on the trial team who are better able to view our case themes from the standpoint of the trier of fact, who generally does not have a science background.

What or who inspires you?

I have worked on a team for almost 20 years with two very successful senior female IP trial lawyers. It has been great to practise most of my career on diverse teams with people like them.

If you weren’t an IP lawyer, what would you be doing?

I would travel the world if I weren’t an IP lawyer.

Any advice you would give your younger self?

I am very happy with my career path, which wasn’t entirely planned. The advice I would give my younger self is to live in the moment more and try not to stress as much about the future.

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