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Former AIPLA presidents share tips for women in IP

Attendees at the Women in IP Committee Breakfast Meeting at the AIPLA Annual Meeting received the wisdom of some of the most experienced IP practitioners around

A panel of four former AIPLA Presidents – moderated by the next President, Sharon Israel – consisted of: Teresa Stanek Rea, Meg Boulware, Andrea Ryan and Judith Saffer. They gave insights gleaned from their years of experience moving up in the IP world.

Here are some highlights of their advice.

Find a mentor

Rea noted that when she was starting out companies did not really have mentors for women. She said this has changed and encouraged attendees to find a mentor.

“You are going to find somebody that realizes you need to move up in the organization and they are going to make sure everybody has helped you. Try to identify those people. Even if you are in your first year in your corporation or law firm, you have ideas and everybody wants your ideas,” she said.

Boulware noted, however, that this relationship cannot be forced. “A true mentoring relationship is something I personally view as difficult to match up randomly,” she said. “I think you need to have a personal connection between mentor and mentee and random mentoring – like if you walk into a company the first day and they say, ‘here is your mentor’ – doesn’t work. The thing I have always got out of it is it’s a two way street. I get so much from people who are a different generation from me.”

She added: “You should come to all these meetings you can find. I have probably found more mentors out of AIPLA than anywhere else. You need to seek out champions. If you are not finding a champion in your firm or company and you are not finding the path forward, you should consider a different organization.”

Value yourself

Boulware said that some women have a tendency to think they have not earned their success. This is simply wrong, she said.

“Women in this country really have got some acculturated norms that we seem to fall into,” she said. “A lot of time we think we got it because we were in the right place at the right time or that we were lucky. That is wrong – we worked for it.”

Be true to yourself

Ryan said the piece of advice she would like to leave for everybody is that “the most important thing you can do is be true to yourself.”

Saffer added: “What works for one person is not going to work for another. There is no ultimate truth, other than maybe don’t hurt others in the process. You have got to do what satisfies you and what makes your life complete. It is easier to be philosophical when you are 72, but it is something you should strive for. Ultimately, you look yourself in the mirror and you have to be happy with how you are doing. The only judge of whether it’s the right or wrong thing is you.”

Don’t be afraid of retirement

Ryan and Saffer are both retired. They said that work is not the be all and end all.

“My advice would be don’t be afraid of retirement,” said Ryan. “I think it’s wonderful there are so many patent lawyers who work and work and work. But you don’t have to work until you drop. What’s the point of working yourself to death? Yes, you work hard and, yes, you do well in your career but don’t be afraid to give it up. I think Judy and I can both say there is life after IP law and its fun!”

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