Last year was a tough year, and no doubt many were happy to wave good riddance to it. The isolation that comes with working from home is unbearable at times. We all yearn for the human contact that our offices provided, the unplanned chats in the hallways, the lunches that went too long, and the commiseration with colleagues over tough projects, at work and at home.
I am, however, truly grateful for the silver linings that working remotely also has provided me. Without it, I’m not sure that I would have accomplished all that I did last year, including being elected partner at Wilson Sonsini.
I was able to capitalize on the precious commodity that the pandemic gave back to me: time. Specifically, I used some of this gained time to give back to the community in many ways. This move helped to solidify my pitch and became a backbone of my story for partnership.
More Time to Focus on Community Work
When the pandemic grounded all attorneys and stopped travel, I decided that I wanted to work on goals that, because of my pre-pandemic travel schedule, were not possible. I wanted to get more involved in the San Diego legal scene, so I dove head-first into it. I became more involved with Lawyer’s Club of San Diego and joined Women of Color in the Law. These organizations work tirelessly to further women’s rights, and the diversity of women leaders in the legal field.
This year’s theme for Lawyer’s Club: “Service, Inclusion & Advocacy,” became my personal mantra. I sought out and obtained my first nonprofit board invitation at transcenDANCE, an arts organization in San Diego providing inner-city youth with arts opportunities and counseling. The organization has an all-women board and offered me the perfect foray into nonprofit board work.
While I was immersed in community work, my practice group encouraged me to apply for partnership in the firm. My first instinct was to say that this was impossible. How was I supposed to gather interest in my practice if I can’t meet with partners and persuade them to invest in me?
Looking back, it was not easy pursuing partnership during the Covid-19 pandemic. The time-honored tradition of in-person networking with partners to develop and sell your elevator pitch was non-existent. So how did I develop my brand virtually and distinguish myself from others? I took stock of what I had, and then determined what I needed.
Telling My Story
I started with my name—it doesn’t evoke images of a woman of color with a Ph.D. in molecular biology. This is where today’s virtual environment helped me distinguish myself. I embraced virtual platforms to showcase that I was a proud, diverse woman of color. I spoke about my graduate training and time in Sweden and in San Diego as a post-doctoral fellow. I spoke about my decision to go to law school and about my experience as a law clerk with the Honorable John A. Houston of the Southern District of California, where I worked on many patent litigation cases.
I highlighted my work with clients building patent portfolios and strategy, my background in both obtaining and litigating patents, and my experience in clearing paths for my client’s products through post-grant review. I delivered my elevator pitch with fervor: I am your go-to person in the life sciences when you want to carve a path to market for your products.
At the same time, I spoke about the importance of diverse points of view and about my work in the community supporting and furthering women of color in the legal field. This became a central part of my story, and it helped define me as a person worth investing in. I brought diversity not only through the color of my skin, but in my experiences, thoughts and actions.
I also welcomed my many allies along the way. From those at Wilson Sonsini, with whom I am proud to call my partners, to my peers in the San Diego legal community, these amazing individuals—men and women—gave me strength. The pervasive thoughts in the back of my mind about whether I was good enough, which can deter women (and others) at all career stages, gave way to confidence that yes, I am good enough, and I can be great.
I must reflect, in closing, on Wilson Sonsini’s commitment to fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace. I have benefited from this commitment and support and stand on the shoulders of the many women that came before me, including Katie Martin, the board chairperson at Wilson Sonsini. She is a kind, gracious, amazing, award-winning attorney who so many strive to emulate. Katie epitomizes the reason why diversity is important in the workplace: To foster creativity and bring fresh perspectives and ideas to complex issues, ultimately resulting in success for the firm.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.
Lori P. Westin is a patent attorney and partner in Wilson Sonsini’s patents & innovations practice, specializing in patent prosecution and post-grant review for her biotechnology and pharmaceutical clients. She is based in the firm’s San Diego office. She is the primary author of numerous scientific and legal publications, and is an inventor on issued U.S. and foreign patents on molecular diagnostic microchip and DNA amplification technology.