Class of 2021: Leaving the comfort zone
Class of 2021: Making a difference
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Ten years ago, Gabriella Liu of IParagon took a leap of faith and started her own IP law firm. She tells WIPR Diversity about her exciting career journey and why she has never looked back.
Describe a typical day in your role.
My typical day starts with checking emails to see if there are urgent client and firm matters. Then I shift to my “mom” role, preparing breakfast and sending my son to school. And then I squeeze in time to stay up to date on local, world, legal, IP and tech news.
After that, I am in a more concentrated work mode, whether at office or at home during the pandemic. IP work can be very detail-oriented and sometimes tedious, so I try to handle routine work first, and save larger blocks of time for client matters—such as contract drafting or reviewing strategic advice—which require me to concentrate for longer periods of time. I use my skills to find the most practical solutions and options for my clients.
I spend at least 16 to 18 hours each day working and taking care of my family, except at weekends. My brain even mulls on client matters when I cook, do chores, garden, and relax. So, when I do sleep, I sleep very well. I’m fortunate that I usually feel fully charged after five hours of good sleep.
My first son once wrote in a school essay: “My mom has never disappointed us, and she always cooks for us right after returning home while wearing her business suits.” I laughed when I saw that. But it is all true—I take my family responsibilities seriously.
Who or what inspires you?
My clients inspire me. Ten years ago, when I was considering quitting my large law firm equity partnership to become a full-time parent, a long-time client called me to their office and said: “We do not want to lose you. Tell us what you want and what will be best for you.”
That level of professional recognition of my work touched me deeply, and their willingness to be flexible convinced me to stay in IP. Highly innovative and creative people I know have also inspired me. I enjoy practising IP, mainly because I have seen all kinds of positive and promising things in life in the course of handling client matters.
I mostly represent IP right owners, and that means I get to see innovations, new product designs, and commercial projects two to 10 years before they go to market. I’m fortunate to get to work with clients who continuously show me what the future will look like.
”I essentially did the real-world equivalent of a mini-MBA to get myself up to speed in finance, taxes and accounting.” - Gabriella Liu, IParagon
Why did you leave a big firm to run a boutique firm?
I quit my large firm equity partnership for a lifestyle change. That was at a time when I needed to take on more family responsibilities, and I was considering becoming a full-time mother. As my clients and business contacts in the IP field heard about my decision to leave, they tried to offer me various interesting career opportunities.
I thought about what I really wanted to do. I knew that if I became a full-time parent, I would probably miss my legal practice. There was an internal voice telling me that the right road was to set up a technology and IP firm. After discussing my desire and consulting with people I trusted, including previous bosses and good friends in large international law firms, I followed my heart to set up IParagon.
What have been your biggest challenges?
There have been two. First, in order to start and lead my firm, I had to learn to be a businesswoman. In addition to the responsibilities of being the managing partner of the firm, I essentially did the real-world equivalent of a mini-MBA to get myself up to speed in finance, taxes and accounting, HR, marketing, client development, risk management, and all other functions necessary to successfully run an IP law firm.
The other challenge has been consistently carving out time to learn new trends in technology and business. It is essential that I have no significant blind spots when advising clients, given how rapidly technology and business evolve today.
Whenever I have the chance, I learn from professionals and experts in cutting-edge technology and policy fields such as artificial intelligence, semiconductors, data privacy, cybersecurity, blockchain, electric vehicles, air cars, space exploration, CRISPR, agriculture technologies, pharmaceuticals, and healthcare.
What can be done to attract more women and people from diverse backgrounds to IP?
WIPR’s Influential Women in IP is a good showcase of successful female lawyers’ practices and lives. Platforms of recognition such as this help young law students and legal professionals understand and think more about IP as a practice area they could enter.
When I interview law students on campus about to graduate, the questions I am asked most often by interviewees are things such as: “What got you through?” “What does IP practice look like?” and “How should I think about my legal career and what practice area(s) to consider?”. Most of these young women are top law students from domestic and international law schools or female professionals with two to five years of post-qualification experience.
“As a female lawyer and a mother I never forget that I have to be good at both roles, and I cannot afford to fail at either.”
I encourage all the WIPR Influential Women in IP to share their unique professional stories with younger attorneys who need us to guide and mentor them. Other options would include setting up scholarships for female law students majoring in IP; offering more internship opportunities to female law students or students with more diversified backgrounds; organising more talks to share and provide access to female students and young legal professionals; and offering them jobs when there is a good fit.
What impact has COVID-19 had on D&I initiatives?
It takes mental strength for a female IP lawyer to cope with all the challenges that have come with COVID-19. Going forward, we need to continue to build resilience into our practices and get as smart as possible about managing risk in our practices.
When facing so many other potentially better more profitable investment opportunities in life, it is natural to ask yourself, “Do I still want to commit the long hours necessary to successfully practice IP?” and “Is it still the best for me, for my kids and family?”.
It is easy to give up or change, after such an unprecedented crisis. What will keep my resilience strong as we move past the pandemic in the coming months? One thing will be my strong passion for IP, which has spurred me on for all these years and inspired me to found IParagon when I had the opportunity.
Are you happy today after practising IP for more than 20 years?
I am happy with practising IP, and I have become even happier in life. I think the growth opportunities in my profession play a big part in this, and that is why I am also happy about this female IP lawyer’s recognition.
Because of our family and professional responsibilities, being a female professional has never been easy. I have taken on both roles, because I knew I had no choice. As a female lawyer and a mother I never forget that I have to be good at both roles, and I cannot afford to fail at either.
Gabriella Liu is a managing partner at IParagon. She can be contacted at: email@example.com
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