Ginger Heyman Pigott, Shareholder, Greenberg Traurig, LLP
How long have you been working for your current company?
Nearly three months.
Briefly explain your career history and what led you to your current position.
In 1992, I joined Crosby, Heafey, Roach & May as a first year associate working immediately on cases involving medical devices. I was intrigued by the medical and technical aspects of devices and their various uses. From there, I took on more cases involving prescription medical devices and pharmaceutical drugs, in addition to working on all kinds of interesting product liability matters for food and beverage makers, the industrial, automotive and aviation industries, as well as gaming, athletic shoes and others. I had some general commercial litigation and professional malpractice experience during those first developmental years, but my heart and interest was always in products liability litigation.
As a regional firm in the 1990s, we were able to play a large role in many significant pieces of litigation along with what we call the “one off” individual matters. This combination of different types of cases helped to broaden my abilities in every aspect of litigation. I found my empathy and relationship skills helped me to efficiently resolve many cases. In addition, I became adept at finding a way to get dispositive motions granted in many unlikely cases. Good luck and timing also had me working at the forefront when eDiscovery became the rage and I had hands on experience managing large and important projects, working with company witnesses, defending their depositions and supervising the difficult and complex document projects when collecting electronic documents was routinely ignored and few cases had outlined the standards to apply.
We merged with Reed Smith in 2003 and for the first time I had a national platform to continue to expand the type of work I was doing within the products world. I continued to focus on medical devices and pharmaceutical drugs, as well as aviation cases and those involving other products. I worked as part of many national and regional counsel teams and found a special skill in assessing cases and working with experts to either quickly and efficiently resolve or get things geared up for trials where appropriate. I spent more than 19 years as part of my first firm, helping to run the pro bono program for the Southern California offices, mentoring and working with associates and paralegals, as well as being part of the fabric of a talented group of lawyers in the life sciences and general product liability speciality areas.
A special part of the work I had done for a few larger clients put me in what was dubbed “a virtual law firm” with some of the most experienced lawyers around the country in various firms. This led me to meet, work with and ultimately join Greenberg Traurig. In what was a mix of serendipity and a desire to take on a new challenge, the firm was looking to build on its existing California skill set, and I was able to join a great group led by the formidable and fantastic Lori Cohen.
What is your proudest professional achievement and why?
There are two that rank at the top. The first is when I was first selected to “first chair” a trial for a large client. Although we ultimately won a very difficult summary judgement just days before picking a jury, the experience of finally putting all of my skills into play was a fantastic accomplishment. The second was a more recent one where I was arguing a medical device pre-emption motion in the Federal District Court of Arizona. I was up against the former Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court and obtained a dismissal (just recently affirmed by the Ninth Circuit). While I’ve successfully argued many motions, this was very satisfying. What it epitomised to me was what I believe continues to be my strong and less flashy skill set - I am able to get cases resolved and/or adjudicated where appropriate in the most efficient way possible. This is not as readily apparent as a lengthy trial record, but is a very satisfying and productive part of my practice.
What are the greatest challenges that you face in your current role and what do you do to overcome them?
Since I am still a relative new-comer to Greenberg Traurig, the biggest challenge in many respects comes from that newness after being somewhere for more than 19 years. Time is an advantage, and as I get to know people and how the rhythm of the firm works, this challenge diminishes almost daily. Secondarily, I am helping to build and expand a practice, so I am spending time working on making sure the firm and its clients (as well as prospective clients) know who we are and what we can do in California as well as nationally. Most of my career was spent working on cases all over the country (and some internationally). I am now more focused on the West coast, so I am having to adjust how I work. I spend more time working on business development than I ever did before and find it an invigorating challenge to look more at the business of what we do and how to best define the value we can bring to our clients.
How difficult is it for you personally to attain work-life balance and how do you endeavour to do this?
This is a challenge for every successful attorney - some days/months I do better than others. An active and interesting litigation practice often means strange schedules. Nonetheless, I try to impose some routine and some healthy choices. I grow vegetables, hike and try to remain active in the community. Technology allows me to cut out some commute time by working remotely a couple of days a week and I am both more productive professionally and more fulfilled personally. I have a partner in my life who helps me to retain balance. He helps that process both by supporting and (when necessary) cajoling me back to my goal to have a good balance.
Did you have a mentor or role model in your career or while you were studying law? Who were they and how did they help you?
I have been fortunate to have several role models and mentors during the course of my career. My first was a law professor who had a very common sense approach to his life and the law. Bright as anyone and could delve into the detail, but also practical. He is funny and grounded at the same time. My father is one of the best and most passionate attorneys I know, as is my cousin. Both are first rate in their respective fields and, while I did not share the substantive interests of their specialities, I have always admired their smarts and their passion. The lawyer who hired me for my first job out of law school was also a mentor, as was one of my partners, a woman whose drive, talent and raw ambition demonstrated how far a woman could go in the practice.
How effective do you think corporate diversity initiatives are? What methods do you think are most effective and why?
Initiatives that emphasise inclusiveness and diversity can be quite effective. I think firms/companies who do more than just have a program, who incorporate the culture of inclusiveness and work actively to alter and break through long-term unknowing biases are developing programs that are working to retain and promote people of all backgrounds. I can’t say any one thing works better than another, but a real and true dedication to the concept of diversity and cultural inclusiveness is something people can pick up on and gravitate towards, so it becomes even stronger.
Were there any points in your career when you felt you were at a disadvantage or at an advantage because you were female?
I expect all lawyers feel advantaged and disadvantaged by a quality at one time or another. I have had times when being female was a definite advantage and have had times when it has been the opposite, just as some of my other attributes or qualities or background definitions have at times come in to play. Religious affiliation, birthplace and even educational history have all played roles - sometimes to my advantage and sometimes not.
What do you think have been the most significant changes for women in the legal industry over the past five years?
It has seemed to me that over the past five years women are incorporating more business ideas and processes into their legal practice. We see this in the way we are pitching for work. I also see women figuring out how to package and support alternative work styles in a way that is advantageous and well received by both our firms and our clients. Technology continues to help all lawyers multi-task and that has also aided women in their pursuit of career goals.