Meredith Martin Addy, Managing Partner, Steptoe & Johnson LLP (Chicago Office)
How long have you been working for your current company?
8 months. Prior company, 18 years.
Briefly explain career history and what led you to your current position.
My undergraduate degrees are in Electrical Engineering and Art. In addition to the analytical focus of engineering, I enjoy interacting with people, working in groups, and using the creative side of my brain. I knew early on that I needed a career that called for all three of those skills. Intellectual property law fit perfectly.
After law school, I started as an associate at Brinks Hofer Gilson & Lione doing both litigation and patent preparation. About four years out, I was fortunate enough to be able to clerk for Judge Paul Michel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Besides having one of the best experiences of my life, I left the Court knowing that I wanted to be a Federal Circuit specialist.
I returned to Brinks in the late 1990’s and began working towards that goal. Along the way, I worked on many cases that brought me into contact with terrific people. In addition to the appellate work, I began to enjoy trial work as well. My litigation experiences provided opportunities for me in law firm management, which I accepted.
What is your proudest professional achievement and why?
I do not have one. Hopefully I’m working on it now.
What are the greatest challenges that you face in your current role and what do you do to overcome them?
In addition to my full time practice responsibilities, the challenges of running and growing an office full of many different and independent personalities is new and exciting for me.
How difficult is it for you personally to attain work-life balance and how do you endeavour to do this?
I do not embrace the term “work-life” balance. In order to be successful in my career, I have sacrificed much more than what is implied in a “work-life” balance. And that is how it should be; the principle that you can “have it all” does not really exist. It’s “what” and “where” these necessary sacrifices are made that makes the difference.
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 did not have a specific mentor or role model. I often wished that I did or that I do. I have worked with several brilliant attorneys during my career, and I have tried to learn from them. My style of practice results from a combination of my own personality and select traits I admired most from the talented attorneys with whom I worked.
How effective do you think corporate diversity initiatives are? What methods do you think are most effective and why?
I do not feel qualified to answer this question.
Were there any points in your career when you felt you were at a disadvantage or at an advantage because you were female?
Starting my practice in the early 1990’s as a female patent attorney with an electrical engineering background (a rarity), I believe I was provided many opportunities. After a few years of experience, I was chosen for projects based on my abilities, and I do not believe my gender played much of a role. Had I continued to rely on others to supply my work, however, I do not know what the result would have been. I do not know how much further I would have continued to advance.
Being in control of my own practice and work provided me with management opportunities that likely would not otherwise have been available and that I have enjoyed being a part of.
What do you think have been the most significant changes for women have been in the legal industry over the past five years?
Remaining barriers to women are not blatant roadblocks to be knocked down but insidious and subtle biases that are very difficult to identify and even more difficult to remove.