Elizabeth Stotland Weiswasser, Partner, Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP
How long have you been working for your current company?
I was a summer associate at Weil in 1991, and after I graduated from law school in 1992, I clerked for two years for Judge Lourie on the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Right after my clerkship I started at Weil as a full-time associate in the fall of 1994.
Briefly explain career history and what led you to your current position.
My undergraduate education had a big influence on what I currently do. I received my B.A. from Northwestern University in biochemistry, molecular biology and cellular biology and pursued graduate studies in that field at Princeton University, and I also worked as a researcher for Abbott Laboratories. I considered pursuing a PhD in molecular biology, but decided that I wanted to pursue a career in law but in a way that married my love for science with being a lawyer. I attended The University of Chicago Law School.
When I was deciding on a summer associate program for the summer of 1991, I picked Weil because I loved the culture and also because it was one of the first general practice firms in New York that had developed a patent practice. Now most major law firms have a patent practice, but then most patent legal work was done by patent boutique law firms.
As an associate at Weil, I practiced across all areas of IP, and particularly developed expertise in handling patent litigation and counseling across a wide range of technology areas, with a particular focus on the biological and chemical arts. I was able to incorporate my interest and passion for science and research into my growing patent practice, focusing on pharmaceutical and biotechnology technologies.
I was named partner at Weil in January 2000. Recently, I have had a lead role in numerous high profile cases, representing clients such as Biogen Idec, Medicis Pharmaceuticals, Life Technologies, PDL Biopharma, Apple, Microsoft, and Wake Forest University. I also counsel private equity and venture fund clients where their transactions involve technological IP issues. I love my work and one of my favorite aspects of it is getting to work with scientists and engineers, and experts across various technology areas.
What is your proudest professional achievement and why?
My proudest professional achievement has been to have a career where I can combine my twin passions for science and the law. I enjoy working with scientists and those who are in the forefront of technological developments, and strive to protect and nurture their innovations.
I am also fully committed to pro bono service and devote significant time to matters involving housing discrimination, prisoner rights, and work on behalf of the Innocence Project. I am particularly proud of the capital defense work that I and several other Weil team members did on behalf of an inmate who has been on death row in Alabama since 1992. For our work on this case, the team received the Legal Aid Society’s 2011 Pro Bono Publico Award. Our team also received the Harriett Goldberg Fair Housing Award for our work to promoting fair housing.
In addition, for the past three years I have been teaching a course in biotechnology patent law at New York Law School, something I am very proud of as I consider it a privilege to be able to teach young law students.
What are the greatest challenges that you face in your current role and what do you do to overcome them?
Raising children while pursuing a full-time career in the law has undoubtedly been the greatest challenge I have faced; however, being a mother and having a full-time legal career has also been my greatest reward. Weil has been a very supportive environment for me in continuing to thrive as a lawyer and as a mother.
How difficult is it for you personally to attain work-life balance and how do you endeavour to do this?
Even though my two daughters are now teenagers, I continue to feel the challenges of managing my love for my work with my love for being a Mom. I stay deeply involved in my daughters’ education, and later this year will be joining the board of trustees at their school.
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?
A number of my partners at the Weil have mentored me and continue to do so. During my clerkship, Judge Lourie, the Federal Circuit judge I clerked for after I graduated from law school, was a wonderful mentor. I was honored to be chosen to speak at the unveiling of Judge Lourie’s official court portrait.
How effective do you think corporate diversity initiatives are? What methods do you think are most effective and why?
Weil has a long track record of supporting workplace diversity, and not just for women, that speaks for itself. Weil was a pioneer in creating professional affinity groups at the firm, and Women@Weil, which was established to help the firm’s women achieve their potential both professionally and personally, is among the best. It reaches out to women across all of Weil’s offices, emphasizing mentoring, networking, retention, advancement, business development, and community outreach.
Weil’s firmwide diversity training programs have helped the firm make great strides. Most helpful is the emphasis the training places on increasing awareness and understanding of workplace diversity, but also on developing skills to improve communication among all Weil’s employees.
Were there any points in your career when you felt you were at a disadvantage or at an advantage because you were female?
Rather than pointing to advantages and/or disadvantages, I choose instead to look at the huge changes that have taken place with respect to women in the legal industry during my career. There are a growing number of women who now run legal departments, are heads of litigation practices, are members of law firm management committees, and have become general counsel at their companies. More and more these women, like myself, have reached the top levels of the legal profession and have also raised children.
What do you think have been the most significant changes for women have been in the legal industry over the past five years?
Undoubtedly the increase in the numbers of women in partnerships and senior leadership positions in law firms both in the US and abroad, as well as the growing number of women who are running corporate legal departments and being named general counsel of their companies. Today at Weil, 11 women are committee chairs, office heads, or practice group leaders, and four of the 17 members of the Management Committee are women. These changes and advancements will only continue as currently almost half of Weil’s associates and counsel are women.