JD Profiles: A Recap

Law BooksWe’ve heard some feedback that our readers love the JD Profiles but they almost wish the profiles came out less frequently so each profile would get more attention. They mentioned that this isn’t the type of stuff you hear about in law school and there’s only so much time to read in a given day.

So, dear Readers, thank you! We’re listening. Every so often, we’ll return to our archives and remind you what you missed along the way.

JD Profiles: Matt Emmer, Writer, Editor, and Former Communications Attorney

Our first profile is about Matthew Emmer, J.D. turned writer and editor. Matt’s experience in media dates back more than 25 years, including stints at CNN and the Federal Communications Commission. After law school, he worked as a communications lawyer/lobbyist in DC, mainly representing cable companies. He stayed at the same firm throughout his legal career, first as an associate, then as a partner.

JD Profiles: Gyi Tsakalakis, Executive Director, AttorneySync

Today, we are profiling Gyi Tsakalakis, a former Michigan attorney who is taking a break from legal practice to help attorneys build their professional reputations online.  After practicing at a small firm in the suburbs of Detroit, Gyi decided to follow his entrepreneurial instinct and started AttorneySync with a friend from undergrad.  AttorneySync helps law firms build their online presence.

JD Profiles: Kevin Noonan, PhD, Patent Attorney, McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff LLP

Kevin Noonan, Ph.D., is a partner at McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff LLP, an intellectual property boutique with offices in Chicago and Washington State. With a PhD in Molecular Biology from Princeton University, Kevin specializes on biotechnology clients, including hot topics such as gene cloning and gene patenting. Kevin also co-founded the blog Patent Docs, which he manages with Donald Zuhn, Jr. Ph.D., his colleague at MBHB. Kevin talks to us about how a cab driver in New York City decides to become a patent attorney and how teaching and blogging about biotechnology patent law keeps him updated with the current issues affecting his clients.

JD Profiles: Nicole Gesher, Mediator and Owner, Gesher Mediation

Nicole Gesher is a San Francisco based mediator and attorney. She founded Gesher Mediation in February of 2010, where she happily helps resolve conflicts for her clients throughout the Bay Area. While relatively new to the ADR scene (she’s not even 30 years old!), Gesher tied for 2nd place in the Individual Mediator/Arbitrator category in the Recorder’s Best Poll (San Francisco based Legal newspaper – results published 12/6) (PDF). She is currently a panelist for the Bar Association of San Francisco, and the Contra Costa County Superior Court. She is also a volunteer mediator for Community Boards, a local non-profit.

JD Profiles: Megan M. McKeon, Marketing Director, McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff LLP

Megan M. McKeon worked her way through the evening J.D. program at The John Marshall School of Law and graduated in 2004. By day, she worked as a Marketing Magician for Schiff Hardin, an Am Law 200 firm, where she assisted with the firms marketing and recruiting efforts, including handling media relations, drafting external and internal communications, and promoting firm-hosted events. Rather than use her law degree to practice law on a daily basis, Megan continued to work in the marketing department of law firms. Eventually, Megan returned to school and achieved her M.B.A. in Marketing Management and Leadership and Change Management from DePaul University’s Charles H. Kellstadt Graduate School of Business. Today, she applies her legal and business background as Marketing Director for McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff.

JD Profiles: Richard Russeth, Vice President + General Counsel, Leprino Foods Company

Richard Russeth has worked in-house at various multi-national companies in the food industry since his graduation from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1982. In his roles as Assistant General Counsel and General Counsel, his clients may ask him questions relating to employment, intellectual property, or international tax law on any given day. Rather than focusing on one area of the law, Richard has become a rare entity – a self-proclaimed generalist. The Last Generalist talks with us once again about his career path, networking philosophies, technology, and the implications of the Food Safety Modernization Act for FDA lawyers.

JD Profiles: Philip Guzman, Director of Public Service Programs, North Carolina Central University School of Law

Philip Guzman worked in government and private practice before he became the Director of Public Service Programs at North Carolina Central University School of Law. He talks to us about his day-to-day responsibilities in the career services office as well as his career path to his ideal job or, as he calls it, “The Persistent Dream.” (Published in NALP Bulletin, Vol.22, September 2010.)

JD Profiles: Matt Podolnick, Litigation Associate, Aaronson, Rappaport, Feinstein, + Deutsch, LLP

Matt Podolnick graduated from an Ivy League law school. Like many of his classmates, he summered at a high-end litigation boutique in New York and accepted a job there post-graduation. After two years, he decided to head to a medical malpractice firm where he’d get more hands-on experience. He tells us why he never doubts taking a 40% salary cut and why he’s hesitant to want to be Superman.

JD Profiles: Susan Cartier Liebel, Owner, Solo Practice University

Susan Cartier Liebel worked in advertising then sales for ten (10) years before she decided to go to law school. As a law student, she realized there were hardly any resources for anyone who wanted to start their own law practice or learn the business side of running a law practice. She took the initiative, sought out mentors from her clinics and network of contacts, and opened her own law firm with friends from law school shortly after she graduated.  Since then, Susan has successfully practiced as a solo/small firm founder. Based on her own experiences, she started to teach others how to do the same. She served as an adjunct professor at Quinnipiac University’s School of Law and then opened her own consulting firm. About two years ago, Susan brought the idea to a larger scale and started Solo Practice University, the ‘practice of law’ school. Susan talks about her journey and the void SPU fills in legal education.

JD Profiles: Kevin Noonan, PhD, Patent Attorney, McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff LLP

In this new series, we are profiling legal professionals and J.D.s and asking them the hard questions that don’t always get answered in law school. For example, how did they find their job? What do they do on a day-to-day basis? And, was law school a worthwhile investment?

Kevin Noonan, Ph.D., is a partner at McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff LLP, an intellectual property boutique with offices in Chicago and Washington State. With a PhD in Molecular Biology from Princeton University, Kevin specializes on biotechnology clients, including hot topics such as gene cloning and gene patenting. Kevin also co-founded the blog Patent Docs, which he manages with Donald Zuhn, Jr. Ph.D., his colleague at MBHB. Kevin talks to us about how a cab driver in New York City decides to become a patent attorney and how teaching and blogging about biotechnology patent law keeps him updated with the current issues affecting his clients.

RecruiterEsq: Thank you for speaking to us today!

I always wonder how scientists – especially scientists who’ve already achieved their PhD and spent a million years in school – segue over to law. How did you decide to go to law school?

One of the joys of being a scientist is actually doing it – designing experiments, setting up the reactions, doing whatever analysis is appropriate and then interpreting the results. As with many things, that is also one of the problems with science, since it doesn’t always work out the way you expect, and it can be very frustrating when an experiment doesn’t “work” and you can’t figure out why.

But as you progress from graduate student to post-doc to assistant professor, your role changes – professors write grant applications and teach, and because of that you have fewer and fewer opportunities to actually do what drew you into the profession in the first place. For me, I was ready to make that transition in 1990, and the job market was not good, I didn’t get the opportunities I wanted (and I wasn’t the world’s greatest scientist), and the future looked like it wouldn’t be much fun.

I had a friend who had preceded me from the lab into patent law, and I thought it would be a good way to continue to use the science knowledge. Also, by the time I left science I was pretty tired of being poor.

I heard that you were a cab driver at some point in your career? When did that happen? Any life lessons that you learned on the road?

That was over summers and vacations during college. I drove 4pm to 4am in Manhattan, and I learned that the end of the night at most bars is not pretty.

I’m sure you met some very interesting people. On a more serious note, how does your post-graduate work at Princeton, your Postdoctoral Fellowship, or your position at the National Institute of Health help you when representing your clients?

My clients hire me for my legal skills, and the science background gives us something in common. Plus, having a science background gives me the ability to remember biotechnology inventions, since the training gives me a structure and context that helps – I am certainly not unique in this, of course. But it would be a mistake (and it is a common mistake) for anyone to think I am still a scientist. You lose that pretty quickly once you leave the lab.

What are some hot issues that you see in your work?

The hottest issue these days has been the effort of the ACLU to have the courts declare isolated human DNA to be patent-ineligible. It is a hot-button issue because it can be (and has been) cast as a “who owns you” issue, when that isn’t the case at all. But the combination of human genes and disease propensity and corporate ownership/exploitation does rub many people the wrong way. Add to that the arcane nature of patenting and the general lack of technology savvy by most people, it is easy for the emotional argument to prevail. Since I can’t raise a logical argument to refute the “it’s just wrong” tenor of the debate, I try to explain how much worse it would be if genes could not be patented

I recently read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, which is the story about HeLa cells and also Henrietta Lacks, the woman from whom the cells were taken. The book presents the complexity of these issues. Speaking of books, I’ve seen cloning or genetic issues referenced lately in pop culture. For example, in Gary Shyteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story: A Novel, the main character works for a company called Indefinite Life Extension. Lawyers and doctors know that pop culture doesn’t always reflect reality. What issues does pop culture fail to convey in regards to genetics, patents, or pharmaceutical innovation?

It is easy to make corporations, particularly drug companies, to be the bad guys, and as with anything involving humans there are things that can be criticized in any corporation. But I have many start-up biotech companies (where a lot of innovation occurs), and universities as my clients, and patenting helps those people protect their IP during the very long time it takes to go from a result or observation at the benchtop to a commercial product. While it is true that these companies and their investors want to make money, it is also these folks who take very great risks associated with developing cutting-edge technologies, under circumstances where everything can go belly-up with the results of a clinical study 10 years (and hundreds of millions of dollars) after the project started. While generic drug companies have their place in reducing costs, they rarely produce new drugs. The public has no idea how much it costs and how risky it is to innovate in this area; they just want medicine to make themselves, their kids or their elderly parents better. I understand that, but it isn’t reality to ignore the details behind producing new drugs.

You maintain Patent Docs with Donald Zuhn, Jr. Ph.D., another McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff patent attorney. How did you decide to start blogging? Was it a decision between the two of you? Was your firm involved in the decision?

Dennis Crouch, author of the Patently-O blog (and a big supporter) was an associate at our firm when he started his blog. Don and I talked about a biotech-specific one, but I have zero ability to get something like that off the ground technically. Don is good at that, and he does all the administrative stuff. We kid each other about who came up with the name Patent Docs, but the logo was my idea.

Dennis Crouch is one of my own inspirations! (I give a nod to Patently-O’s Job Board on my own job board.) That’s really awesome that MBHB has that type of environment where it encourages its attorneys to blog or try new things. While you and Don may have started Patent Docs, other MBHB attorneys now contribute as well. How does your team manage the blog? Is there a schedule for posting?

We wish more of the biotech attorneys would blog – it has a number of advantages. First, it keeps your head in the game – between Federal Circuit decisions, PTO actions and proposed rules, patent reform and other bills in Congress, and hot topics like gene patenting, writing for the blog makes you pay attention. It also makes you think about the law and developments in ways that helps in our practice. And it sharpens writing skills that we don’t always use – you need to be able to write a story that will be understandable to people who don’t want to invest the time to read every decision, but want a heads-up on those things they should pay more attention to.

I agree. The tough part about blogging is finding the time to read the news and write an interesting synopsis or opinion or sticking on a schedule. Unfortunately, some of the benefits of blogging are not easily discernible on a financial statement – it’s hard to quantify some of the benefits you mentioned, for example. On the topic of time management, how many hours per week do you dedicate to Patent Docs? How many of those hours are spent creating content?

Everything I do on the blog is creative – Don does all the boring stuff, as well as putting out a topics list on a fairly regular basis. I guess I spend 10-15 hours a week, and Don spends more.

Patent Docs uses TypePad (one of our affiliates!). How did you decide on that as your content management system?

You’ll have to ask Don, but I think it has to do with being able to handle our content – we illustrate almost every post with some kind of graphic (which was an idea from a former associate and author, Jason Derry), and we need to be able to get comments on the blog as well. TypePad seems to fit our needs.

Are any other individuals at MBHB involved with the blog, e.g., marketing or IT?

Megan McKeon, our firm’s Marketing Director, has been helpful with getting us in touch with vendors for mugs and other give-aways, and we link the blog to the firm’s website.

As one of the original group of MBHB attorneys, what advice do you have for an attorney who wants to open up his/her own firm?

Think about it long and hard. The grass always looks greener, and while things have turned out pretty well for us, it was tough at the beginning – like walking across a minefield carrying a dozen eggs on a plate. You have to do all the transitioning, including getting all the systems up to speed, etc., all the while being sure the client’s interests are protected. Even the logistics can be a problem – I received a file late on a Friday night that had a deadline in Asia on Monday morning = Sunday night here. If I hadn’t gone back to check what had come over in the late shipment, there could have been a problem. So if you do want to head out on your own, prepare, prepare, prepare.

Do you think being part of a team helped during those first few entrepreneurial years?

Well, we all pulled together (we still do) and it was fun in the days where we could all fit around a conference table. But I think we have tried to keep that entrepreneurial spirit alive.

You have a great list of resources on your site, especially other patent sites. What websites do you visit on a daily basis?

CAFC, Patently-O, PTO, NYT, Washington Post, CNN, and I get a lot of e-mail from biotech-specific sites.

You now teach a course on Biotechnology Patent law at DePaul University College of Law. Did you approach the school with your course or how did your adjunct professorship begin?

Professor Kwall visited us when we had just started the firm, and at the time I was helping John McDonnell teach a course at John Marshall. So it was a natural extension of that experience.

How does teaching biotechnology patent law complement your practice?

As with the blog, it keeps you on your toes – especially these days, there are a lot of cases (and not just biotech cases) that affect how and what I teach. It also makes you understand the issues and the cases, and since my class is very interactive I need to be able to answer (and ask) interesting questions.

Finally, if you had to do it all again, would you become a lawyer?

Like most people, I think it would be nice to have a trust fund. But lawyering is fun and I am glad I did it.

Thank you very much, Kevin!


Kevin Noonan, Ph.D., practices patent law at McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff LLP where he focuses on clients in the biotechnology, chemical, and pharmaceutical industries. Kevin co-founded Patent Docs, a biotech and pharma bio news blog. You can follow the Patent Docs team on Twitter.

JD Profiles: Matt Emmer, Writer, Editor, and Former Communications Attorney

In this new series, we are profiling legal professionals and J.D.s and asking them the hard questions that don’t always get answered in law school. For example, how did they find their job? What do they do on a day-to-day basis? And, was law school a worthwhile investment?

Our first profile is about Matthew Emmer, J.D. turned writer and editor. Matt’s experience in media dates back more than 25 years, including stints at CNN and the Federal Communications Commission. After law school, he worked as a communications lawyer/lobbyist in DC, mainly representing cable companies. He stayed at the same firm throughout his legal career, first as an associate, then as a partner.

Around three years ago, Matt changed directions and started his own business, Matthew D. Emmer Communications.  Today, he uses the writing and editing skills he honed as a lawyer to assist clients with their writing and editing needs.  He handles everything from online articles to blogs to graphic novels, and even video game design and development.  As LA County Political Buzz columnist for Examiner.com, he covers issues of interest to California, including the 2010 elections, global warming, hybrid and electric vehicles, marijuana legalization, and same-sex marriage.

RecruiterEsq: Thanks for speaking with us Matt! So, why did you decide to go to law school?

Matthew Emmer:  I had worked at a law firm one summer during college and enjoyed it, and then I worked at CNN the following summer. I had a real passion for communications, and CNN offered me a permanent job, but at the time, they were starting everyone as low-paid video jocks. My interest was not on the production side of things. So I thought that combining my communications and law interests would be a good solution.

Did you know you wanted to practice media/communications law when you went to law school or how did that come about?

I knew that’s what I wanted from the get-go. One reason why I went to Boston University for law school was that B.U. also had an excellent College of Communication, and a longer joint J.D./M.S. Communications degree program that involved both schools. I applied and was accepted into the program, but when I asked attorneys about it, all of them said that it would be better to graduate law school on time with just a J.D. and get out into the real world. So I did that, although I took as many electives in the College of Communication as I could, got law school credit for them, and really liked those classes.

Media or communications law is one of those ‘sexy’ practice areas. As in, it sounds cool to say, “I’m a communications lawyer.” I assume you get to work with hot issues that are more interesting than municipal tax, for example. For this reason, I’d think it would be tough to find a job in law school in this practice area. How did you get your position as a law clerk at the FCC?

It was tough. At the time, there were only about 1,500 members of the Federal Communications Bar Association, who practiced in this field. Now there are probably ten times that amount. I applied for the FCC job, and I’m sure the previous CNN job and B.U. Law School/College of Communication classes stood out somewhat as both academic and real-world experience.

Is that what led to your first associate job? Was it through connections or did you apply with a formal cover letter?

I applied with a formal cover letter, with various firms, companies, and organizations that were involved in communications, mostly television. And then, after taking the bar exam, I went off on a bicycling trip down the coast of California. When I returned, I had some messages asking me to schedule interviews. So when people ask me how I got my job, I say that I went on a bike trip. I’m not sure if that helps them too much.

Funny! Well, I’m sure the exercise took your mind off the pressures of job-searching. So, at this time, you’re a recent law school graduate beginning your legal career as a media/communications lawyer. For people who are interested in this field, what did you do on a daily basis?

It was a mix of several things. Part of it was lobbying and policy work, especially before the FCC, as well as the U.S. Copyright Office. Part of it was transactional work, such as sales and mergers. And part of it was regulatory compliance. The most enjoyable part for me was persuasive writing, which I got to do every day, whether that was in a 3-page letter or a 200-page policy paper.

Without breaching any confidentiality and speaking in general terms, who were your clients and what were the issues they faced?

They were mostly large and mid-sized media companies, many with very recognizable names. They faced large policy issues, for example, the creation and then implementation of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which affected everything from cable television content to the then-burgeoning Internet. They also faced many business disputes, such as some of the high-profile cases you read about now involving television content providers turning off their signals to cable operators, usually right before major sports events like the baseball playoffs, because the two sides can’t agree on price. And the clients faced many day-to-day compliance issues, such as how high their antenna tower can be so that airplanes don’t crash into it.

After 18 years of practicing, how did you decide to transition to a full-time writing career?

As I indicated earlier, persuasive writing was my favorite part of my attorney job. I had also acquired rigorous editing skills along the way, which you usually can’t help acquiring if you’re a lawyer. Moreover, I had been doing the same thing in the same city for a long time, at a time when multiple career changes for adults were becoming much more commonplace. And finally, you may recall that the 2008 recession didn’t happen all at once. In many industries, there had been a slow decline for a number of years, which affected many people in the legal and communications fields, as well as many others. Just take a look at the stock market during the years leading up to the recession. So everything kind of came to together in a perfect storm. I ended up not only changing careers, not only working for myself, but also moving across the country from the Washington, DC area to the Southern California beach, which is something I had dreamed about doing since that bike trip.

That’s an awesome story arc. No wonder you’re a writer. As a writer and editor, what is a typical weekly schedule for you?

It varies each week depending on the workload, deadlines, and even late-breaking developments. I try to set my own hours where possible and work when I’m most creative, which includes late night hours. I’m sure I work 6 days a week on average, including covering and attending certain events. But everyone I know works hard, which is why I think it’s important to work on things that you feel passionate about, whether it’s the law, teaching, or something else. Last week, for example, I covered the L.A. Auto Show on Press Day, focusing on the new hybrid and electric cars, and edited a video game development document tied to a sci-fi, futuristic graphic novel. It was a lot of work, but lots of fun too.

Writing is a competitive field. It’s definitely not easy. Do you think your legal background is an asset when working with clients?

When working with clients, my legal background is a most valuable asset. In particular, negotiation becomes second nature for many attorneys, and it did for me. Likewise, I think law school and legal work gives many attorneys skills in clear thinking, analysis, and level-headed judgment. Those skills are invaluable not just in working with clients, where it’s important to stand your ground and be assertive, yet not turn every disagreement into a fight, but in everyday situations as well. Buying a car. Handling a dispute with your phone or credit card company. I’m extremely grateful for my legal background.

How does your experience as a lawyer help you in your writing career?

Aside from the negotiation skills, my legal experience gave me the writing and editing tools to take on my new career. I’m not trained as a journalist, but I thought, if I could communicate to prospective clients just how rigorous and technical legal research, writing, and editing is, then perhaps I could convince them that I was the right person to assist them. And thus far, it has worked pretty well. Despite all the lawyer jokes, there is a level of prestige associated with the legal profession, and I think it’s tied to our abilities to read, analyze, explain, write, and edit a wide variety of materials, including “terms of use” agreements that many people now encounter on the Internet.

For example, in my side project as the L.A. County Political Buzz reporter at Examiner.com, many of the issues I write about are generated from developments in the law, such as California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, or court cases, such as the ongoing “Proposition 8″ case regarding the legality of gay marriage in California. I was recently interviewed on a podcast regarding the Prop 8 case. I don’t see how a non-attorney, even one who regularly covers politics, could possibly read, digest, and quickly and clearly explain new developments regarding legislation or court cases the way someone with a legal background can.

Here you are, you practiced law for almost 20 years, then you decided to start your own business. What skills did you have to learn from scratch?

As with many people running their own business, I am not just providing the underlying service, but I am also my own head of marketing and my own IT guy. I certainly wouldn’t work without having a second, backup computer, in case something goes wrong technically when I’m on a deadline, which has happened.

What did your legal background NOT prepare you for?

Did I mention marketing? That’s something that lawyers in private practice have to do, it’s something that many people in many fields nowadays have to do, but not everyone receives training in this area. I do think that many workers in numerous fields, including attorneys, need to think of themselves as entrepreneurs who, beneath it all, are selling themselves as a product or brand. With our modern economy resulting in frequent corporate changes, long-term careers at one organization are mostly a thing of the past, and, for most people, those marketing skills will be called upon sooner or later, probably sooner.

Do you think law firm marketing materials – web copy, brochures, lawyer profiles – should be an in-house or outside job?

Of course, I think it should be an outside job. Then again, I may be biased, since law firms can hire me to do it.

As a writer and communication strategist, what would be your advice to law firms regarding their online presence and content?

If you’re not in the 21st Century, it’s time to get there. I’m sure things are improving, but I fear that some lawyers and law firms still like to do things the old-fashioned way, and by “old-fashioned,” I mean 18th Century, with powdered wigs. I read and/or write enough online articles and blogs each day to know that most consumers, including clients for legal services, are quite used to modern, even edgy, forms of communication and marketing. Thus, while I’m sure there are exceptions, it could be quite off-putting for consumers to spend time on the Internet each day, and then see law firm marketing materials that look like something from a Charles Dickens novel.

Thank you again for speaking to us!

Thank you, that was very enjoyable!


You can reach Matt by e-mail, read his column, or connect with him on LinkedIn.