Patents play a key role in protecting the investments life sciences companies make in creating new drugs, medical devices, and methods for diagnosis of disease.
When those investments come under attack, firms rely on knowledgeable attorneys like Dr. Erica J. Pascal ’06 to navigate the waters of patent litigation.
Pascal, who holds advanced degrees in biology and biochemistry from MIT and UC Berkeley, appreciates the “in the trenches” approach to law school she found at California Western School of Law, which allowed her to hit the ground running and quickly rise to partner in the Patent Litigation Group at DLA Piper, the largest global law firm in the world, and one of the largest firms in San Diego.
“I like how professors used their own professional experience in the classroom,” she says. “It was great for someone like me who planned to go straight into practice.”
Pascal worked as a scientist in the field of biotechnology for 15 years before enrolling at California Western. She enjoyed the hands-on approach to courses such as Civil Procedure with Professor Marilyn Ireland, Evidence with Professor William Lynch, and Evidence Advocacy with Distinguished Practitioner Mario Conte.
“I loved learning the rules of evidence and how they can be applied in strategic litigation,” Pascal says. “The professors used practical examples to illustrate why we were learning what we were learning.”
Today, Pascal helps well-known pharmaceutical, diagnostic, and medical device companies such as Biogen Idec, CareFusion, Luminex, Covidien, and AbbVie exercise their intellectual property and defend their products against claims of patent infringement.
“There are plenty of circumstances between companies where they recognize the scope of what each side has contributed.” she says. “When that doesn’t work out, you can end up in litigation. At the end of the day, you want both sides to come to an amicable agreement but sometimes they can’t, so you rely on a judge and jury to decide.”
While attorneys working in patent litigation don’t need a science background, Pascal says it is helpful.
“But if you are not interested in science or technology, don’t go into patent law,” she says with a laugh.
She recommends that students interested in pursuing this growing area of law find something extra they can add to their resume, whether that is an advanced science degree, practical experience in the industry, exemplary law school grades, or all of the above.
“You need to do really well in school,” Pascal says. “Firms that handle significant amounts of patent litigation tend to be very large national or global firms. You are competing with law students and graduates all over the country. These days the job market is really tight. You have to excel at what you do.”
She recommends that students take advantage of California Western’s strong clinical placement programs—as she did working with the late U.S. District Court Judge Rudi M. Brewster—and other professional networking opportunities.
“California Western connected me with an organization called the Inns of Court,” she recalls. “The Clifford J. Wallace Inn in Carmel Valley accepts students from local law schools. When you are there, they don’t treat you any differently than the attorneys. You are in small groups working on presentations and attending dinners and social hours with partners and judges. It gives you an appreciation for what the community is like, as well as a lot of contacts.”
Pascal recommends California Western for working professionals because of its strong part-time program.
“California Western is one of the best, law schools for continuing students. “You can serve on Law Review, participate in moot court, join pro bono activities, and have a full law school experience,” she says.