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Laural S. Boone

Laural S. Boone, who has a PhD in organic chemistry, is a rare specimen in a New York international law firm. Dr. Boone is an associate in White & Case’s New York office and currently practices intellectual property litigation. Her practice focuses primarily on patent litigation, and includes related transactional work in due diligence and research collaboration agreements.

 

Attorneys often joke that they went to law school to avoid the advanced math and science of medical school. Laural S. Boone, who has a PhD in organic chemistry, is a rare specimen in a New York international law firm. Dr. Boone is an associate in White & Case’s New York office and currently practices intellectual property litigation. Her practice focuses primarily on patent litigation, and includes related transactional work in due diligence and research collaboration agreements. Here, Dr. Boone offers insight to pursuing a career in intellectual property law (IP) and strategies for being a working mother.

How did you make the transition from being a Chemistry professor to a law firm associate?

I did my science work on auto pilot. I went to graduate school and then earned a post doctorate degree. I then got a job as an instructor and I thought, you know what, “I don’t want to do this.”

Because I’m a researcher, I started talking to people every day, I cold-called friends, and friends of friends and asked them what they did with a PhD and I considered a lot of different things. I looked at library school, medical school, business school, freelance science writing and I talked to people about what they did in those areas.

I talked to PhDs who did patent law and they described patent law as all the fun of science and none of the bad stuff. (It’s called research because you have to do experiments over and over again; the more interesting the problem, the less likely that the experiment will end in success.) People suggested that patent law was not only fun, but that I could also get a law firm to pay for my law school tuition.

The law firm of Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, LLP paid for my law degree while I attended George Washington University’s night law school program, which has a highly ranked patent law program.

What does a patent and intellectual property litigation associate do?

My roles depend on the partner who is in charge. In big litigations I work with expert witnesses, typically patent experts and scientific experts, so I work with chemists and biologists and medical doctors. I am responsible for contacting them, vetting their conflicts, helping them edit their expert reports, preparing them for depositions, taking their depositions, and defending our experts’ depositions.

For due diligence operations, the main partner is going to be in merger and acquisitions or in banking. They will handle all of the high level billion-dollar conversations. They’ll call me in and say, “This company has intellectual property. Tell me what they own, if they own it, if there are any issues I should be aware of as we’re discussing the merger or acquisition.”

Can an attorney who does not have a science background transition into intellectual property law?

What got me into intellectual property law (IP) were not necessarily my science degrees, but sheer perseverance. It was a hard sell to cold-call law firms asking them to pay for my legal education when I had a PhD from the University of Chicago, a post doctorate at Rockefeller University, and was a science professor. Most firms’ initial reaction was, “You don’t want to practice law.”

If you’re a mid-level associate and you really want to do IP litigation you certainly don’t have to have a science background. Remember, neither juries nor judges are going to have PhDs. So, the fact that I can talk high-level science with experts makes it easier for me to talk to them, but it is not required.

An associate without a science background would have a hard time if they wanted to do patent prosecution (obtaining patents from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office) because for that you do need an undergraduate degree in a science.

As for litigation, if I have someone who is interested in working on a case with science issues and they’re not going to go “Oh yuck” when we talk about chemistry, I can teach them all the chemistry they are ever going to need to know. None of the partners have PhDs, so an advanced degree in science is not a requirement.

Do you belong to any professional organizations that support your work and career?

I have been a member of the American Intellectual Property Law Association, New York Intellectual Property Association. I have always been a member of the American Chemical Society.

What’s been the most help recently is the New York City Bar because their meeting house is just down the street from my office, and they have very interesting women’s bar association events. I recently attended a Women in Litigation series breakfast. One of the judges that my pro bono case was in front of was a speaker at the breakfast. (I did a pro bono stint with In Motion that White & Case paid for where I was an extern for three months.) The other judge there had a science background and had heard quite a few patent law cases. It was interesting to hear the judges’ take on being litigators and how things have changed over the last 20 years. It was interesting to hear their advice, particularly for female litigators.

What is your next career move?

My family jokes that I’m going to try medical school. I have a 19 month old son, so I already have another job. I consider myself a New Yorker by choice, not by birth. (I’m originally from southern California.) New York is a great place to be a working parent because I am 10 minutes away from my son at any time. I have made emergency runs to the pediatrician and come back to work afterward. You do triage on time. I minimize my commute time so that I can maximize my time to do other things.

Interview with Laural Boone conducted by Natalie Holder-Winfield of the Committee on Career Advancement and Management