©2018. Published in Landslide, Vol. 10, No. 4, March/April 2018, by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association or the copyright holder.
You can’t walk down the street without encountering NIKE—one of the most famous brands in the world. Four talented women are part of the team who protect its brand: Margo Fowler, Chief IP Officer; Jaime Lemons, Global Counsel, Trademark and Copyright; Kristen Downer, Assistant General Counsel, Trademark and IP Director Asia Pacific/Latin America; and Dinisa Folmar, Assistant General Counsel, Trademark and Copyright.
Here’s what it’s like to be in their (Nike) shoes. These are some of their personal experiences working for an iconic brand—inspiration and advice from Nike IP Counsel that is sure to buoy the spirits of other female lawyers entering the practice.
Counsel Should be Part of the Solution Rather than a Roadblock in Achieving Company Goals
I am a big believer in embedding [the IP team] within the business—both the innovation and design communities and the marketing teams. We are one IP team, with transactions, licenses, trademark, and patents all under one umbrella. We manage policy to create an ecosystem where you can connect all of these dots, which allows us to keep a tight communication ring internally. Everybody’s aware of and keeping up with where the company is going—where technology is going—what the challenges are. This allows us to be strategic and to address challenges early.
Every company has business initiatives where maybe one part of the business is an advocate for it and another part of the business may not see the value in the same way. Our IP team works with every group from innovation through product development through marketing and brand, to counterfeiting and brand protection on the tail end. Being horizontal naturally allows us to have an enterprise view. We are able to stitch together groups when one wants to go in one direction that may be different from another. We play the role of bringing it together and doing what is best for the initiative and company as a whole.
Part of our jobs as in-house counsel is to make sure that we bring the right stakeholders to the table from the start. Part of that is knowing your business and who needs to make the decision that you can move forward on. I try to facilitate and help everyone at that table provide feedback in a meaningful and constructive way.
Be Viewed as Part of the Business, Not Just as the Lawyer
If I’m working with the basketball business and they are talking about an athlete, and using only a first name, I want to be someone who knows exactly who they are talking about. Establishing yourself as part of the team builds a threshold of respect and a relationship where legal is viewed as a valuable partner. They know that whatever advice I am going to give is something that’s in the interest of the team, and not from a pure legal lens.”
A Large Part of Managing a Big Brand is Knowing which Fish to Fry
Prioritize When You’re in an In-house Environment
Anybody who goes from a law firm to in-house will tell you the breadth of work that you manage in-house is very different than a law firm where your job is to go deep, really wrangle an issue, and squeeze out every element of it. In-house, your rules are a little different. How do you juggle all of the issues that come across your desk when you have less than perfect information and you have to make good decisions? What we do here is really seek to align our strategy to advance business priorities. We ask: What’s the company trying to achieve? How are we going to get there? And, how are the legal services and the IP services we are providing supporting or advancing that? Some businesses take big risks, some businesses don’t. You have to really understand what the goals are and then be the trusted advisor who lays out the options, risks, and rewards.
When it comes to trademark enforcement, there’s a danger of getting bogged down. I think you can, especially when protecting famous brands, see things out in the marketplace that you may have a knee-jerk reaction to. Bringing a sense of practicality to the table is important. When you’re at Nike, we’re selling in almost every country around the world, and we have a lot of brands. I think it’s important for us to focus mostly on the crown jewels, and our key markets, and place our resources where they have the greatest impact.
Nike moves really fast, and the legal team is asked to move right alongside. In order to do that, sometimes it’s really important to stop to ask some critical questions about what the big picture strategies are. It’s really easy to keep your head down and keep juggling all the little things, but equally important to take a breath and think about why what you are doing matters
Dealing Externally and with Outside Counsel
Know as Much about the Business as Possible
I coordinate the Asia-Pacific and Latin America IP practice for Nike. Like all counsel, we have to trust them and also tell them the nuanced things that Nike needs. We ask a ton of questions, and expect that they have a deep understanding of what’s going on within their market. We don’t know everything about litigation in Peru, for example, but they do. And, when looking for counsel, a good starting point is to assess recommendations from colleagues whose opinions we value. We’ll typically gather a pool of candidates and conduct a series of interviews, so by the time we make a decision about foreign counsel, we know that we’re in good hands. We look for counsel who thinks long-term. Somebody who’s in touch with what’s going on in the field in country and able to give us some of those insights that we, sitting here in Oregon, are not able to see. We want someone who’s in touch with what the local bar association and legal community are talking about and able to share that.
Stay ahead of the curve
Social Media and Emerging Technologies are Key
In recent years, we’ve been spending a lot of time focusing on how to keep the digital marketplace clean, and our approach to protecting and enforcing in a digital age. In the past few years, Nike’s become a digital-first company in our consumer engagement. On the IP team, we need to apply that same strategic lens to our legal work and our business advice.
For the Young Lawyers who Might Follow in “Our” Shoes
There may be people who since they were young have been inspired by the stereotypical lawyer position of a litigator—the lawyers you see in entertainment or the media. Some people may really be drawn to that. But, for those who aren’t quite sure what they want to do, I would really recommend looking for starting places where you can get a broader understanding of the different areas of the law. This lets you really identify what gives you energy in your job; what really motivates you. Finding those areas gets your passion going. You’ll always do better in those roles. I’m of the school of keeping your options open as long as you can.” . Be your ‘authentic self.” It’s always good to take a look and see where you’re working or where you aspire to work and what the personalities are like. Working with people you like is important to your day-to-day enthusiasm in your career.
Network, network, network. I’ve gotten most of my opportunities from relationships I developed throughout my career. I encourage young lawyers to build networks early and be inclusive. Don’t concentrate your efforts solely on those who are in higher positions. I stay connected with former interns, lawyers, and administrative staff, as well as those in leadership or management positions. Others are getting out there; you should too.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask for help. Ask for feedback. I’ve been really fortunate both in private practice and at Nike to have colleagues who were willing to help me and to give feedback. You don’t learn if you’re afraid to ask questions. So, I think at the end of the day, it’s helped make me a better lawyer. It’s also helped make me a better business partner in that I can better understand where the business wants to go. It helps me understand their risk strategies better, and I can really tailor the counseling that I give so it’s more effective. You have a seat at the table, so speak up, use it. Don’t be afraid to make bold moves that may not be fully in your comfort zone. It’s okay to make bold, big moves. Whether that’s taking on a new case, tackling a big problem, or doing something that hasn’t really been done before. Some of the decisions that you need to make can be really high stakes. But you’ve studied hard, you’ve asked questions, you’ve done your research, you’ve put in the work, so have confidence in yourself that you’re giving good counsel.
I encourage people, young women in particular, to build your network, inside and outside. Not just the legal community but the business community too. When you’re at a firm this can sometimes be interpreted as ‘go drum up business,’ but I don’t mean it that way. It’s important to have subject matter expertise, but the way you learn some of this other stuff we are talking about is by being curious and talking to other people outside your traditional network. I think it allows people to grow. I think it’s important to lift out of your day to day, and look for opportunities where you can stretch. Women have professions, they have families, they have commute time. We are connected 24/7 nowadays, and so it’s always a lot to juggle. It’s tough, right? But it’s important to carve out some time for yourself to ask: Am I on the career path I want to be? Am I getting new experiences? Am I growing? And, we lawyers at Nike are also women in sports. I understand many women Fortune 500 CEOs played sports. I love that, and do believe that through sport we can all learn perseverance, resilience, and an understanding that it’s okay to make an error or lose some. We will all have bad days; a bad game. You suffer through the replay tape, and do it again tomorrow. Sports teach you great career and life skills.
Maybe the Best Way to Sum up the Advice from these Expert Women Lawyers?