Roberta Jacobs-Meadway, Equity Partner, Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, LLC
How long have you been working for your current company?
I have been at Eckert Seamans for a little over four years.
Briefly explain your career history and what led you to your current position.
I started as a summer associate in an IP boutique, Seidel, Gonda and Goldhammer, in 1974. I worked there through my third year of law school and was hired as an associate on graduation from Rutgers in 1975. I was the first woman associate and the second associate with no technical background.
I became a partner in the firm in 1981 – the first woman partner. In 1983, with three partners we left the Seidel firm (then Seidel, Gonda, Goldhammer & Panitch) to form Panitch Schwarze Jacobs & Nadel. The firm grew from six attorneys to around 30 when it was merged into Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in October 1999.
I left Akin Gump in March 2001 to join Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll. I was at Ballard Spahr until the opportunity to join Eckert Seamans arose to assist in the development of the IP practice in Philadelphia, and to work with a number of attorneys in the litigation and business divisions at Eckert I had known for many years.
What is your proudest professional achievement and why?
I am proudest of receiving the Anne X. Alpern award from the Pennsylvania Bar Association Commission On Women In The Profession because it reflects my commitment to mentoring women in the profession, not simply my longevity.
What are the greatest challenges that you face in your current role and what do you do to overcome them?
The greatest challenges are still working on the right balance between work, business development and mentoring, and my responsibilities within the firm on the one hand, and my role in my family on the other hand, and my role in the community, on the third hand. How many hands is that (and counting)?
How difficult is it for you personally to attain work-life balance and how do you endeavour to do this?
I do not sleep much. The truth is, I have tremendous support from my husband, who is also a lawyer, and have for thirty years. Our son has also been very supportive, and has served as a reverse mentor for me in a variety of contexts. I have solid support within the firm. So the answer is, I rely on many people for help in a variety of different ways.
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?
I have had many mentors and role models along the way. My first mentor was a history professor at Bryn Mawr, J.H.M. Salmon. Jock was my toughest critic and biggest booster. If he had not told me he would not take me back in the history department for graduate studies, I might not have found my way through law school to my next mentor, Art Seidel. Art was the dean of the Philadelphia IP bar and an incredible teacher. I cannot say he was in all respects a role model, but he taught me a great deal not just about the practice of law but about working with clients and colleagues and others. After that, many of my mentoring relationships have been outside of my firm, and with non-lawyers, and with younger attorneys. I try to be opportunistic in finding people from whom I can learn.
How effective do you think corporate diversity initiatives are? What methods do you think are most effective and why?
I think corporate diversity initiatives are diverse. Some have been more effective than others. Corporations have generally been more effective in diversity initiatives than law firms have been and I think that reflects a greater understanding of a need to employ all available talent, and to reach out to people who can better speak to the needs of the customer or target market. Characterize it any number of ways, but we live with a global economy where people work differently, buy differently, have different expectations and habits, depending on culture and circumstances. Having a broader base of talent creates new opportunities and can help avoid missed opportunities. The most effective methods will vary, but what is important is that there be a commitment from the leadership. The diversity committee has to have executive representation to be effective, in my experience, and it has to have goals that are periodically reviewed to assess progress toward the goals.
The other thing is that recruiting is only a step in a process. Retention and development of the people recruited are the key; and, for that, there needs to be an understanding of what critical areas are needed, what sort of support is needed, what sort of mentoring. And the support and the mentoring may come from within the organization, or from outside it.
Were there any points in your career when you felt you were at a disadvantage or at an advantage because you were female?
When I was younger, and looked much younger, I found opposing counsel did not always take me seriously. I could use that to my advantage.
When I had more experience, and looked my age, I did not have that particular advantage anymore, but I did have the experience.
What do you think have been the most significant changes for women in the legal industry over the past five years?
The abundance of technology has made it possible to work remotely and efficiently on a less-fixed schedule. This benefits all attorneys, and particularly younger attorneys who have more facility with some of the newer tools. The number of women in the profession, and a shared understanding of the issues women in particular deal with has provided a broader pool of mentors and role models than I could have imagined when I was a new associate.
The growth of organizations like the Women In the Profession Commission of the Pennsylvania Bar provide wonderful opportunities for women to learn from each other and network.