San Diego Business Journal

Billable hours, deadlines, verdicts coming in.

It's amazing that lawyers have any time left over for extracurricular activities. But many of them manage civic pursuits along with the civil suits and criminal cases.

Regina Petty, for instance, just joined the board of the national Minority Corporate Counsel Association, an advocacy group dedicated to the hiring, retention and promotion of minority attorneys in corporate law departments and the law firms that serve them.

A partner with Wilson Petty Kosmo & Turner in San Diego, Petty is the only board member in private practice, the others being in-house general counsels.

How are minorities faring in the legal profession these days?

"The number of attorneys of color in the profession has improved over the last 20 years," she said. "But we are still striving to establish a consistently broad diversity in corporate law departments and law firms that represent corporate interests."

Petty remembers what it was like when she started interviewing with law firms after graduating from Stanford Law School in 1982.

"There were two concerns from some firms that I, and my peers, encountered in the interviewing process," she said. "Skepticism that attorneys of color were interested in corporate areas of practice, as opposed to civil rights, criminal or family law areas, and the concern that there would be client resistance. They were sincerely held perceptions, but they were unjustified."

She ended up at what was then Gray, Cary, Ames & Frye, which already had two attorneys of color on board.

"So, I wasn't a trailblazer," she said.

But, even in enlightened environments, said Petty, no situation is going to be perfect.

"When you hit a bump in the road, as long as you can communicate your concerns, these can be successfully addressed. You will encounter at times situations where people have stereotypes they learned long ago and didn't have the opportunity to address. It's not malicious, it's just insensitivity that can be remedied through education," she said.

What has been a greater challenge: race or gender?

"While I was still in law school, my expectation was that gender would be more of a factor than race," she said.

That proved to be true, said Petty, adding that much work remains to be done, in race and gender.

"I think, looking at the data today, with women attorneys of color, in the highest ranks of the legal profession, there is cause for very serious concern," she observed.

"I have not personally hit a glass ceiling. I have been very fortunate in that regard. But that doesn't mean there isn't a glass ceiling in corporate America or within the legal profession."

But with the efforts of MCCA and others going on throughout the country, Petty said she is optimistic that progress will continue to be made.

Stacy L. Fode, an employment law and business litigation attorney with the Brown Law Group in San Diego, was recently elected president of the Lawyers Club of San Diego. Comprised of about 1,400 male and female lawyers, judges and law students, the group's goal is to advance the status of women in the law and society. The club offers opportunities for networking, business development, community work and social events.

For women, especially those trying to achieve a work/family balance, it's tough to break into certain bastions of the legal profession, Fode said.

"It's still an old boys network, definitely. With work/family balance type issues, litigation is really, really a challenge on a part-time schedule," she said. "Corporate law is still male-dominated, and real estate law tends to be more of a men's field."

But, she said, with men and women now graduating in equal numbers from law school, Fode expects that to change. And the increase of female judges on the bench also might make litigation a more viable option for those who want more of a work/family balance.

"I don't think it's only a women's issue," said Fode. "A lot of men want more balance too, to care for their elderly parents or their own children. But it's primarily women."

Michelle Park, an attorney with Littler Mendelson in San Diego, was recently named president of the Pan Asian Lawyers of San Diego.

The organization, which now has about 200 members, promotes cultural awareness, community involvement and offers pro bono legal services. Also a big hit are the mixers between judges and law students.

"It's nice to be able to network and mentor through judges," said Park. "You build friendships and collegiality."

A big event she's shepherding is a judge/law student mixer combined with a tsunami fund-raiser scheduled from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. April 7 at the W Hotel in Downtown San Diego.

"We've gotten tremendous support," said Park. "I hope we get more corporate donors."

As for promoting cultural awareness, Park recalled her stint a few years back as a villager in a San Diego Opera production of "Madame Butterfly."

"It made the show more authentic, and it was an enjoyable experience to go behind the scenes," she said. "I showed up with three other attorneys and a judge. We were running around in our kimonos. From 9 to 5, I was an attorney working my billable-hour day, with pleadings and motions, and at 5, I get my hair and wig and makeup and I was a villager!"

- - -

Something Ventured: In the last three months, the San Diego office of Morrison & Foerster has worked with companies and investors in Southern California in raising millions in venture capital financing, according to a company spokeswoman.

In December, the office represented Kanisa Pharmaceuticals, Inc., a specialty pharmaceutical company in San Diego, in a $22 million Series A preferred stock financing with investors New Enterprise Associates, InterWest Partners and Montreux Equity Partners.

In January, it represented Forward Ventures, Boston Millennia Partners and CMEA Ventures in a $43 million Series C preferred stock financing by Predix Pharmaceuticals Holdings, Inc., a drug development company based in Boston.

In February, the office advised SolarFlare Communications, Inc., an Irvine-based fabless semiconductor company, in connection with a $48 million Series A-1 preferred stock financing with investors Oak Investment Partners, Anthem Ventures, Foundation Capital Partners and Miramar Venture Partners.

Jay de Groot is chairman of the firm's San Diego Corporate Practice Group and co-chairman of the firmwide Emerging Company and Venture Capital Practice.

- - -

Raiders Of The Lost IP: Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe LLP on March 8 announced the addition of three intellectual property shareholders to the firm's San Diego office , all of them from Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker.

John M. Benassi, former co-chairman of Paul Hastings' worldwide IP group, has experience in state and federal courts involving technology, ranging from Internet commerce and semiconductors to medical devices and biotech.

A graduate of George Washington University Law School, cum laude, he has been recognized by Woodward/White as one of the "Best Lawyers in America" and is listed in the Guide to the World's Leading Patent Law Experts.

Jessica M. Wolff, a graduate of UCLA, advises pharmaceutical and biotech companies. She received a master's degree in organic chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and worked as a research scientist at Duke University Medical School before attending law school.

Kurt R. Kjelland, a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, cum laude, focuses on litigating intellectual property cases, particularly patent cases involving biotech, chemical products and medical devices.

In February, it was announced that Baker & McKenzie LLP had hired six attorneys from Paul Hastings for its own San Diego IP practice.

Contact Pat Broderick at pbroderick@sdbj.com or call her at (858) 277-6359, Ext. 3112.