Sidebars

April Abele Isaacson: Rising Above, Instructions Not Included

April 22, 2021 Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP Season 1 Episode 3
Sidebars
April Abele Isaacson: Rising Above, Instructions Not Included
Chapters
Sidebars
April Abele Isaacson: Rising Above, Instructions Not Included
Apr 22, 2021 Season 1 Episode 3
Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP

April Abele Isaacson has 25 years of experience as a trial lawyer and a registered United States patent attorney. Before starting her legal career, April earned a MS in Pharmacological and Physiological Sciences and was an HIV/AIDS research scientist at Boston Children’s Hospital. This technical background plays a significant role in her success as a patent litigator who focuses her practice on pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and chemical patent litigation, particularly on behalf of drug innovators. Her patent litigation experience includes trying cases in several federal district courts throughout the United States, as well as appeals before the Federal Circuit, representing both plaintiffs and defendants. April also counsels biopharma companies on patent and related regulatory issues, including patent portfolio strategy, litigation preparation and strategy, licensing, patent term extension strategy, and Orange Book patent listing and Use Code strategy. April’s experience also includes a 5-year stint as in-house counsel at a public specialty pharmaceutical company, and serving as a U.S. Navy JAG Corps prosecutor where she won several high-profile jury cases and earned multiple achievement medals and letters of commendation for superior service and leadership. 

April’s career is a truly her own creation, and her success is built on grit, tenacity, and love of learning. At every turn, she bet on herself and did the hard work that opened new doors. In this episode, April shares her journey and the forces that shaped her life and her career – from mental illness in her family to a changing political landscape in the country to the crucible of serving in the Navy. She also shares how determination and focusing on being her best self allowed her to build a bespoke career that fits her perfectly and that she loves – a career that didn’t come with an instruction manual. 

Highlights include:

  • Why 1984 was the perfect year to attend a Seven Sisters college (2:00) 
  • Embracing culture shock (4:35)
  • Finding your tribe (6:38)
  • Leaving it all on the (track-and-)field (7:42)
  • Spurning an athletic scholarship (10:13)
  • The invaluable support of others when there’s no family support to lean on (12:14)
  • How Shirley Chisholm derailed plans for medical school (15:06)
  • Letting go of other people’s dreams and expectations and finding your own (20:53)
  • Creating a Master's degree in a school that doesn’t award them (24:16)
  • Hello, law school, Hello Nashville (27:42)
  • Growing as a leader and a litigator through the Navy JAG Corp experience (30:43)
  • Cross-country and cross-careers: the move to California and to patent litigation (37:21)
  • The generational shift from women competing against each other to a collaborative, symbiotic approach (42:27)
  •  Getting ahead in life does not require a “sharp elbows” mentality (45:45)
Show Notes Transcript

April Abele Isaacson has 25 years of experience as a trial lawyer and a registered United States patent attorney. Before starting her legal career, April earned a MS in Pharmacological and Physiological Sciences and was an HIV/AIDS research scientist at Boston Children’s Hospital. This technical background plays a significant role in her success as a patent litigator who focuses her practice on pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and chemical patent litigation, particularly on behalf of drug innovators. Her patent litigation experience includes trying cases in several federal district courts throughout the United States, as well as appeals before the Federal Circuit, representing both plaintiffs and defendants. April also counsels biopharma companies on patent and related regulatory issues, including patent portfolio strategy, litigation preparation and strategy, licensing, patent term extension strategy, and Orange Book patent listing and Use Code strategy. April’s experience also includes a 5-year stint as in-house counsel at a public specialty pharmaceutical company, and serving as a U.S. Navy JAG Corps prosecutor where she won several high-profile jury cases and earned multiple achievement medals and letters of commendation for superior service and leadership. 

April’s career is a truly her own creation, and her success is built on grit, tenacity, and love of learning. At every turn, she bet on herself and did the hard work that opened new doors. In this episode, April shares her journey and the forces that shaped her life and her career – from mental illness in her family to a changing political landscape in the country to the crucible of serving in the Navy. She also shares how determination and focusing on being her best self allowed her to build a bespoke career that fits her perfectly and that she loves – a career that didn’t come with an instruction manual. 

Highlights include:

  • Why 1984 was the perfect year to attend a Seven Sisters college (2:00) 
  • Embracing culture shock (4:35)
  • Finding your tribe (6:38)
  • Leaving it all on the (track-and-)field (7:42)
  • Spurning an athletic scholarship (10:13)
  • The invaluable support of others when there’s no family support to lean on (12:14)
  • How Shirley Chisholm derailed plans for medical school (15:06)
  • Letting go of other people’s dreams and expectations and finding your own (20:53)
  • Creating a Master's degree in a school that doesn’t award them (24:16)
  • Hello, law school, Hello Nashville (27:42)
  • Growing as a leader and a litigator through the Navy JAG Corp experience (30:43)
  • Cross-country and cross-careers: the move to California and to patent litigation (37:21)
  • The generational shift from women competing against each other to a collaborative, symbiotic approach (42:27)
  •  Getting ahead in life does not require a “sharp elbows” mentality (45:45)
April Isaacson:

Welcome to Sidebars, Kilpatrick Townsend's limited podcast series focused on women and patent law. I'm April Isaacson , a patent litigator and partner in the San Francisco office.

Kim Davis:

I'm Kim Davis, a patent prosecutor and partner in the Atlanta office. We're here to discuss the gender gap in the patent bar and have candid conversations with female patent practitioners on their career paths. Hello everyone welcome back to sidebars. Guess what? We're in for a treat we're continuing our interviews theories and our very own April Isaacson is on the hot seat. April is an experienced patent litigator with first-year experience. She focuses primarily on biopharma and chemical patent litigation, given her expertise in biopharma , cellular and molecular physiology and the like, but in a prior life or two , April was a Naval JAG Corps prosecutor. She was senior in-house counsel. She was an HIV researcher and, dare I mention, a champion track star. So you can imagine that April has had countless encounters being the first or the only, and I'm thrilled we have this opportunity to share with her and hear as many as we can fit in within this time together. So are you ready, April?

April Isaacson:

As ready as I'm ever going to be.

Kim Davis:

Love it, love it. So let's start you off with our opener and listeners, you'll hear this throughout our podcast. Our opening question is, what made you, April, pivot from science to law?

April Isaacson:

Well, that would definitely be a very long answer, but , it was, it was a gradual shift I'll say, and it really started in college in 1984 when I started college at Mount Holyoke College, which is the first of the seven sisters consortium of women's colleges that were established because women were not allowed to go to Ivy league colleges.

Kim Davis:

So, so tell me more about this experience at Mount Holyoke. What did you major in , and did you see it all the way through, we've heard some stories of those who don't see it all the way through. So what's your story there?

April Isaacson:

I showed up in 1984 and it was a really interesting time in history because the Olympics had just taken place in Los Angeles. And one of the alums from Mount Holyoke was on the eight women crew team. That was the first gold medal team ever to win on behalf of the United States. So that was a huge thing that was going on on campus. There was also the 1984 election where Geraldine Ferrara was the vice presidential nominee. And that was another first of course. And then we had on campus, Shirley Chisholm, who everyone knows was the first black woman ever elected to the United States Congress, the first black candidate for a major party nomination for president, the first woman to run for president. And when she retired in 1983, she became a visiting professor at Mount Holyoke College where I was a freshman at the time. And as a sophomore, I got to take one of her classes in the sociology department. So that really was where the shift began. I was at Mount Holyoke at this moment in time. That was so energizing to me as someone who kind of came from a small town in Pennsylvania , living in what I think Shirley Chisholm would call an exurban environment. So you're in a suburban environment, but y ou're really near the farms. I went to a huge public high school and then ended up at this small liberal arts women's college that was smaller than my actual high school that I went to, which was really interesting.

Kim Davis:

Oh, wow. So first of all, I can only imagine what the environment was like on campus during that time. That that's pretty awesome. And I'm sure it shaped you into who we see before us today. But going back a little bit to , the transition from the very large public high school to the small liberal arts college, how was that? Was that a huge culture shock for you? How did you transition into that?

April Isaacson:

It was culture shock because I went to a high school that were, I think at least 2,500 students that was ninth through 12th grade. As I mentioned, it was in kind of a rural area. We had kids that we had curriculums that were agricultural curriculum, general curriculum business, and then college prep, which I was in. So my homeroom and people that I was friends with were from all different backgrounds. You know, kids that grew up on farms because we're taking vo-tech , friends that I knew from track and field, friends that I had from classes. So it was a very diverse group of people that I knew in high school. And you just know what your small town environment is, and then you go to college and there were women from all over the world, all over the country, different backgrounds in terms of racial backgrounds, socioeconomic backgrounds, things like that. So it was really exciting and kind of what made my eyes start opening to some of the possibilities in life that were really things I hadn't even considered in high school.

Kim Davis:

Wow. So how do you feel that , um, the integration process was for you, if you will, into this environment that was so different from back at home?

April Isaacson:

I think at first I felt a little intimidated in a certain way because a lot of the kids had to the country day schools as they call them or the prep schools, boarding school in Switzerland, for example. And then, meanwhile, here I was from some big public high school and thinking that perhaps they were going to be better prepared for college than I was going to be because of what I would consider maybe some of the advantages that they had. So I kind of showed up with that, but then also excited about the possibilities.

Kim Davis:

Wow. So, so would you liken that to what we recognize today as impostor syndrome, so to speak? Did you feel that you shouldn't have been there or any feelings that I'm the outsider who doesn't belong?

April Isaacson:

Definitely the feeling of being the outsider that doesn't belong. But like any situation I think then you find, or maybe there's an affinity you have for people who are like you in certain ways. So some of the people that I became the closest friends with were the other kids that had gone to public high school, or maybe felt that they weren't in the same situation as some of the , the wealthy children are, I should say, wealthy women who, you know, whose parents were paying for them or had sent them to boarding school. So I always found that in, at the beginning, maybe you don't know who your tribe is, so to speak. And then you find your tribe.

Kim Davis:

I want to go back - you've mentioned this briefly and I want to make sure we don't miss it; I touched on it in your intro as well. Your grade school experience as this champion track star. We can't, we can't pass that over, April, I'm sorry. Take us back to when you were, what was junior high or high school, when you were on the track team? Just frame that up for us.

April Isaacson:

In Pennsylvania, you could run five events. So, of course, I wanted to run five because that's what I was allowed to do. My events were the 400, 800, 1600, 1600 relay and the 3200 relay , and just, I came out as a freshmen . I think the way that I'm looking back at it now, some of the juniors and seniors, I kind of came out of the gates really fast, I guess you could say, came out hot out of the blocks and was the fastest runner.

Kim Davis:

Okay. So, so you're truly a star at this point, right? You're excelling in track and field. What were you encouraged by your tribe to do? So was there a push for instance, for you to continue with the track into college? What, what was your tribe telling you at this point? I had coaches, you know, of course their job is to push. Some coaches, I think push a little bit too hard and some do just the right amount. Once you get to a certain level, you know, at first, I guess maybe there aren't really expectations on you because you're new, you know, there's just kind of see what your limits are. And then when you start excelling, all of a sudden there's now the spreadsheet of who's getting what time from what school and what you need to do to be able to beat that time. So then maybe the pressure starts getting on you a little bit. I think it's like anything, once you see that there's the talent and then the person's pushing themselves , um, then the expectations come on and then perhaps the pressure is put on to meet somebody else's expectations. And what was your response to the pressure that was applied?

April Isaacson:

It was a dig deep, you know , do it do as much as you can. I kind of had the philosophy, I think of, you know, leave it all on the track. Literally do everything that you can. I remember one time, I think I was a junior in high school and we were at another track and I was just, you know, trying to push myself on it. It was the 1600 and I was in that last probably 50 meters. And I remember pushing my body so hard where I almost thought I was going to pee my pants, doing the race and, you know, finished. And then the coach from the other team came over and told me, I just set the track record for the school.

Kim Davis:

Amazingly, you didn't pursue track at Mount Holyoke though.

April Isaacson:

There were scouts that came out for track. I was scouted for that considered going in the direction of a scholarship related to track and field, but then decided that I really didn't. It was the joy of running was taken away from me a little bit. It was kind of my freedom and my joy. And I think the pressure that was put on me by coaches and the expectations, it started to take that away from me a little bit. So then I decided that if I was going to go to college, I wasn't going to do it on an athletic scholarship. Rather I was going to pursue an academic scholarship.

Kim Davis:

You're very collaborative. Right. And we can definitely unpack that a little bit more as we get deeper into this interview. But as the pressure was placed on you, in terms of we'll beat this person and do this, do you feel that your collaborative spirit said, no, that's not what I'm here for. I'm here to enjoy it and enjoy being a part of the team. Do you think that that could be a reason you pulled back a little bit in that regard? It's probably part of it. I mean,

April Isaacson:

You know, when you're in track, you kind of are focused on what's going on in your lane and running your race and it's literally you against the clock. You know, it's not a subjective sport in that way. So I think that was something that I liked. You're also on a relay you're part of a team. Your score for your individual of events are part of a team score, but there was another part of it that I think psychologically, I just, the pressure, because I didn't really have the support at home was just almost overwhelming for me that I realized that I kind of needed to take a step back from it and try to focus on doing something else where I was going to get more joy out of it.

Kim Davis:

Got it. So with the, with the no support at home , um, what, what do you mean by that? Do you care to unpack that a bit for us?

April Isaacson:

Sure. My mother has always suffered from mental illness ever since I can remember. And then there was an event that happened in her family when I was nine and another, when I was 13. And I think it just exacerbated the situation. My parents didn't come to any of my school activities whatsoever, whether it was track and field or, you know, any kind of an award ceremony. So for me, I didn't really have the support at home to help me maybe have the skills to deal with some of the pressure in terms of the psychology of sports. I mean, that's a huge thing for professional athletes. So I that's what I was alluding to.

Kim Davis:

Who was your support at home? I know you've mentioned coaches being huge advocates for you. Tell me about that tribe from your early years.

April Isaacson:

Really. I would say, it ended up being teachers that were extremely important as well as other people's parents. I stayed over at other kids' houses a lot for sleepovers because just getting out of the house and being with other people was just a better environment for me. When it came to track and field or cross country, it was other people's parents cheering me on, taking pictures, coming up to congratulate me. So I can't thank those people enough. You know, the teachers that perhaps saw the child with talent or vulnerability and took their time or the parents, you mean some of my parents , some of my friends , parents who had the least, were the ones that gave the most. They would invite me over for dinner, for example , because I think they probably realized that perhaps I didn't have someone who was going to cook dinner for me at home, that sort of thing, and always had that extra chair, you know, to bring to the table.

Kim Davis:

I love that. And, I see that in you now, right? The fact that these teachers and the parents of your friends, they , they saw something in you that was working nurturing and they wanted to be involved in that. I see that in your interaction with women and men across the firm on a day-to-day basis. So your way of paying it forward , I think is absolutely phenomenal. So I'm going to fast forward us a bit. This tribe that you had, that you were able to develop with all of the adversity that you faced , to collectively push you and propel you to Mount Holyoke. So let's get back there. I know we started there about 16 minutes ago, but we're finally back around, so what was our major when you started at Mount Holyoke?

April Isaacson:

My major was kind of, I guess it was biochemistry. Biological sciences was what I was focusing on in terms of classwork . When I showed up there, I was absolutely determined that I was going to be a doctor. That was the plan my whole life. I was that girl that was good at math and sciences. And I was told that you're going to go to medical school. So that was the plan.

Kim Davis:

Got it. And since you're here with me today, I know you did not decide to go according to that plan that was set for you. So tell me what did happen, what did you decide and what, what made you make those decisions?

April Isaacson:

It was really taking a class was Shirley Chisholm. That kind of started the shift for me of thinking about the law as opposed to sciences. I took a sociology class with her sophomore year, first semester. And obviously that was a very hard class to want to get into. I think there are only 20 or so people in the class and, you know, as everybody, I think that knows who she is. She's a force of nature, always came in every day, dressed to the nines and very serious. And she was talking to us about things related to urban communities, whether it was red lining, gerrymandering, white flight, that sort of thing. And it started to open up your mind to some of these things that were going on that of course you were aware of, but at the same time, hadn't really thought about them on the level of kind of the law legislating, things like that, that were the focus that she had and then the next semester I took a class, because these were all distribution classes. I was at a liberal arts college where you had your major, but then part of your liberal arts education was to take classes in different disciplines to make sure you had the well-rounded education. So the next semester out of the distribution courses, I took a class, i t was called minorities in the law. And we were looking at some of those seminal cases like Plessy v. Ferguson, Brown v. Board, Roe v. Wade, etc. And then I started to realize, I really enjoy this critical thinking that is different than science, but at the same time, similar in terms of analyzing things, p roblem s olving that sort of thing. So that's kind of where the shift really started for me.

Kim Davis:

So, so let's go back to that point. So we have the seed that has officially been planted, right. And at that point you were a sophomore in undergrad. Tell us, take us through the last two [years]. Did you do any internships for instance, that shaped any decisions , and what happened when you reached that crossroad , if you will, for law school or medical school?

April Isaacson:

My junior year, I applied for a fellowship to do an internship at the NIH. I was awarded the fellowship and was an intern at what was then known as NINCDS. At that point I was 20 years old and I had this phenomenal opportunity to work on drug clinical trials with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's patients, which was really amazing. I mean, just imagine being at a place like the NIH as a 20 year old doing that kind of work. I actually, for the work that I did that summer received an outstanding summer intern award from the NIH. My award was a mug that had the outline of all of the NIH buildings on it. And I still have the mug to this day. It's very near and dear to my heart as something that was a really special experience that I had. That experience was also the first opportunity I had to really do what I would consider a "fancy" job. I'd always worked whether it was as a babysitter, washing dishes, pots & pans. One time I was , on an assembly line, soldering computer parts, things like that. So it was just a new opportunity to set me on the path to doing something different. And then the summer after college, between college and graduate school, I worked outside of Boston at what was then called New England Nuclear. - and that was part of DuPont at the time. The research that I got to do there was very fascinating as well. I was researching brain and heart imaging agents, and it just, again, opened my eyes to these possibilities and opportunities of doing research and made me extremely excited about going to graduate school.

Kim Davis:

And so the , the decision to go the law school route happened in your senior year, was it?

April Isaacson:

It really happened junior year. I was on campus, you know, still kind of going forward with the major that I needed to have taking the classes to make sure I'd be prepared for medical school. But , my junior year for January term was when I was going to start studying for the MCATs. I'm rolling up my sleeves, getting ready to take the MCAT or study for it, I should say. And then I realized I really don't want to do this. And I couldn't quite figure out what it was because I'm not a procrastinator, but yet I couldn't motivate myself to study. And then when I realized is I don't want to go to medical school.

Kim Davis:

Now, now your whole life you've been on the medical school path, if you will. Right. So, so how did you deal with that? How did you , how did you come to grips with the fact that what you planned to do since you were a child basically that you didn't want to follow through with that? It was an interesting moment because I feel like my whole life I'd sort of been living the dreams of two different people and the expectations. In my mother's generation, medical school for the most part, wasn't an option. It certainly wasn't an option for her. And I think that she kind of had to live those dreams vicariously through me. So that was a pretty heavy burden. When I decided that I didn't want to go to medical school, of course people a re like, "well, you're so good at math and science m ean, you g ot t o keep doing t he science, you can't give up on it." So then I thought about going down the research route, which led me to just go in a nd, and take the GRE. I think I even took it cold. I was k ind o f like, okay, I'm not g oing t o take the MCAT, I'm going to go ahead and take the GRE, Oh, I have to take the subject matter that's specific to biological sciences or biochemistry or whatever it was. And I just kind of remember going in there really just kind of cold and just taking the exam. And you aced it.

April Isaacson:

Well, I must've done well enough to get into graduate school. I don't specifically remember, but I remember thinking, okay, this isn't so bad. And then decided that I was going to apply to PhD programs.

Kim Davis:

So you ended up choosing the University of Chicago for your PhD program. Tell us about that, it sounds like a completely different environment than what you had at Mount Holyoke.

April Isaacson:

There were a few programs I looked at - one of the reasons I chose the University of Chicago, obviously it's an excellent school, but then there was a professor that I had in college named , Curtis Smith. He was just really outstanding. He really got me interested in neurobiology; that sort of thing encouraged me. I did my senior thesis with him for college and because he had gone to the University of Chicago. It was one of the places that I looked into. So that's kind of how I ended up there, but yes, it was very different than Mount Holyoke.

Kim Davis:

So what, what program did you enter at the University of Chicago?

April Isaacson:

It was Department of Pharmacological and Physiological Sciences and then they had different committees within the department. And I was on the committee on cellular and molecular physiology.

Kim Davis:

Is it what you expected it to be?

April Isaacson:

It was , I guess, sort of what I expected, but also maybe, not, because I didn't even know what to expect. You know, I just kind of drove out there like I always do it. I get in my car drive somewhere, don't know anybody, show up, figure out where to live and kind of go from there and then make the best of the situation.

Kim Davis:

So we discussed that the program there did not allow - most graduate programs, for listeners , or many, I should say, have a route where you can leave the program with a Master's or finish the PhD program. But your school didn't have that "leave with a Master's option," right, April?

April Isaacson:

Not my department, yeah. Some of the departments did, some of the departments had where you could get, I guess, what would be called like a "paper Master." So you weren't having to do the research or having any publications as part of the Master's - you just did two years of coursework. My department did not have any Master's option whatsoever, but obviously that's what I ended up doing.

Kim Davis:

You did and I'm bringing it up for a reason. I want to remind you, that your advocacy skills just shines throughout throughout your story. So tell the listers , just please, if you wouldn't mind taking a few minutes to tell the listeners how you were able to advocate for yourself and create a path that never existed before and has not existed since.

April Isaacson:

I, well, you know, cause I had been on my own financially since I was 17 and left home to go to college. I didn't have any parental support and [relied on] scholarships for everything or grants. When I started at the University of Chicago, I was kind of living in what would be the, almost the equivalent of public housing. Just kind of just scraping by, balancing your checking account to like 38 cents, that sort of thing. I don't believe we were allowed to have any jobs our first year of graduate school if I'm remembering correctly. But then someone in my department told me about different [teacher's assistant, "TA"] jobs that you could have. So it's like, okay, great. I'm going to be a TA. I was a TA for an undergraduate biochemistry class for non-science majors and taught the lab and the study sessions for that. I was a TA for some medical school classes because our department took class with medical students for several classes first year. I was also a TA for another class that was in my department. It was the was the head of the department that I went to to ask when I realized I wanted to maybe not pursue the PhD and instead leave and decide to go to law school. He's the person that I approached .

Kim Davis:

So tell us about that discussion. I want to hear this advocacy in action. What you were able to say to persuade them, to do what they swore they wouldn't do before.

April Isaacson:

Well, what it was is I approached him because I knew him since I was a TA for him and asked him: "Hey, you know, I've I realized I don't want to stay in a PhD program." People in my lab were taking seven to eight years to get their PhDs. And so when I was doing the math, I'm thinking, okay, it's been two years. I, if I could get a Master's degree, then I worked for a few years study for the LSAT and then go to law school, I might actually finish all of that before the other students who was a PhD candidate; which by the way is how it worked out. So what I ended up doing was I asked him: "Hey, you know, I've got, I've got these papers that I've published. I've spoken at our conference that I went to," - that was the Society for Neuroscience, I actually gave a talk when I was 23, because my PI [Principal Investigator] decided that he was going to sign me up for a talk instead of a poster. So I had done all of that and we also had a chapter in a book. And he said, "yeah, you know what? You have enough research that you can go ahead, write up your thesis and defend your thesis. If all that works out. We will give you an M.S."

Kim Davis:

You went that [Master's] route...you spent a couple of years doing research in Boston, that was the HIV-related research that I referred to earlier, and by night, study for LSAT, correct? Then applied for law schools and then you decided to attend Vanderbilt for law school. Tell us about [your] Vanderbilt [Law] days.

April Isaacson:

I decided to attend Vanderbilt because , I was fortunate enough to get a partial scholarship to go there. Really. I just ended up deciding that I was going to apply to select schools at a top 20, because, what did I know? I didn't know anything about what it meant to be a lawyer or law schools. Then I ended up getting a partial scholarship to go to Vanderbilt and then just got in my car as I always do with my belongings and drove from Boston down to Nashville.

Kim Davis:

Let me ask this, how did you , um, how did you fit in with the southerners?

April Isaacson:

It was definitely different. I had license plates on my car that were a red flag that I was from the Northeast. But I will say, I could not have loved it more. Nashville is just such a great town because Vanderbilt is a wonderful school. It had enough fun things to do to enjoy being in school there, but not so much to do that you were going to be distracted from the studies because as you know, I'm very focused and was gonna want to make sure that I was studying and devoting my time to that.

Kim Davis:

Absolutely, and you clearly did. You joined moot court, you did well there, you ended up being on the board for your moot court team. You won all types of honors and awards but I want to bring us to the point where you met your friend who introduced you to the JAG Corps.

Speaker 3:

We had, when I was at Vanderbilt - and I know it's changed since then because recently I was actually a judge for the mock trial competition for first years - but what we had as first years was called an appellate advocacy competition. All of the first years had to do it. It was the moot court board members who were actually the judges for the first-year appellate tournament. I had , I think it was a team, if I'm remembering correctly. And one of [my team members] was Kris Kubas, [then] Kris Keidel. She came in and did her argument, was well-prepared [and] had this wonderful decorum. I remember we were like, "wow, that was really great." [And shared with her] "Your decorum is amazing." [Chris responded] "that's because I'm a U.S. Navy officer."

Kim Davis:

What was your response? Was it, "I want in," or how did you go from there?

April Isaacson:

[I said] "oh, that's really interesting." And then she told me she was part of a specific program where she was an officer. [Chris] had been in ROTC and then she applied to go to law school. And basically the way it works is the U.S. Navy would pay for her to go to whatever school she got accepted to, [where] she decided to go to Vanderbilt. She started telling me about the JAG Corps and the excellent experience that you can get in terms of trial experience. So then [the idea] kind of put that in my ear and then she and I became really good friends. And then eventually I ended up deciding to go that route [U.S. Navy, JAG Corps].

Kim Davis:

Tell us about the experience in the JAG Corps , and what opportunities it afforded to your development as a leader .

April Isaacson:

It was funny. One of the reasons that I decided to do [JAG] is that I was used to being the youngest in school all the time. Then having gone to graduate school for two years and then working for two years, all of a sudden, most of the students at Vanderbilt, when I was in law school, had gone straight from college [undergraduate]. I thought, "Oh, I'm behind. I better figure out a way to kind of catch up," which is ridiculous when you think about it. You're 25 [year's old] at the time and thinking you're behind. So then I thought, "okay, great. I'm going to have this opportunity to do litigation." It was a tremendous training experience. We had this Naval Justice School that we had to go to where we did so much mock trial and moot court type situations that were very realistic. There was also the officer training I went to where it was team building, where we did kind of tabletop as well as real-world scenario exercises to work together as a team and really collaborate because that's the whole thing about the military. You're working together as a unit. And then, when I showed up at my first duty station, I was the department head for legal assistance kind of Day Two, one guy was leaving [so] "you're the highest ranking Lieutenant right now. So now you're going to be in charge of this department and you're also going to be a criminal defense attorney."

:

Wow. Oh my goodness. So, criminal defense , that's different. Tell us about that experience.

April Isaacson:

It's a great experience. The legal assistance plus the criminal defense, because you're dealing with people where it's the same diversity, whether it's socioeconomic diversity, racial diversity, things of the like, and you're seeing different people's situations. Whether helping them with a family services issue or a contract dispute, or someone who maybe isn't a bad kid who got in trouble for just doing something that was, in hindsight stupid. So it reminds you to just have empathy for people and really think about people who come from different situations that you did, or perhaps relatable, in my case, because there's something about their situation that really strikes a chord with me. And it helped me to represent those people in a way that would be different than someone else that had a different experience growing up than I did.

Kim Davis:

Right, it fueled your passion. And , I would say took you over the fence to where you were the winner, right? So , I remember you recalling cases where you [received] acquittals where no one else previously was able to achieve that, but you were able to put on your scientist hat to do it. Tell us about that.

April Isaacson:

Our command, it was a very collaborative environment, but you know, you're dealing with litigators. These are people from the top law schools. They all had their own ambitions and drive to excel for themselves. So there's always a little healthy competition going on. There was one person, in particular, that he really wanted to win on a drug case, get an acquittal for his client. And, he had done probably 10 or so and never got an acquittal. I did my very first one. I was able to cross-examine the drug lab expert because [and] I'm getting very nerdy here, but GC Mass Spec was the analysis they use. And, of course, I was familiar with it from being scientist i n a previous life life, I guess at this point. I cross examined him and showed some flaw in the analysis and was able to get an acquittal from my client on the very first drug case I ever tried. I had some other cases where it was very heavy on forensics and scientific analysis. And, same thing. I was able to use my science background to my advantage, to get an acquittal for the client.

Kim Davis:

Was this the experience that brought you back over to more of the intellectual property side of things or what caused that transition?

April Isaacson:

Yeah, it was, it was another gradual thing. And I'll go back to graduate school because , when I decided that I was going to to be a lawyer , I remember some of the postdocs in my lab thinking, okay, that sounds a little weird, but okay. You decide that you want to do that. And then one of them said, Oh, you can be a patent lawyer. I had no idea what that even meant. I didn't have any lawyers in my family. I didn't know anybody who was a lawyer. You know, law was some concept from television or interesting classes that I took. I just knew I wanted to do it. And I heard what he said and sort of said [to myself], "oh, okay," and kind of moved on from there. So there was an evolution of things. Quite frankly, when I went to law school, maybe some people understood what it was going to be like to be a lawyer. I didn't even really understand what that meant, I sorta just decided I was going to go to law school and had thought that I might do intellectual property, decided to go down this route of doing the trial work. When I was a summer associate at a firm after my second year of law school, I worked at an intellectual property boutique firm that was in Washington, D.C. where I did both patent prosecution as well as patent litigation and realized I really loved the litigation piece of things. So then I think that this patent litigation was further down the road. When I was in the JAG Corps . I was open to having that as my career and ended up becoming a [JAG] prosecutor for a few reasons. Number one, I was the one of the only women in the department when I first started as a JAG. And then later on, a few [more] women came over, but then they didn't have a female prosecutor. So they asked me to come over and become one of the prosecutors. But I also think because I was beating them on a lot of the cases and getting acquittals against them. They thought it might be good to have me as part of their team. So they asked me to switch commands.

Kim Davis:

Okay. So you, you experienced a tremendous amount of success April in the [U.S.] Navy. Tell us what made you transition back to the law firm environment? The one that you started in as a summer associate.

April Isaacson:

I really enjoyed the experience in the [U.S.] Navy and the ability to serve my country was an honor., But I loved litigation so much and the way it worked was if you stayed in [the U.S. Navy], your next job, wasn't going to be, "Okay, great. You're going to go be a trial attorney at another command." It would be, you're going to be the lawyer for a base or for a Naval hospital, which would have been a great experience, but it would take me off the litigation track that I was on. And as a 25 -year old, I [thought I] was already behind. So I decided that when my obligation to be on active duty was over that I was going to leave the Navy and [I] move to California.

Kim Davis:

And, you joined a law firm.

April Isaacson:

I did, yeah. I was stationed in Jacksonville, Florida. As I always do - I get in my car with all my things, including my cats this time, my two cats and I drove from I-10, which I know you're quite familiar with from Jacksonville, Florida where it starts to California where [I-10] ends. [I drove] by myself, knowing nobody. I decided that I was going to live in San Francisco and started working at law firms. One of the reasons I decided to move out to the Bay Area is that just the intellectual property and things of that nature that were going on here. I moved here in January of '99, during kind of the "Dot Com" heyday. There were all these exciting things going on, Palo Alto, San Francisco - so it seemed like a natural fit. I was already a member of the California Bar because that was the bar exam I took , before I went into the Navy.

Kim Davis:

Let's alk about the law firm progression at that point. We talk about the natural path , and , listeners, I'm using air quotes around natural there from associate to partner. Is that the track that you were on?

:

It was the track , I was on. I was working at a firm that was down in Silicon Valley. A great experience, I got to do a lot of trial work beyond trial teams [and] I ran an entire arbitration. I think it ended up getting around a little bit that I had a lot of trial experience when I went to arbitration with one of the partners. So then it gave me some opportunities that maybe people didn't realize I had the experience because of the [U.S.] Navy - just weren't familiar with what we did. Then it was in 2001, really after September 11th, and I had a few people in my family [who] had passed away. You start looking at life a little bit differently a nd [evaluating] what you really want to do with your life and how you want it to be. That is when I decided that I wanted to be at a different firm and it took me to Townsend, Townsend & Crew which I joined in 2002

Kim Davis:

That is the predecessor of our current firm, Kilpatrick Townsend. So you stayed at Townsend for quite a while and you were promoted to partner while there?

April Isaacson:

That's correct. I think what it was is [I thought], "where do I want to be a partner?" What [is] the environment that I wanted to be a partner. And I really thought hard about it and interviewed at a few places and the f it. When I met people that I interviewed when I was there, it was very focused on intellectual property. I felt like there's l ike sort of the kindred spirit because of that, you know, kind of the cool nerds as I like to say. That made me decide to come there and the way it worked was you had to be at the firm for two years before you could be considered for partner, which completely makes sense. I was there for two years and my first time up was made partner in 2004, which was one of the k ey highlights and achievements of my life.

Kim Davis:

So April, I want to pull us away from your story for a second to really get your thoughts for our listeners on comments or discussions that we've had about making sure we pull other women up and along with us whenever we transition and when we are promoted to the ranks, if you will. So we've discussed a lot about our current environment and previous episodes about how collaborative we all are about how there's a spirit of promoting women from the most senior women of the firm. And you shared with me that back when you were coming up, where I am today [as a new partner] that it wasn't necessarily the case. There were groups of women who supported each other versus women as a whole. Can you unpack for us a bit how that line of thinking has changed over the years?

April Isaacson:

Sure. I really do think it is a generational issue. I'm a gen X-er, I'm kind of on the older side of gen X, obviously and you're a millennial and things are different. I like to think that your generation is more collaborative and more kind of team focused. I think the women that came before me and not all, but many of them were, their attitude was, "it was really hard for me. So , good luck." You know, [to me] it is not really mentoring. It was more someone telling you what to do. You know, it wasn't anything where they were specifically focusing on training you or thinking about how you navigate through the system as a woman. I will say that was never the case for me at Townsend at all. And certainly not [currently] the case at Kilpatrick. But there are places that I've worked where, you know, it's what I will say is maybe the "mean girls," if you want to use that term because you know, girls have to deal with that. I use that term, meaning people who think that their ability to be their fullest self and to meet their goals and their potential, and my ability to do the same are mutually exclusive. So in other words, thinking that I can't be my best self and they can't be their best self together. I completely disagree with that. I think my ability to be my best self and your ability to be your best self and us doing it together as a team and collaborating that is one of those mutual symbiotic relationships that are so much greater than the sum of their parts. And so that's how I've always approached looking at mentoring. And I don't know if it's because I was fortunate enough to have people who supported me, whether it was teachers that were male or female or professors or neighbors, friends. Something about my experience made me realize that I didn't think that that was the way you had to meet your own success.

Kim Davis:

Absolutely. And you've been a trailblazer in changing that mindset. So for that, from the millennials, we , thank you. And I will note that I'm an older millennial. So to put a little bit of color on that, on that I'm a gray-haired millennial, if you will. So no, this, this is absolutely great, April. I feel that we have not even scratched the surface of your story, but before, before we let you go, are there any particular words of wisdom that you want to share with our younger listeners who may be deciding what path to take, or maybe dealing with certain adversity that they need to overcome?

April Isaacson:

We're all dealt whatever cards that we are dealt in life. My philosophy has always been, just make the best of the hand that you're dealt and just really try to be your best self. We can all come from different backgrounds, different experiences, different schools that you went to. But if you make the most of all of those experience, you can truly be your best self. The other thing is I've never subscribed to the notion that you need to have sharp elbows. I have literally been pushed off a track by a sharp elbow and tripped by someone. The way to get ahead in life from my perspective is not to try to undermine anybody else or push them or trip them [instead] it's to be collaborative. Your ability to be your best self will come through that collaboration by working with other people as a team, and thinking about the sum of the parts, being so much greater than it can be is really what I try to subscribe to in life. When I look back at my life, I want to have that be kind of the legacy of what I've been able to accomplish. And I hope I'm able to fulfill that.

Kim Davis:

April, you're a shining example of that very concept that you want to convey to the rest of us and thank you for being that.

April Isaacson:

Thank you. Thank you for joining us today. If you enjoyed sidebars, we invite you to check out the Kilpatrick Townsend Medicine & Molecules Blog on KilpatrickTownsend.com to read, watch, and listen to other related insight on patent law. We'll also put that information in the show notes. The opinions expressed on this podcast are our own and are not those of Kilpatrick Townsend.

Kim Davis:

Also we would love it if you would rate us or leave a review, it helps others find the show, see you next time.