Celebrating International Women’s DayMarch 14, 2022

International Women’s Day on March 8th each year celebrates the social, economic, and political achievements of women around the world. The day also brings international awareness to gender parity.

The state of Iowa has a storied history of gender equality with the Arabella Mansfield, the first woman in the country admitted to a state bar for the active practice of law in 1869. Since then, the pace of change for the advancement of women in the field of private practice has lagged behind other advances, such as Congressional participation. A recent article that appeared in Law360’s Glass Ceiling Report*, described the dismal results. The article concluded that there had been incremental growth for private practice female attorneys, but women are still underrepresented at U.S. law firms, particularly in the partnership ranks. The industry has so far failed to show anything but modest progress, despite years of promises to improve the prospects of women in the profession. Women have represented over 40% of law school students for decades, (my law school class of 1992 was the first in the law school history to have more women than men). According to the American Bar Association, however, only 1 in 5 equity partners (in over 300 firms surveyed) were women. For the practice of Intellectual Property patent practitioners, the numbers are staggeringly worse. With the requirement of a science or engineering degree in addition to a law degree, the field is male dominated times two. Indeed, only 19% of equity partners in IP boutique firms are women**. Furthermore, according to the PTAB Bar Association, of the 2000 firms and entities that appeared in proceedings at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) between 2012 and 2021, women attorneys made up just 12% of all attorney appearances.

We are gratified to report that our firm stands out in stark contrast to these statistics. For example, MVS Firm boasts a female Managing Partner who has been an equity partner for over 20 years. Three of the Firm’s women lawyers hold advanced degrees, two masters and one Pharm.D., and four women are practice group chairs.

The firm’s legacy of including women began as far back as 1985, when the first female patent attorney in the state of Iowa, Pat Sweeney, joined the firm. Pat left the firm and went to Pioneer DuPont where she rose to Chief IP Counsel and then went into private practice for 20 years. She re-joined the firm “Of Counsel” in 2017 and continued in that role until her retirement in early 2021.

The women of MVS continue to lead by example as we participate in committees and organizations to help promote women entrepreneurs, women business owners and women inventors. We also support Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) initiatives for young girls at elementary and middle schools. There is much work to do, but we are proud be a part of MVS and its legacy as a leader in gender equality.

As we salute International Women’s Day, McKee Voorhees and Sease would like to acknowledge and congratulate the women attorneys at our firm and the positive impact they have made to MVS and the legal community. We also applaud all women who have made significant contributions in both their professional and personal lives including many of our clients and friends who we have the pleasure of working with.

*Law 360 Glass Ceiling Report: What You Need To Know, Sept. 13, 2021

**IP Boutiques Still Among Worst For Female Attorneys, Law 36, April 18, 2016

Heidi S. Nebel is Managing Partner and Chair of the Chemical and Biotechnology Practice Group at McKee, Voorhees & Sease, PLC. For additional information please visit www.ipmvs.com.

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