Name: Jamie Kitano
Job/Title: Senior Associate, Patent Litigation
Company: Shook Hardy & Bacon LLP
Industry: Legal, Patent Litigation
Q: What’s the best career advice you’ve ever gotten?
Jamie: Don’t focus on the mistakes you make, but instead focus on how you can learn from the mistakes and move forward. I am grateful that the mistakes I made early on in my career as an associate were recognized by partners as common mistakes and turned into teaching moments. Once, I made a decision about how to utilize my team’s time on a particular project, but neglected to tell a partner I was working closely with. I inadvertently blindsided her when I mentioned it on the phone during a call with the client. Fortunately, she wasn’t mad and let me know afterwards that I should have given her a heads up before the call.
Q: What is the challenge that you are most proud of overcoming?
Jamie: As a second year attorney at a large Bay Area law firm, I suddenly found myself managing an incredibly high-stakes patent litigation team as the associate leading e-Discovery (which is an early phase of litigation where each side requests and exchanges documents in an effort to prove their case or defense). I drew on my leadership and project management strengths to rapidly learn the technical aspects and manage a large team of contract attorneys, paralegals, and e-Discovery specialists, as well as more senior attorneys at my firm. This experience gave me confidence to say “yes” to new challenges.
Q: Why did you choose to be a lawyer?
Jamie: Early on I had an interest in both law and science. I was on my high school’s mock trial team, and I continued on as a freshman in college while majoring in molecular biology. Most of the biology students at UCSD were some variety of pre-health professional, but that never quite appealed to me. I really liked strategizing over how our mock trial teams could put on our mock cases and advocate for a client. Mock trial helped me practice public speaking and thinking on the fly when the judge asks you a question or opposing counsel makes an objection. Even though it was a mock exercise, the skills are the same that I use in my current role as a patent litigator.
When I was sophomore in college, I was lucky to make a connection to the sister-in-law of the General Counsel of a Bay Area biotech company through an event for my brother’s high school class. They needed a summer intern to help run patent searches. Because of that connection, I interned there for two summers during college and learned about intellectual property. I enjoyed the idea of combining law with science, and then went to law school with the intention of practicing in some area of intellectual property. My journey to becoming a patent litigator is a great example of how important networking and connections are to find opportunities.
Q: How do you approach someone who you may want as a mentor?
Jamie: I like to go to lunch or coffee with someone who I have a particular set of questions for, or who I think would have great advice on certain issues that I’m dealing with. For example, my questions often involve strategies for conveying my personal brand across my law firm’s different offices and practice groups or learning about their career experiences and advice for me. I also like to take advantage of formal mentoring programs at work as a way to find a mentor that knows the firm/company and can help you navigate internally. Having a mentor within your organization can be very valuable, as they can give you advice on the various political and cultural issues you may not otherwise be aware of. One of my formal mentors is the one that gave me the advice, “Don’t focus on the mistakes you make, but instead focus on how you can learn from the mistakes and move forward,” and she’s helped me navigate the moving forward part.
Q: What are ways that you have balanced career, personal, and other interests?
Jamie: I embrace technology and try to figure out how new apps or devices can improve my efficiency and keep me organized. My calendar (I use iCal) is one of my most used tools to maintain balance on a daily basis. I consolidate events into one calendar, color-code them, and schedule time to check things off my to-do list. Usually I find that certain tasks, both work and personal, don’t take as much time as I’ve allotted which helps me manage my time better in the future; and if something takes longer than I thought then that’s useful to know too. I also find that having a clear view of important work deadlines and personal events in a given week helps me to prioritize how I spend my time.
My calendar is also a great tool to communicate with my husband so that we can stay on the same page with what’s going on in both of our schedules. I might forget that he’s emailed or messaged me about an event because I don’t often search through my messages after the fact (and vice versa). But if I check my calendar several times a day, I usually don’t miss anything on it.
Q: In what areas can you give advice to other CLUB members as part of the CLUB mentoring program?
Jamie: Don’t be too hard on yourself when one person says something disparaging or discouraging to you. It’s just one person’s opinion and it’s good to take it with a grain of salt. I recently got some tough feedback about my presentation style on a conference call and how one person perceived me as lacking confidence, and thus competence in the area I was speaking about. I beat myself up about it for a few weeks and tried to analyze my communication style every time I was on the phone, at a mixer, etc. to figure out how I could improve my communication skills. Shortly after that, I went to dinner with some women I volunteer with through the organization, Women in Bio. I’ve been volunteering for WIB for the last four years and am now the San Francisco chapter’s Sponsorship Committee Chair, where I lead the chapter’s efforts to raise enough money to support the organization’s events and programs. I had met about half of the women in person, but had only spoken to the rest by phone. When I met one woman in person for the first time, she said, “Wow! I had imagined you as being much a taller and imposing woman based on your voice!” (I’m only 5’2” on a good day). That reaction really opened my eyes to how individual people’s perceptions might be drastically different and how important it is to have feedback from multiple sources.
Q: What do you like to do to unwind?
Jamie: Exercise, be it my favorite gym or yoga class, or briskly walking hills in Noe Valley. I’m a huge believer in pets as a stress reliever and enjoy the company of my cat while unwinding with a glass of wine. Yoga is a wonderful physical challenge for me, and teaches me new things about myself – both physically and mentally – each time. I have scoliosis, and when I was a teenager I had a major operation to straighten out my curved spine. The operation essentially immobilized all of my thoracic vertebrae, so I can’t bend or twist from there. This makes a lot of yoga poses particularly difficult, or impossible for me to do (backbends are pretty much out of the question!). When I was just learning yoga, I used to push myself and struggle with not being able to twist or backbend, or side-bend. Gradually I learned that I needed to stop focusing on my weaknesses and start focusing on and cultivating my strengths – in my case, strength and flexibility in my legs and arms. I also learned to be grateful for the level of twisting and bending from my core that I am able to do. These lessons aren’t just limited to the yoga mat; they’re applicable to my personal and professional life as well. Sometimes we are too focused on improving areas of weakness that we lose sight of our skills and strengths. Instead, I try be more balanced and focus on improving the skills and strengths that I already have.
Q: Fun Facts:
Jamie: I love to travel. My favorite trip to date was to Tibet and Nepal with my dad right after I took the bar exam. Most law students do a post-bar trip with their fellow graduates, but I had chosen to do a four year program (JD/MBA) which meant that the majority of the friends I’d made in law school graduated a year before me. My dad suggested a trek to the base camp of Mt. Everest – a lifelong dream I never knew about. Of course I said yes! We spent 6 weeks traveling together across the Friendship Highway in Tibet and trekking up to Mt. Everest base camp. It was wonderful to spend so much time with my dad exploring the world. A few years after the base camp trip, we trekked to Machu Picchu together.