Name: Pam Fulmer
Job / Title: Partner
Company: Arent Fox
My name is Pam Fulmer and I am a trial lawyer specializing in representing technology companies in high stakes intellectual property and commercial litigation matters. Rather than simply writing a biography about myself and my background, I thought it might be helpful to talk about two very important life lessons that I have learned and how these lessons have changed my life for the better, and why these lessons may also be important to Club members reading this Spotlight. I am talking about the value of not being afraid to take risks, and not hesitating to mentor and be mentored.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in life is to not be afraid to take risks. Lawyers tend to be naturally risk-averse, and that is why many of us go into the law. But the most successful lawyers among us are calculated risk takers.
One risk that I took early on, was moving to California with my college roommate after graduation. Although I knew no one in the Bay Area, I figured it was as good a time as any to make a move, as I did not want to spend my entire life in Ohio. The idea was to work for a year and to get our California residency, so that we could enjoy the lower California in-state tuition for our post graduate studies. With only $1200 in my pocket and nowhere to live, I rolled the dice and took a risk. I boarded a plane in Cincinnati, Ohio and my roommate boarded one in Miami, Florida, and we met at San Francisco International Airport.
We decided to move to Berkeley (it was a college town after all), and try to get jobs as waitresses. The Grateful Dead were playing in Berkeley that night and the hotels were almost all booked, but we finally managed to get a room in a flea bag hotel (The Capri) on University Avenue. Even that cheap hotel was expensive to me given how much money I had to work with. None of the rooms had phones and I remember standing in a phone booth on University Avenue watching the traffic whizz by, and assuring my Mom and Dad that everything was fine. I was scared to death and already second guessing myself.
The next day I started my job hunt, and discovered that no one wanted to hire me as a waitress as I had no experience working in a restaurant. Finally, with my money running out and my prospects looking exceedingly dim, I secured a job as a Radio Shack management trainee. I knew virtually nothing about electronic equipment, or antenna or fuses, but somehow I managed to eke out a living for a few months and save up additional money until I could find a higher paying job. And then despite additional challenges, things finally started to break my way. By the time I entered law school, I knew absolutely that this is what I wanted to do and I worked hard to do well in school and go to a highly regarded law firm.
I have never regretted my decision to take the risk of moving to California. And I have found that sometimes as a lawyer I have needed to take risks too. These are of course calculated risks, and ones that are weighed carefully and thought through. There is risk involved in advocating a novel legal theory, which may not be well settled, but through hard work and flawless execution secures for the client a great settlement. Or going with the witness that others doubted could withstand a vigorous cross-examination, and preparing her so well that by the time she got to the stand she told her story so convincingly and so honestly that the fact finder had no trouble going her way.
I think as a general matter that women tend to be more risk adverse than men. I don’t see this as a good thing. I think it is one of the challenges that we face as women in the work force. When I first started practicing law, in-house lawyers who were women seemed reluctant to hire other women. It was much safer to stick with the tried and true men who had always been hired, and who were familiar to their bosses. But sometime in the last 10 years or so, I see in-house female lawyers much more willing to take the risk and hire that female outside counsel, even though that female lawyer may not be a well-known brand name.
I am thankful to those women in-house lawyers who have taken risks on hiring me. I work very hard for them so that they never regret the decision that they made in choosing me to handle their case. I urge other Club Members who are in-house lawyers to make that stretch and to take risks and to hire other women, and give them an equal opportunity to pitch your cases. The way law firms are structured it is sometimes hard for women to get a place at the table. If our in-house women colleagues are demanding that law firms provide qualified women candidates for their consideration, we will only gain by breaking down some of the barriers that hold all of us back.
Another important lesson that I learned is that it is a lonely road to try to go it alone. It is very important to trust other people and to actively seek out mentors, and to look for people to mentor along the way.
After graduating from law school I started as a first year associate at the Howard Rice law firm in San Francisco. My first case was an environmental lawsuit where we were representing a landfill in Northern California that was allegedly leaking into the groundwater. The Senior Associate on the case ran me ragged for a year, and really put me through my paces. I felt at times like she was unhappy with her job and perhaps did not feel that she had been treated fairly, and she was enjoying hassling someone more junior. I could never go to her with questions, and she had no interest in being a mentor, and my life was tough. I resolved at that time that if I was ever the senior associate on a case, and provided I survived my first year as a lawyer that I would be different and I would actively seek to be a mentor to others more junior. Well of course I did survive, and I have fulfilled that promise to myself and have served as a mentor to many other lawyers. This has been one of the most rewarding and satisfying aspects of my career.
I have also benefited by being mentored by other great lawyers throughout my career. I believe that it is essential for women to actively seek out mentors or sponsors that can help and facilitate their professional journeys. Also I believe that it is essential for women who are still junior in their careers to make sure that they are looking out for and offering to mentor newer lawyers. I learned so much during my first year out of law school, that by my second year I actually was a great resource to the lawyers who were just starting. Everyone knew that they could come to me and I would share the knowledge that I had. I also made sure that I didn’t use the fact that people were coming to me for advice against them later. The conversations that we had were private and were between the two of us and I never tried to leverage someone’s lack of knowledge to my advantage. Now some of my best clients have been colleagues who I mentored years ago.
My advice to Club members is to stretch, get out of your comfort zone, take risks, and treat people fairly and be a sounding board for them. The encouragement, mentorship and support that we give each other now will pay off both personally and professionally for us all.
Pam Fulmer is a Partner in the San Francisco office of Arent Fox and is a member of the firm’s Women’s Initiative and Diversity Committees.