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Spotlight: Robin Barnes, Intellectual Property Law

By March 10, 2023March 29th, 2023Attorney Spotlight

In celebration of Women’s History Month, Scheef & Stone illustrates how the past inspires us to redefine the future and showcases the inspiration and expertise of the women attorneys who elevate our firm and client service.

Which woman in the firm or the business community inspires you and why?

I find all of the women in Scheef & Stone inspiring for various reasons. Each brings unique and beautiful qualities to our firm-family. A few examples: Kelly Kleist is dedicated to helping our younger attorneys grow and reach their full potential as the head of our Associate Training Committee; Jane Taber is tenacious in promoting women’s business development initiatives as the head of our Diversity and Inclusion Committee; Rebekah Brooker is an integral part of the firm’s management and recruiting efforts; and Kate Valent is a real go-getter who amazes me with her creative approach to business development. These women, and every woman in the firm, do so much to help Scheef & Stone be a wonderful place to work – all on top of being smart, creative, funny, hard-working, and fantastic lawyers, administrators, paralegals, legal assistants, accountants, mothers, sisters, wives, volunteers, neighbors, and friends.

If you could have dinner with anyone alive or dead, who would it be and why?

Laura Ingalls Wilder. She lived in a fascinating time in history, from post-civil war through the 1950s. I would love to hear her stories in person. Plus, I was a huge fan of Little House on the Prairie when I was a kid, so that is a bonus. I would also invite Ree Drummond. Modern Pioneer Woman meets real life Pioneer Woman – the conversation would either be completely awkward or enthralling, either way, it would be interesting to see their dynamic together.

What led you to the practice of law and/or to your specific area of law?

Growing up, I went through the usual rounds of career dreams.  Rock star (thanks to an early love of Madonna and Pat Benatar), fashion designer (mostly due to a love of shopping), history professor (thanks to my high school humanities teacher, Mr. Hemesath), and finally engineer (mostly because I am pretty good at math and got a kick out of being faster at solving problems than most of the boys in school).

I ultimately got a Master of Engineering degree in Chemical Engineering. While I loved the science, I found during my co-ops that I did not love working in a chemical plant wearing a hard hat and steel toe boots in the middle of a hot summer (or a cold winter for that matter). I started contemplating other engineering career paths but was not enthused by any of the options. I had never considered becoming a lawyer until my dad suggested it – he said, “you like to argue, sometimes I think you actually enjoy arguing just for the sake of arguing, so you should be a lawyer.”

I am still not sure I agree that I enjoy arguing, but it was a light-bulb moment for me.  I began looking into law schools the next day. I quickly found that Intellectual Property law, and specifically patent law, was a natural fit for my engineering background. In my patent practice, I get the opportunity to learn about new technologies, utilize my engineering knowledge, and continually explore my love of science, all without having to wear a hard hat or steel toe boots.

How is being a woman lawyer advantageous?

I think being a woman lawyer or a woman in business provides several advantages because women tend to approach issues differently than men. In my experience, men are inclined to be immediate fixers, whereas women tend to be long-term problem solvers.  Women typically focus on understanding how an issue was created and finding a solution to not only fix the current problem, but also avoid the problem in the future. Women tend to be planners; we think about next steps so we can outline a plan, and we anticipate next questions so we can address them before they are even asked. We also tend to be more detail oriented and organized, which goes hand-in-hand with planning.

Unfortunately, there are also disadvantages to being a woman lawyer or woman in business. Gender discrimination still exists, and women are frequently undervalued and underestimated. In some respects, being underestimated can also be considered an advantage, but being undervalued is a battle we continue to fight.

What advice (professional or personal) would you give your younger self or the next generation of women leaders?

First, it’s okay to not be Wonder Woman. When I was a new wife, mom, and lawyer twenty-something years ago, I always wanted to be perfect at all of the roles all of the time. Unfortunately, I am not from Themyscira, and my mom is not Hippolyta. Striving for perfection was exhausting and impossible. I have learned over the years that imperfectly good is more than enough and far less tiring. You can still be successful with flaws and after making mistakes. Rather than beating yourself up over your imperfections, learn to accept them and even embrace them.

Second, learn to say “no.”  Setting boundaries in life can be hard, especially for women who tend to be people pleasers. A few years into practicing, I had a male partner walk into my office at 5:20 pm on the Thursday before a long holiday weekend when I had plans to go out of town with my family. He wanted me to write a motion over the weekend. I said “no,” using a few more harsh and admittedly unprofessional words.  It was scary – my heart raced, and I fought back tears. But it was probably the best thing I could have done both for my personal sanity and my career. The partner was shocked, but I could also tell that his view of me changed for the better. I stood up for myself and my time and that was something he could respect. To this day, it is still hard for me to say “no” when someone asks me to help with something that I do not have time for, but I try to remember that I am no good to anyone if I am overworked and over stressed.

Third, you should actually like your job.  People talk a lot about finding a job you are passionate about. That’s great advice, but I think it is not very realistic for most of us.  I think the better advice is to find a job you like and be passionate about your family, friends, and hobbies. You don’t have to love your job; you don’t even have to like it all of the time. But you need to like it more, a lot more, than you dislike it. If you don’t, then you need to reevaluate your career path and find something you do like. Your job is such a huge part of your life, it is not worth staying in a position that you do not enjoy most of the time. Don’t get me wrong – it is still a job, it is work, and there will always be challenges that arise that make you hate it at times. But if you find that hating it outweighs enjoying it, you should find something else to do. Yes, it is scary, but it will be worth it to find something you actually like doing.

Finally, build other women up.  Be a champion for the women you work with, support them, ask them how they are doing and if they need help, sing their praises to clients and male co-workers.  We have enough challenges in the workplace, we don’t need to be competing with each other or add to negativity.

To learn more about Robin, please click here.