An Interview with Eric L. Pines

Passion — Be passionate and maintain curiosity about your practice area and legal practice in general. As a patent attorney, I’m passionate about technology and innovations, which helps me. It keeps things interesting at work. There’s never really a dull moment. My clients are all over the spectrum in terms of areas of innovation. If there are some newly developed large language models, machine learning, or AI in the news, I want to know about it. I want to make sure that I’m aware of the features, and if not, I will learn.

The legal field is known to be extremely competitive. Lawyers are often smart, ambitious, and highly educated. That being said, what does it take to stand out and become a “Top Lawyer” in your specific field of law? In this interview series called “5 Things You Need To Become A Top Lawyer In Your Specific Field of Law”, we are talking to top lawyers who share what it takes to excel and stand out in your industry.

As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Steve Wang.

Steve Wang, an accomplished Associate at Caldwell, a premier law firm serving high-growth technology and life sciences companies, specializes in preparing and prosecuting foreign and domestic patent applications within these dynamic industries. With prior experience at a boutique Intellectual Property law firm in Boston as a registered patent attorney, Steve brings profound expertise to U.S. patent applications. Holding a J.D. from Suffolk University and two graduate degrees from Boston University, his multidisciplinary science proficiency, spanning Biology, Mathematics, and advanced technologies (e.g., Remote Sensing and GIS), uniquely enhances his legal perspective, establishing him as a valuable asset in the industry.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit more. What is the “backstory” that brought you to this particular career path in Law? Did you want to be an attorney “when you grew up”?

I’m the first lawyer in my entire family. Both my grandparents on my mother’s side were mathematicians, and my father is a university professor focusing on environmental engineering. I was supposed to follow in their footsteps to become a scientist, but I was always curious about law. At the same time, I was still hesitant, as I did not want to give up the kind of very extensive technical training that I have had over the years. Then I stumbled upon this career path as a patent attorney, which I believe is the perfect fusion between technology and law. So once I discovered that I could still use my technical experience as a lawyer, that was the moment I pivoted and decided to attend law school.

Can you tell us a bit about the nature of your practice and what you focus on?

I’m an IP attorney at Caldwell, with a focus on creating robust IP portfolios for my clients. Caldwell is a global full-service law firm and one of the fastest-growing law firms in the United States. In the IP practice group, many of my clients are high-growth technology companies, ranging from startups to multinational corporations. My role involves assisting these clients in creating and extracting value from their IP assets. I begin by identifying and building a robust IP portfolio, capturing valuable white space in their respective industries. Subsequently, I leverage this portfolio to accelerate my clients’ long-term business objectives. For example, if a client is looking into the opportunity to raise more capital, secure funding, or pursue a public exit, my job is to formulate a patent strategy that would go hand-in-hand with their business objectives.

As an IP attorney, I can help them build an intangible asset class. I manage a fairly diverse client portfolio across a multitude of industries in different areas of innovation. For example, many of my clients are spearheading efforts and innovations in machine learning, artificial intelligence, healthcare tech, fintech, greentech, manufacturing, next-generation battery systems, medical devices, and mechanical devices. In my practice, I always position myself as a strategic partner to my clients, seeking to understand their innovations, help them navigate through different growth phases, and bridge the gaps between technology and business by utilizing IP.

You are a successful attorney. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? What unique qualities do you have that others may not? Can you please share a story or example for each?

  1. Being ambitious — You need to be dedicated and maintain a high standard. To overcome an obstacle, you want to make sure that you’re always at the top of your game and put your best foot forward. Particularly as an IP attorney, you’re required to be fully aware of any relevant court proceedings and the latest case law, which may dictate how you strategize on behalf of your clients.

You also need to keep up with the latest technology to comprehend various innovations. Luckily there are a lot of third-party platforms and universities that offer courses in many different technology areas, and I regularly take part in those courses. They’re extremely beneficial and have the potential to benefit my clients in the long term. For example, if my client is working on a particular AI or machine learning engine in healthcare tech or a large language model, but I lack a solid understanding of the innovation, how can I help my clients with their patents? I must properly translate the innovation into patent language, submit it, and then argue on my client’s behalf. All of these tasks require extensive knowledge about the substantive nature of the innovation and require considerable intentionality and ambition.

2. Persistence — Work hard and pay attention to detail. It’s easy to say, but I think that is the secret sauce to success. Every case, patent application, and rejection is unique. So you need to make sure you don’t overlook any small details involving the unique design feature of your client’s invention. You also need to understand the Patent Office, the Appeal Board, and the courts’ positions in regards to a particular matter, as well as the arguments being made.

3. Kindness — Be kind to everyone. Be kind and patient with your clients, and also be kind to your colleagues. It doesn’t matter what role they’re in, because you’re playing a team sport. Every win is a team effort. Also be kind to your opposing counsel. Being kind goes a long way because it is a small community, and you will interact with each other often.

Do you think you have had luck in your success? Can you explain what you mean?

No, I think luck may give you a spot in the lineup, but it does not take you to the finish line.

For example, if I were to go to a networking event and I happened to talk to someone who is looking for an IP counsel, I consider that to be lucky. I attended the right event and happened to talk to the right person who was looking for legal advice. But that only provides me with an opportunity to further the conversation, which may or may not turn into an attorney-client relationship. To keep the conversation going and set the right tone, it’s important in that moment of opportunity that I establish credibility by demonstrating confidence and an understanding of the technology. This requires hard work and extra effort, but it’s worth it when you’re in a position to show prospective and current clients how your expertise in legal practice can help them reach their end goals.

Having said all that, I think I was very fortunate to have arrived at my current role at Caldwell. As I said, Caldwell has been one of the fastest-growing law firms in the U.S., and I think we have a great team and firm culture. Everyone is dedicated to providing the best service to our clients, and I feel very lucky to work there.

Do you think where you went to school has any bearing on your success? How important is it for a lawyer to go to a top-tier school?

If your goal is to get a first-year associate position in big law, yes — to a certain extent. But, there are so many other factors that may contribute to your professional success. I believe it’s after law school that you will have the opportunity to demonstrate your capability and show your true self.

I went to school in Boston, and after I graduated from Boston University, I knew I wanted to stay. I met my wife and established my family here, and I went to Suffolk Law School. Suffolk has one of the best IP programs and legal tech programs in the country, which has a lot of value appeal to me. I truly believe that I received some of the best training available, which helped me prepare to be in the legal profession while I was in law school.

For that reason, I think graduating from a top-tier law school is somewhat important, but it ultimately depends on your career goal. In my view, graduating from a top-tier law school is not as important as hard work, dedication, passion, and attention to detail, as these are what will really propel you forward.

Based on the lessons you have learned from your experience, if you could go back in time and speak to your twenty-year-old self, what would you say? Would you do anything differently?

I would not do anything differently. I think my education and experience are the building blocks that got me to where I am today. However, I would tell the 20-year-old me to work harder, build my experience and network early, and not be afraid of change!

This is not easy work. What is your primary motivation and drive behind the work that you do?

Two things: my clients and my family. When my clients reach the next milestone, such as securing their first patent, successfully raising capital, gaining more brand recognition or market share, or even going public. That motivates me. That’s when I shine. It shows the quality of my work as well. My family is my other huge motivator–my parents, my wife, and my kids. They made a lot of sacrifices over the years, especially during those sleepless nights in law school and the long working hours after law school. So I’m very proud of them, and they keep me humble as a legal professional and as a human being. I just want to put smiles on their faces every day.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I’m working with several clients on protecting their inventions. Some of them are technology companies in an unconventional sense, and whenever I’m meeting with them, I’m truly amazed and excited by the innovative products or services that they’re offering. My responsibility is to position them as technology companies and help differentiate them from the other competitors in the industry. That’s what excites me–to help them reach their next objective.

Where do you go from here? Where do you aim to be in the next chapter of your career?

Reach higher! I want to continue to expand my footprint, my practice, and become more involved in my local community.

Without sharing anything confidential, can you please share your most successful “war story”? Can you share the funniest?

I had a prospective client call with the co-founder of a fintech company. The client told me that he had been trying to patent his invention for years, and they had worked with some other firms. They had spent a lot of time and financial resources, and after years of this, he decided to abandon the patent application. It didn’t appear that the likelihood of getting a patent was very high.

After some initial conversation, he decided to work with me to protect some of the new inventions. The technology features were innovative, so we were able to secure a patent for him within six months of filing the application. I work with a lot of high-growth tech startups, helping them obtain patent protections for their innovations and contributing to their journey toward success, potentially achieving unicorn status. That always excites me. Maybe it’s not a typical war story, like an intense court battle, but to my client, it was a multiyear struggle, and he finally emerged victorious. So, I find that very memorable.

Ok, fantastic. Let’s now shift to discussing some advice for aspiring lawyers. Do you work remotely? Onsite? Or Hybrid? What do you think will be the future of how law offices operate? What do you prefer? Can you please explain what you mean?

I work on-site, fully in person. I think the in-person experience and collaboration with my colleagues are invaluable. Attorneys from different practice groups can get together because the client matters are intertwined. Some of them are related to IP and some are corporate and litigation matters. Therefore, being in the office together as a team increases efficiency.

In other industries, if you’re a programmer and work for a technology company, perhaps you can efficiently work remotely or adopt a hybrid mode. However, in my experience as a legal professional, the in-person experience cannot be replaced. When we have clients who can come to our office and meet face-to-face, I can give them a tour of the office, introduce them to my colleagues, and afford me hands-on experience if the clients bring their prototypes, which is very often enjoyed and appreciated. It just adds that extra layer of personal interaction because we’re not just communicating through a monitor or a phone conversation, which has value to a lot of my clients.

That being said, I think the future of law offices will be a split between on-site and hybrid work modes. One type will encourage everyone to come to the office as much as possible, while the other will adopt a semi-permanent hybrid model. I understand that the hybrid work mode can provide flexibility, and I think we have sufficient supporting technology from the COVID era. On the other hand, it isn’t easy to replace personal interactions, and this should be considered.

How has the legal world changed since COVID? How do you think it might change in the near future? Can you explain what you mean?

I think COVID has forced people to adopt new technology and come up with ways to adapt to technology. That, in combination with Generative AI further accelerated the pace of innovation.

These advancements in technology are very applicable to the legal world. It has transformed the way that we communicate, how we schedule client meetings, and how we communicate with each other. I think it’s inevitable that we’re going to see more and more integration of legal tech in our day-to-day operations. To start, technology will help streamline workflow and automate routine tasks. Eventually, it will evolve to handle more advanced assignments. That’s the trend. That’s the future direction. Whether we like it or not, technology is present and will have an impact. Many clients will likely want to see the utilization of technology, and internally, firms will observe a competitive landscape focused on its seamless integration. As a legal professional, I think it is important to keep an open mind toward this new technology, because it may help increase efficiency, as well as accuracy. However, it is of paramount importance that we be prudent and ensure we have a thorough understanding of the functionality of any new technology before we decide to proceed to adopt any of it.

Based on your experience, how can attorneys effectively leverage social media to build their practice?

Social media can help us reach a wider audience, potentially on a global scale. There’s no question about it. However, as an attorney, we should be selective about the topic, the timing, and which social media platform is proper for the specific type of conference. You have to make sure you’re likely to inspire positive feedback and that you are fully committed to the messaging of the post.

When considering posting on social media — whether it’s about your work or a general comment on a court proceeding or news — you should invest time in research, carefully construct your message, and ensure your articulation truly reflects your professionalism.

Excellent. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Become A Top Lawyer In Your Specific Field of Law?”

  1. Passion — Be passionate and maintain curiosity about your practice area and legal practice in general. As a patent attorney, I’m passionate about technology and innovations, which helps me. It keeps things interesting at work. There’s never really a dull moment. My clients are all over the spectrum in terms of areas of innovation. If there are some newly developed large language models, machine learning, or AI in the news, I want to know about it. I want to make sure that I’m aware of the features, and if not, I will learn.
  2. Communication — Having the ability to articulate. How can you effectively communicate with nonlegal professionals, ensuring clear and understandable interactions with your clients? How do you make sure they can comprehend legal procedures and reasoning? How do you articulate with your colleagues, a judge, and opposing counsel? There are many different ways you can approach them for a conversation or convey a message. Clear communication, enabling effective articulation with the other party, is crucial. It can be highly beneficial or, at the very least, prevent drawing negative attention. Possessing this ability is essential.
  3. Confidence — Do your homework before every client meeting and be confident. I can give you a story here. I was clerking at a law firm during my second year in law school, and I was working on a specific matter and one of the attorneys at the firm asked me to draft a memo. I drafted the memo, and I sent it to him for review. The first question that he asked me was, “How do you think you did?” I responded by saying, “I found some good case law, and I think I did pretty well.” So then he said, “If you think you drafted a good memo, be confident and tell people that.” He said that this is a way to project your confidence in a way that the clients would understand. If you do your homework, be confident.
  4. Work hard — There is no shortcut to success. If you have consistently demonstrated that you are a hard-working person, good things will follow.
  5. Kindness — The last one is kindness. Again, I think it is important. Be kind to everyone. Just be kind to your clients, your colleagues, opposing counsels, judges, and everyone you meet.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

Jensen Huang — He is the co-founder and CEO of NVIDIA Corporation, one of the largest AI computing companies in the worldI am very curious about his leadership style. I want to reach higher, and his leadership style has been inspiring. I’m curious to find out how he has become the most popular CEO in the country while turning NVIDIA into one of the most valuable companies by market cap in the world.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!

See the full interview here.

About the Interviewer: Eric L. Pines is a nationally recognized federal employment lawyer, mediator, and attorney business coach. He represents federal employees and acts as in-house counsel for over fifty thousand federal employees through his work as a federal employee labor union representative. A formal federal employee himself, Mr. Pines began his federal employment law career as in-house counsel for AFGE Local 1923 which is in Social Security Administration’s headquarters and is the largest federal union local in the world. He presently serves as AFGE 1923’s Chief Counsel as well as in-house counsel for all FEMA bargaining unit employees and numerous Department of Defense and Veteran Affairs unions.

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