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Umberger finds a patent for career success

Umberger finds a patent for career success

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Michelle Umberger, Perkins Coie LLP

Law degree received from: University of Wisconsin Law School, 1997

Staff photo by Kevin Harnack

Michelle Umberger knows how to blaze a trail.

She was the first in her family to graduate from college. She was the first in her family to graduate from law school, and she did it with three children younger than 5. Now, she is one of the nation’s few female patent litigation partners at a major law firm.

“I originally started out in trusts and estate law because I thought those hours would be more family friendly, but I got pulled into a patent case and I just loved it,” Umberger said. “It turned out to be more family friendly and flexible than I thought it would be.”

The American Intellectual Property Law Association estimates that 96 percent of patent litigation partners at law firms are male.

But Umberger further distinguishes herself by being one of the best, said David Jones, a partner in Perkins Coie LLP’s patent litigations department.

“Her practice has taken her to federal courts across the country,” he said, “and has required that she master such diverse technologies as the stem cell work pioneered at the University of Wisconsin, medical devices for treating brain aneurysms, advanced computer memory storage devices and more.”

Jones said Umberger has developed a particular expertise in representing the intellectual property licensing entities of major research universities, such as the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation at the University of Wisconsin.

“Michelle has, without question, reached the very pinnacle of the patent litigation field,” Jones said, “and is sought after for her quick mind, sound judgment and no-nonsense approach.”

Umberger’s leadership extends outside of the courtroom. She is managing partner for Perkins Coie’s Madison office and is one of the only women to hold such a position for the firm, which has more than 800 attorneys around the world.

When she started at the Madison office, she was the only female among six lawyers. Today, about half of the office’s 20 attorneys are women.

“I think it’s great to see more women getting into law, and I hope they can see from my example that you can balance a great, rewarding career with family life,” Umberger said. “It also helps if you are with a firm that is flexible and have a great support system in place.”

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