Cynthia J. Rigsby’s chosen area of practice is one that has a tendency to make her very uncomfortable.
“I’m fascinated, yet terrified, by technology, and I’m not afraid to say it,” said the partner and vice chairwoman of the intellectual property litigation practice at Foley & Lardner LLP.
But her way of dealing that discomfort works in Rigsby’s favor when she is in the courtroom litigating IP cases.
“I just dive in and learn everything I can about a subject, whether it’s a superconductor or some kind of medical technology,” Rigsby said. “Since I don’t have that super science background, I think I am easily able to take it down to where juries and judges can easily understand it.”
That approach has served Rigsby well in a practice area that often involves high stakes for companies and judgments that reach into the millions.
“Sometimes I think people who know a lot about a subject have a harder time explaining it,” she said. “I can gather the information and put it together into a persuasive argument that’s easy to understand.
“I’m learning a whole lot, and then I move on to the next topic once the case is done. It’s always changing.”
Her success in the field led to Rigsby becoming the first female partner in Foley & Lardner’s IP practice in Milwaukee. Few women take on IP law, she said, possibly because it’s linked so tightly to the sciences.
“Women, unfortunately, are underrepresented in those areas as well,” Rigsby said. “If there’s a large case, I may often be the only woman in the room. The lawyers are all men. The clients are all male.
That unfortunately is the nature of this kind of law, and I’m hoping that will change.”
When she first joined the firm’s IP practice, Rigsby was just one of three women. Through her leadership and mentoring, there are now two female partners in the IP practice, three women who are senior counselors and two female associates, said Linda Benfield, managing partner of Foley & Lardner’s Milwaukee office.
“Cynthia’s goal is to provide career development guidance and not just a work evaluation,” Benfield said. “She especially focuses on ensuring that associates receive assessments that contribute to their personal and professional growth.”
And she does it all within a practice area that, at times, can baffle her.
“I still think,” Rigsby said, “that when you press the button and the TV comes on, it’s magical.”