Tuesday, September 09, 2014

          5 Questions for Claude M. Stern ‘80

          "When it comes to lawyering, my real passion is oral argument. I love the preparation, the strategizing, and the challenge of convincing another of my point of view. And there is nothing better than turning around a judge whose tentative was against me."
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          Stern can sometimes be found "ripping down Hwy 9 with my motorcycle buddies, all lawyers by the way."

          Claude M. Stern is the co-chair of intellectual property litigation at Quinn Emanuel in Silicon Valley. In 34 years of practice, Stern has developed extensive national experience in all areas of intellectual property and technology litigation.

          When did you know you wanted to be a lawyer?

          I studied Philosophy at UCLA, and went to law school at the recommendation of one of the 20th century’s great ethical theorists Philippa Foote (who was an Oxford don but taught a class at UCLA every other year). Professor Foote suggested that if I wanted to make a career out of philosophy and especially become an ethical theorist (I did), I should get a law degree and then a Ph.D. in Jurisprudence. So my law school essay focused entirely on my interest in becoming an academic.

          Claude M. Stern Once I was in law school and developed many close friends, all of whom wanted to become lawyers, I began considering a career as a practicing lawyer. After my first year in law school, I summered at a small NY law firm. After my second year, I spent the summer at what was then Pillsbury Madison & Sutro, widely reputed to be the biggest, most prestigious and oldest law firm in San Francisco at the time.

          Those summer experiences cinched it for me. I loved the rough and tumble of litigation, the problem solving, the collegiality, the debate, the challenge of solving a practical problem within the confines of the law. And I guess I’ve been smitten ever since.

          What’s your passion?

          My passion is being enthusiastic in everything I’m doing—perhaps to a fault. After 34 years of being a lawyer, I still love it. But the same can be said for my love of playing guitar, or house-boating on lake Shasta, or snow skiing with my sons, or travelling with my wife Andrea, or ripping down Hwy 9 with my motorcycle buddies (all lawyers by the way).

          When it comes to lawyering, my real passion is oral argument. I love the preparation, the strategizing, and the challenge of convincing another of my point of view. And there is nothing better than turning around a judge whose tentative was against me.

          What’s the best lesson you ever learned from a mentor?

          I’ve been blessed to have several remarkable mentors during my career. After graduating from UC Hastings in 1980, I clerked for Judge Jerome Farris of the Ninth Circuit. Judge Farris has, over the last 34 years, been a constant source of wisdom for a variety of career-related decisions I’ve made. While working for him, the Judge gave me many kernels of advice, but one of the most important was this:

          Although every case presents many, many issues, your job is to find the one issue that goes to the heart of the case. It may be a substantive issue, it may be a procedural issue, but finding that issue, properly positioning it, and then doggedly pursuing it, is the job of a good lawyer.

          What is your most valuable daily habit?

          I think my most valuable professional daily habit is reading the advance sheets (all the recent federal and California decisions). I started this as a newbie lawyer and have done it daily for 34 years. It keeps me well rounded on the law and gives me insights into recent trends in a variety of areas. It also allowed me to become comfortable taking on a wide range of cases, and import ideas and concepts from non-IP areas to a largely IP practice.

          After I won a particularly notable software copyright case in 1986 as a 6th year associate, I started taking on more technology and intellectual property (IP) clients. Today, my practice focuses on technology clients, but the bulk of what I do is IP disputes (patent, copyright, trademark, trade secret and breach of license), but I am still routinely hired for large complex civil cases outside the IP area.

          Nowadays, there is a strong trend both in our firm and in the profession to specialize. Some young lawyers’ view of the practice is so narrow: all they want to do are patent cases, or trademark cases, or white collar work. These lawyers are bright and enthusiastic, but their general reluctance to explore other areas of law and cases outside their comfort zone limits their talents. Reading the advance sheets on a regular basis gives you great insights into numerous areas of law and gives you the confidence to stretch and take on cases that are different from the normal docket.

          What was the worst thing about law school?

          I’m the wrong guy to answer that question.

          I loved my three years at UC Hastings. Some of my best friends today were friends I met in the first year. I loved the collegiality, the intellectual challenges, the endless dialogue about issues of great social importance. I loved the summer jobs working at law firms. I loved writing my Law Review Note and being a senior editor of the Hastings Law Journal.

          I was so enthralled with the UC Hastings experience that when I was offered a chance to change law schools, I declined.

          What is your greatest professional accomplishment?

          Serving as a President of the Association of Business Trial Lawyers was a great honor and gave me exposure to some of the great legal and judicial talent we have throughout our state. It also reinforced my strong belief in the fraternity of law, and the importance developing professional relationships with fellow lawyers and judges and improving the practice of law.

          Winning a precedent-setting copyright case when I was only a young lawyer (Broderbund v. Unison) was a huge thrill and was the single most important event in terms of generating client referrals. That case also served as the progenitor for the very famous Apple v. Microsoft copyright case, which laid the framework for user interface copyright protection throughout this country for decades, even today. To have that impact on law at an early age was both personally and professionally very rewarding.

          Influencing future trial lawyers has been also very satisfying. There are two in particular, Evette Pennypacker (one of my partners at Quinn Emanuel) and Rodger Cole (head of litigation at Fenwick & West), who were both trained by me from their graduation from law school. (I literally hired Evette, who was attending UC Hastings, as a summer associate when I was at Fenwick). Both Evette and Rodger are, today, remarkably successful, talented and brilliant trial lawyers with successful practices. I take great pride in having contributed even a little to the development of their skills.

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