The law was far from her thoughts when Nicole Morris was a child; her parents wanted her to be a doctor. That dream faded as she got older and realized she couldn't handle the sight of blood. Today Morris is managing patent counsel for one of the best-recognized brands in the world—The Coca-Cola Company.
Morris used her scientific aptitude in college, obtaining a B.S. in chemical engineering from Northwestern University. She worked for six years as an engineer and earned a master's in chemistry from the University of Michigan before finally heading off to law school at the University of Minnesota. She worked for eight years in private practice—first at Schwegman, Lundberg, Woessner & Kluth, then at Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi, and finally at Kilpatrick Stockton.
How did you make the leap from engineering to law?
I thought about pursuing a Ph.D. and went to graduate school to study chemistry after working for three years as an engineer at Eli Lilly. But I realized that sort of life wasn't for me, so I got my master's and went back to work as an engineer—this time for 3M. In that job I had a chance to see the interaction between technology and legal issues. I was getting interested in law, so I applied to law school. Now I often get to deal with that interplay between technology and law.
Has your engineering background come into play as patent counsel at Coca-Cola?
I often have to deal with the technical part of the business. I can talk to people on the manufacturing side, and I understand their pressures and their mind-set. But because I have a legal background and look at the big picture, I can counsel them better. If big issues are not handled correctly from the outset, they can lead to legal issues. In a sense, I manage risk—something I was trained to do as an engineer.
You've been at Coca-Cola for two years now. What have been some of the highlights of your time there so far?
Coca-Cola is a major part of the community in Atlanta and has a huge global presence. So when the company celebrated its 125th anniversary two years ago, Taio Cruz came to our corporate headquarters and gave us a concert. That was amazing. And last year Will.i.am came to our shareholders meeting. The company is very connected to music and sports, and it's a lot of fun for a nerdy engineer and lawyer like me to be able to get so close to this world of sports and entertainment.
How has working at Coca-Cola changed you and your family?
My son is almost 6. He has no idea what I do, but he knows I work for Coca-Cola. And he gets excited whenever he sees the name Coke. That's fun.
On another note, do you have access to Coca-Cola's secret formula?
I do not—and I don't want to know it! The burden would be too great. The formula is not patented because then it would have to be disclosed. It's a trade secret and has remained so for 127 years.
Lisa Shuchman writes for Corporate Counsel, a Daily Report affiliate.