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WEIL PATENT LITIGATOR MAKES TRIP TO THE ER EVERY WEEK By day, he works on patent litigation as an associate in the Silicon Valley office of a prominent New York law firm. But by night, he revives heart attack victims and sets broken bones as an emergency room doctor in Palo Alto. Okey Onyejekwe, M.D., J.D., might not be a superhero, but he probably comes close in the minds of all the parents who just want their kids to grow up to be one or the other. The 33-year-old started moonlighting at the Veterans Administration Hospital as a Stanford law student. Now, in his second year at Weil, Gotshal & Manges, he continues work in the emergency room one night a week, from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. “I haven’t yet found it to be a conflict,” Onyejekwe said. “When I come in the next day a lot of people don’t know what I’ve done the night before.” The doctor-cum-lawyer got his medical degree from Ohio State University in 2000, but his experience as a resident turned his head in a different direction. Doctors were more concerned about avoiding lawsuits than giving the best care, and that got him thinking about malpractice reform, he said.
Balancing Acts
Work-life balance is increasingly an issue for burned-out lawyers of both genders, parents in particular. Law students interviewing at firms increasingly ask whether they’ll have a life once they have a job. Our roundup keeps track of this hot topic for you.

“During my residency I started thinking I wanted to get into health care policy, so I decided to do a law degree,” Onyejekwe said. “Eventually I’d like to get into that.” For now, though, he’s more than happy to plow through filings in patent suits, many of which have to do with medical devices that he’s familiar with. Emergency rooms and law firms also have a few other things in common. “The hours are very similar in terms of the toll that it takes � I’ve had to do all-night work at Weil,” Onyejekwe said. “The diligence and real-time decision-making that happens at a law firm is particularly like an emergency room,” he added. But there’s more to Onyejekwe’s life than just being a doctor and a lawyer. He was born to Nigerian immigrant parents who are both retired from university careers. He’s also a flight surgeon in the Air Force Reserve, and has flown to Germany on occasion to aid the wounded U.S. soldiers who are brought there from Iraq. “That’s the one thing I can contribute to the war effort,” Onyejekwe said. “I don’t really know how to do that much else.” Indeed, not that much else.

Zusha Elinson

FORGING YOUR OWN WAY When IP lawyer Gabrielle Higgins walked into a Boston conference room in early November to sign her partnership agreement at Ropes & Gray, she was pleasantly surprised. Of the firm’s 10 new partners, seven, including her, were women. “I can’t tell you how wonderful it was,” said the Palo Alto IP litigator. Three of the seven women have children, she added. Higgins, a 44-year-old mother of three, started at Fish & Neave in New York in 1989 and moved to Palo Alto in 1992 when the firm opened an office here. She had her first two daughters, now ages 7 and 4, while an associate. After she was promoted to senior counsel, a role she said could lead to partnership, Higgins instead chose to step off the partnership track to have her first child. For about a year after the birth of each of her first two daughters, Higgins reduced her schedule to 80 percent. Higgins says she wasn’t “mommy tracked,” and that her 18-year path to partnership was entirely based on decisions she made because they were the best for her. “I happily was in that position for a time period because it suited me,” Higgins said. “I made it clear before my third [child] that I wanted to be back on a track, and happened to have my third while on track.” These days there are more ways to make partner, Higgins reflected, and more women are taking advantage of the flexibility firms increasingly allow. A parent can stay full-time and stay on the regular partnership track, switch to a reduced schedule and stay on track, go part-time and have the track extended, or even step off for a time and then get back on. “I think all these options are available. It just depends on the woman and how she chooses to handle the work-life balance issues,” Higgins said. She recalls one moment of her own juggling just a couple of years ago: It was November 2005; by then, Fish & Neave had merged with Ropes & Gray. Higgins, in the early months of pregnancy, was in trial in San Francisco, trying to deal with morning sickness and getting ready to do a direct examination. “So I’m in Chief Judge [Marilyn Hall] Patel’s courtroom, and I’m worrying about whether I’m going to make it to the next break,” she recalled. “That’s something a woman faces � morning sickness and direct examination � that a man doesn’t confront in a courtroom.” Since having her third child, Higgins and husband William Steinmetz have switched roles. Steinmetz was a partner at Ropes when their now-18-month-old daughter was born and worked part-time to care for her, Higgins said. Last year, he retired to become a full-time dad. “The moral of my story,” she said, “is that you can get to that end of becoming a partner in many ways.”

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