Some people, when faced with the question, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” have no answer. Others, like Tara Elliott, partner at WilmerHale, had a career goal from an early age. 

“I knew early on what I wanted to do,” she explains, “I did not know IP, but I had a plan to go to law school. I was good at math and science in middle school, liked computers and technology, and knew I wanted to be a lawyer from age 10 or so.” 

For a time, Elliott’s path seemed to be taking her toward a career as an engineer, though she always imagined law school in her future, though her precise goal remained nebulous. She knew that there existed a nexus of law and technology, but it wasn’t until she reached college that she learned of IP and patent law. It was around this time that she also learned of the American Intellectual Property Law Education Foundation (AIPLEF), which helps provide scholarships to minority students who wish to study intellectual property law. 

With the help of the $10,000 scholarship the AIPLEF awarded her, Elliott went to law school with IP in her sights. “I went to law school hoping to take every IP course I could,” she says. “There were not many course offerings at big schools, but I was able to plan a course after the first year that included trademark, copyright and patent law. I took almost everything they offered at the time.” She notes that, in the 1990s, IP law was not as big as it is today, and nowadays, offerings are more expansive.

Now, Elliott mentors many students, from high schoolers to law school students. In speaking with younger students, she sees more interest in law school on their part, but also hears a lot of second thoughts due to the high cost of a legal education. She notes that, “Minorities are not coming into graduate schools with the same resources in terms of funding education, and that is magnified for people of color. What we need in this profession, in this field, is more diversity to reflect the client base we serve.” The AIPLEF, she says, has become more important in the past decade, as it helps to satisfy that profound need. 

Elliott notes that, when speaking to her own children (ages 8 and 12), she tells them that the world is becoming more global than ever, and she is aware of how slowly change can happen. Not only is the client base more diverse in this country, but IP law is increasingly international, interacting with China, Japan, India, Europe and elsewhere. “This mandates that we get comfortable with those who are different from us,” she says. “The profession has a long way to go, but organizations like the AIPLEF are at the forefront of the legal community, encouraging it to make shifts that are necessary.” And, perhaps the AIPLEF can help another young woman achieve her dream of a career that encompasses technology and the law, like it did for Tara Elliott.


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