Fish & Richardson’s Danielle “DJ” Healey has practiced law for more than 32 years. The antitrust and IP litigator opened Fish’s Houston office in 2008. As reported here last summer, with the support of her family and law firm, she made the decision to live openly full time as her true self — a woman.
Healey says she’s known since age 4 she was female — she remembers asking her mother when she would be a girl. After living with the issue for a lifetime, “at age 57, it came down to transition or implode.”
Since then she’s been practicing law in the same courts with the same clients. “The only real difference is that today my clients and colleagues see someone who is a much happier person than they knew before,” she says, “and, of course, with great hair and makeup.”
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We checked in with Healey earlier this week for more details about big firm IP practice as an openly transgender woman.
Scott Graham: How has it been practicing now as a woman, day to day, for the last six months?
DJ Healey: My firm’s been incredibly supportive. I’ve had an appearance before a federal judge in Houston I’ve known for many, many years. She referred to me as Ms. Healey, treated me very nicely, respectfully. And at the Inn of Court, I’ve gotten great support from, not just the members of the Inn, but the judges.
To the extent people thought the door was locked to trans people in the legal community, it’s not locked. That doesn’t say that it’s easy to get through (laughs). It’s one thing for Fish and the many people in the Houston bar to unlock the door, it’s another thing for a trans woman to get through the door.
What have been some of those challenges?
I’ve experienced many, many good things. My present clients have been very supportive, and even clients I hadn’t dealt with before I transitioned that I’ve been introduced to at the firm, they’ve been very supportive. [On new business], I’ve found compared with my pretransition self, I’m getting some initial engagement up front, by people who are looking for representation when they get sued, but then after a couple of rounds of emails or in one instance the first phone call, where obviously they heard my voice, those melted away.
And I don’t know what I don’t know. It could be they just thought, well, you’re not the lawyer for us. So that’s one phenomenon in an otherwise incredibly positive experience with my existing clients and my existing firm and colleagues.
The second thing I never realized is — my daughter lives in Los Angeles, I’ve spent a lot of time there. In LA, if you’re trans? So what. It’s just not even an issue. In Texas, it’s an issue. It was very public last summer, with the Texas executive and Senate drive to enact the bathroom bill. It took every major corporation that does business in Texas, major law firms sending letters, and the courage of Speaker Joe Straus to hold the line in the House of Representatives to chill this bill.
What that translates to in real life is there are only about 10 “out” trans lawyers in a bar of 100,000. Now, statistically trans is very small, but it should be in the hundreds, not “you can count them on two hands.” Now that I’m in this mix, I help out, I did an amicus brief in the Supreme Court in Pidgeon v. Texas. Several lawyers from my firm pitched in [for] Equality Texas and the national LGBT Bar Association.
How was the experience of testifying before the Legislature?
It was really an eye-opener. Ninety-five percent of the people who testified, testified against the bathroom bill. The police chiefs are testifying there’s never been a problem. This is a solution in search of a problem.
I’ve been really fortunate. My wife has accepted it and is supportive, my kids have accepted it and are supportive. I’ve had the easiest transition of anyone I’ve heard of. On the other hand, as a rich white guy — I was always socially liberal, I did pro bono for the ACLU — but I had no idea what it was like to be part of what in Texas is a disliked minority. You know, the federal government is trying to restrict transgender in the military. That sends a message.
The IP bar isn’t known for being the most welcoming place for women generally. Have you had any experience that you would perceive as gender discrimination?
To be honest, no I haven’t. At Fish & Richardson, you don’t see that at all.
In interactions with other attorneys?
Yeah, there are attorneys who are jerks. But none of the times I’ve dealt with someone being a jerk was it any different than when I was a guy in the same situation with the same type of person. Maybe it’s peculiar to my situation because many people have known me for 20 or 30 years. I wasn’t transitioning as a 30-year-old or 28-year-old associate.
Has any litigation opponent gone out of their way to be kind?
One of the big cases I’ve worked on was opposite Greg LoCascio, Tim Gilman and Leslie Schmidt at Kirkland [& Ellis]. They didn’t do anything for me as a lawyer, or for my client — they just went out of their way to be nice. There’s also Jennifer Kurcz at Baker & Hostetler. I’ve been opposite her seven years, but she went out of her way to dialogue with me and be supportive.
Who else in the bar has reached out?
Kathi Vidal, who used to be at Fish, now at Winston & Strawn. She’s been a really super supportive mentor and friend. Stanford’s Mark Lemley has likewise been supportive. He put me on a panel, his patent law program in October.
Ken Adamo, who’s a longtime IP trial lawyer, now at Kirkland. I saw him at a dinner at UT last fall. He said, “You’ve always been known as a very tough opponent, but a very fair, honest and good-hearted opponent. And I like to think that all the good karma you put out there is what’s coming back to you now.”
In the IP and technology world, do you think there’s more or less tolerance for someone who’s taking an unconventional path?
There’s more support. The reason I know that, for many, many years — obviously, this [transition] doesn’t happen overnight. All through the 2000s when I was in Silicon Valley, there were dinner groups of trans women that would get organized. It was like any group of middle-aged women who would go out to dinner. And it was software engineers, lawyers, executives. Lots of high-tech engineers in those dinner groups. And I remember Intel was one of the very first companies that had open support for trans employees.
I think part of it is because technology and IP is centered in Boston, and in Northern California, and in San Diego and Northern Virginia. It tends to grow up around university towns. Those tend to be the most supportive communities.