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Michelle Ybarra, Partner, Keker, Van Nest & Peters (Photo: Courtesy photo)

Michelle Ybarra represents cybersecurity company Zscaler, which had one of the biggest tech initial public offering’s of 2018, in multiple patent litigations, including heading up its defense on multiple fronts against rival Symantec.

Name an important opportunity you’ve had in your career and what you did with it?

As a new partner, a client engaged me to defend a significant case brought by a prickly adversary and insisted I take the lead. She demonstrated enormous trust in me, and I didn’t let her down. We executed an aggressive defense strategy and had the case thrown out on a motion to dismiss while securing a sanctions award against opposing counsel.

What drew you to practicing law in the technology industry?

One of my first cases as a young lawyer involved a patent and antitrust dispute over video game controllers. I deposed one inventor and was hooked. Litigation in the technology industry sets the terms of access to and development of some of the most fascinating inventions of our time. It is an exciting area to practice.

What’s the best piece of career advice anyone ever gave you?

Work twice as hard, and be twice as good.

In 50 words or less, what’s the best way to address tech’s gender gap?

Promote one generation of talented women to positions of leadership and influence, and they will swing open the doors behind them.

Describe yourself in one word.


Who is the most important mentor you’ve had thus far in your career? Why?

The partner on my first big patent case, who let me run the case start to finish and gave me every stand-up opportunity that arose. That experience taught me that I loved litigating intellectual property cases and could win them.

What’s the best part of working in the tech sector?

The landscape is constantly changing. It keeps you on your toes.

What’s the biggest challenge?

Same answer.

How do you describe what you do for a living to people you’re meeting for the first time?

I am an attorney who specializes in high-stakes IP litigation.

What’s one way technology has made your life easier?

Being always available to anyone and everyone.

One way it’s made your life more difficult?

Same answer.

What kinds of new technologies should tomorrow’s lawyers be able to use effectively?

Machine-learning/natural-language-processing-based document review tools. Given how black- box those systems are, lawyers should understand the appropriate use cases, inherent limitations and statistical significance/confidence intervals so that they know when to trust or distrust these tools.

What’s one area of technology that you’re most excited about and why?

3D printing. The possibilities are endless.

Ross Todd

Ross Todd is bureau chief of The Recorder in San Francisco. He writes about litigation in the Bay Area and around California. Contact Ross at rtodd@alm.com. On Twitter: @Ross_Todd.

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