Stephanie Skaff of Farella Braun + Martel helped data center design company BladeRoom Group Ltd. overcome a motion to dismiss in a high-profile breach of contract and IP suit against Facebook Inc.
If I could change one thing about working in tech, it would be …
I think tech can be very polarizing. Tech success has created a huge amount of wealth and privilege, including educational and technology privilege that feels extremely threatening and exclusionary to people outside of the industry. I don’t think most people in tech innovate for money alone. People want to make a difference in the world. We need to focus on those values. I think the most successful tech leaders work to demystify tech, and use it to create connections and community.
Who’s the best leader you’ve seen in action and why?
My friend, Laura Palmer. Her leadership style is pragmatic, but also energetic, inspiring, inclusive and creative. It’s a great combination.
After the events that have rocked Silicon Valley this year, are you more or less hopeful about the prospects for women in the tech industry?
I am more hopeful. I think women (and great men, too) are redefining the value proposition in the tech industry. By focusing on values we care deeply about—community and connection, fairness and equality, health and wellness, care for our environment, pursuit of knowledge and learning—women across the tech industry are defining their own success and tapping into their own powerful authentic motivations to drive innovation. I think that makes this a really exciting and inspiring time in our history.
Do lawyers bear any special responsibility in addressing gender stereotyping and discrimination in tech?
Lawyers are, at our truest and finest, advocates for fairness and equality, both inside and outside of the courtroom. And lawyers also have at least some measure of power. I believe one of the important responsibilities of people in power is to use our voices to speak out against discrimination, stereotypes and unintended biases that make the workplace harder to navigate for certain individuals or groups. Individuals with less power should be able to raise their voices to advocate for their ideas … not for their right to sit at the table in the first place. It is our job to create, as much as possible, a level playing field so that everyone has a chance to succeed.
If I weren’t working in tech, I’d be …
Learning something new. Right now, I am fascinated with neurobiology. Our brains—and how they work to define our conscious and unconscious experience—are endlessly fascinating.
The No. 1 issue that keeps me and my clients up at night is …
The inability of the justice system to efficiently adjudicate significant, complicated technology disputes. The amount of time and resources expended, the highly adversarial nature of the process, and the significant uncertainty in outcomes, makes litigation a last resort for most clients. That said, there is a strong and legitimate resistance to giving up the right to a judicially supervised trial to settle what are often novel and hotly contested issues.
What piece of advice do you have for young lawyers in tech?
Work hard, play fair, keep learning, invest your energy in your clients and their story, be thankful for your team, and don’t be afraid to bring both your humor and your empathy to the job.