The first word that comes to mind when describing ChiWIP member Aimee Nolan is inspiration. Currently Vice President, Associate General Counsel and Chief IP Counsel at Fortune 500 company Grainger, Aimee has enjoyed a partnership with her organization for more than 20 years, all while maintaining her active involvement in the community, including ChiWIP’s In-House Advisory Committee.
Aimee’s legal career commenced in a state of tumult after her first legal role was with a company that was acquired, and subsequently her first law firm shuttered its doors and her second firm merged within just a few short years. Thankfully, by then Aimee had already built a solid reputation for herself while working for then-client Grainger, and the company recruited her to work in-house. At first Aimee questioned whether she had the right level of experience to make the shift to in-house after just a few years of practice, but Aimee’s professional courage paid off, and the rest is history.
Aimee credits her longevity within Grainer to keeping her practice fresh. She continually searches for ways to grow her practice and identify opportunities in emerging areas of the law. By way of example, she was initially brought in to serve the IP department at Grainger, but shortly after joining she learned that the finance department needed a strong legal advocate. Aimee readily admits she knew nothing about the area, but she did have a willingness to learn. She dug in and became a go-to for the group for many years, to the mutual benefit of both Grainger and Aimee. Whether in marketing compliance or privacy and cybersecurity, Aimee’s continued willingness to evolve her practice enabled her to be a true partner to Grainger while keeping her career interesting and challenging for a great number of years (and hopefully many more to come).
Another way Aimee has vastly succeeded in her career is through knowing the importance of culture within an organization. To Aimee, relationships are just as key as substantive skills. Aimee reflects on the many friends she has made at all stages of her career and is quick to point out that absolutely none of them remained where they initially launched their careers. Since you never know who will one day sit on a hiring committee or be tasked with making top decisions within a business, it is a fair to assume that everyone will.
Aimee’s advice to all young lawyers is to keep an open mind and say yes to new opportunities. Without experimenting in new areas of the law or learning new parts of the businesses, it is easy to miss out on challenging, fulfilling work that make the practice of law all the more meaningful. Moreover, when attorneys are willing take chances in their career, sponsors are willing to take chances to help those eager attorneys grow. Aimee has found that building a reputation as a go-to while a practice area is up and coming will quickly open doors for new opportunities and work alliances, and riding the wave of an emerging area is always easier than catching the tail end of it. Having applied this philosophy to her own career, Aimee built up a number of valuable advocates willing to vouch for her talents, including those she would otherwise not have had the opportunity to get to know had she stayed strictly within the confines of her comfort zone.
Although Aimee recalls wishing she had more confidence in herself as a young attorney, she learned over the years that when in a room filled with business people, they trusted her and looked to her for guidance, and in turn, she learned to speak up and willingly share the value that she could bring to a project. Although many women are reluctant to share their success within an organization for fear of being immodest, Aimee suggests that there are many indirect ways to do so. Preparing a regular summary of accomplishments, progress reports, or setting up regular drumbeats are great ways to showcase value brought to an organization, while remaining authentic to one’s own value of modesty. She encourages young attorneys to let their accomplishments be known regularly, via whatever means you feel most comfortable doing.
Aimee has been an integral part of the ChiWIP community since the very beginning. She sat on one of the first panel discussions ChiWIP ever held back in October 2015 and hasn’t looked back since. Aimee looks up to the organization’s rapid growth as a model for the other organizations, and she credits ChiWIP with being a great way to meet and network with women from a variety of backgrounds throughout the Chicagoland area that she would otherwise not have encountered. Obviously, ChiWIP is equally as lucky to have Aimee as a member!
Aimee’s professional mantra is to always conduct herself in such a way that when she leaves the room, she is comfortable with how those who remain will describe her. When she isn’t working, Aimee is involved in a variety of community organizations. She presently serves as the Chair of the Illinois Women Conquer ALZ, the woman’s initiative of the IL Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, whose focus is dedicated to raising awareness and taking action in the fight to end Alzheimer’s. She also serves as an Executive Director of the Board of Directors for the Judd Goldman Adaptive Sailing Foundation, a nonprofit that helps physically disabled an other-abled children and adults enjoy the benefits of sailing on Lake Michigan in a supportive and independent environment. Aimee regularly chauffeurs her two daughters to Irish dance competitions and loves to relax and cuddle up with her dog on those rare occasions when she isn’t on the go. Thanks for being an inspiration to ChiWIP members, Aimee!
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