Erin Fox's story shows how flexibility and adaptability are key components in a successful legal career. Erin graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. At the time, however, she wasn't interested in following the mold taken by most ME graduates and doing R&D work. She instead started in computer consulting at PWC. After realizing the constant travel lifestyle wasn't for her, she moved to a software company, where she continued computer programming but found a preferable work-life balance.
In 2001, after the tech bubble burst, she found herself looking for work. This was a blessing in disguise, as she'd realized it was time to move on from computer programming. She was then introduced to a friend of a friend who had started his own law firm and was looking for an engineer to train in patent law. After six months working at the firm, she realized it was meant to be. Turns out, she loved patent law. She took the patent bar and started law school in the evenings. She continued working with the firm during law school and after for several years.
After getting her feet wet, Erin sought a new environment to progress her career. By that time, she had started a family, and believed that moving to a bigger firm would provide more stability for her family but also a challenging and rewarding career path that involved working with a larger client base. She started at Barnes & Thornburg, where she spent five years growing her patent practice. She later moved to Quarles & Brady, and was a partner there for three years. As a partner, she served as a "trusted mentor and teacher for . . . young attorneys in the Chicago legal community," as one former colleague writes, "especially in the high stress field of practicing in a law firm. She was always there to answer questions and provide guidance, regardless of the topic."
Despite her success and leadership in private practice, in the back of her mind she often thought that she'd enjoy in-house life, free from pressures of billable hours and business development. And in April of this year, she accepted a position as Group Technology Counsel at Illinois Tool Works Inc. And the change couldn't have been better. The best part for Erin is getting to know the business on a deeper level than she did as outside counsel. As Erin explained, because outside counsel is kept at arm's length from business operations, as in-house "I've learned more about the business in 4 months than I did about clients in 5 years."
Erin has participated in ChiWIP social and charitable events since its founding. Last year she joined the ChiWIP Outreach Committee to seek law students for potential memberships. In her new position as in-house counsel, however, she transitioned to the In-House Advisory Committee. In her new position, she enjoys helping ChiWIP develop its relationship with in-house attorneys while also expanding her own in-house contacts.
Reflecting on her career, Erin advises that integrating in your work place is critical to showing your value to your company or law firm. Even when you have your own book of business, she explains, integrating with a firm and becoming part of the "group" is critical to becoming invaluable in your career.
When not working, attending ChiWIP events, or taking care of her son and daughter, you might find Erin at a neighborhood Mexican spot. She's a huge fan of the cuisine, and claims the small neighborhood places are always the best.
Meet some of our other ChiWIP members here!
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