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“Making Your Seat at the Table”

WIT WNY Interview with Jessica Copeland, Member at Bond, Schoeneck & King PLLC

Women in Technology WNY is here to feature the stories of women in our local community and the various technology roles they fill, traditional and non-traditional. TechBuffalo is here to highlight these women to encourage others to not only explore technology opportunities but to take advantage of them.

I’m interested to know how someone who majored in math becomes a lawyer who then teaches data science and analytics in her spare time. Could you walk us through that journey?

It probably starts by acknowledging that I love math. I love the challenge it presents and the toolset it gives you to solve problems. I was fortunate to be able to weave this into my career aspirations through conversations with my high school math teacher and my father, who was a computer science/math dual major in college and also happens to be a lawyer. These conversations shared a similar theme: choose a major in which you have a passion and want to learn more because it will likely help craft your career. I was fortunate to have these early influences and, ultimately, elected to major in math at NYU.

With math as my foundation, I attended St. John’s University, School of Law. Law school was very different from undergraduate, not just the content, of course, but because it is a very different part of your brain that law school challenges. It trains you to think differently, but make no mistake; there is a foundation of mathematical principles, requiring advanced analytical skills learned in my undergraduate pursuit embedded in the foundations of law. Law school was a great way to expand my intellectual capabilities and challenge me in new ways. When I graduated from law school, I started my career as a patent litigator. This specialized area of law allows attorneys to work with state-of-the-art technology while navigating the legal boundaries of protecting innovations and intellectual property, which is the lifeblood of most modern companies.  This field offered me the opportunity to work with a wide variety of technologies, from pharmaceuticals and chemical compounds to telecommunications, computer hardware, software, and networking.

After several years litigating patents in New York City, my personal and professional life path took a turn northwest to Buffalo, as my husband and I were expecting our first child. We wanted to work in a city where we could continue to advance professionally, balanced with the joy of parenting.  When I started practicing in Buffalo, I continued my work in intellectual property, but I also expanded my skillset by taking on other forms of commercial litigation. This afforded me the opportunity to learn new techniques and diversify my understanding of other practice areas, but it also galvanized my passion for not only IP but the cross-section of law and technology. This, in turn, led me to cybersecurity and data privacy, which were quickly evolving at the time as an area where legal professionals could work with and support IT and compliance functions in organizations. As these were, and continue to be, fledgling fields of law, I had to do much of my own research and pursue coursework to better my understanding of the complexities of the cybersecurity framework and the interplay with data privacy and security.

After building some foundation in cybersecurity and data privacy compliance, I was asked to join an advisory committee for the Data Science and Analytics program at Buffalo State College, which then turned into an opportunity to teach others as an adjunct professor for the college. When you think about the intangible nature of law and data, it really does make sense that there is a legal undertone to data strategy and governance, and that’s the focus of my segment of the coursework. In class, we talk about the applicable data privacy law landscape, forecasting where we might see laws evolving, and help prepare students for a career in a space that will continue to advance and evolve swiftly in the coming years and decades.

You touched on this a little bit, but what does your job entail? Where is the overlap in law and tech?

When we talk about my law and technology practice, it is trifold.

First, patent litigation, a focus of my practice since I graduated law school in 2004, and one in which I continue to maintain a steady docket at Bond.

Second, data privacy compliance. Quite often, clients will come to me with questions about what laws govern their organization and whether they have the right policies in place, either public-facing or internally at the organization.  At the pace of certain businesses, it is not uncommon for companies to have the same public-facing privacy policy for several years, even though the practices reflected are outdated and possibly incorrect.  I assist organizations in understanding their obligations under the law, how to operate effectively in accordance with these laws, and continue to remain compliant with these continuously evolving laws.

Third, cybersecurity, which includes some advising on compliance with technical, administrative, and physical safeguards that need to be in place according to recent trends in the law, as well as incident response management. For context, several new state and federal laws are requiring organizations to implement targeted security protocols/measurements, to protect the Personally Identifiable Information (PII) collected, processed, and/or controlled by the organization, including employee and customer data.  That is where the compliance piece of my cybersecurity work comes in.  But what I am most passionate about in cybersecurity is incident response work. This is an area where you can really get engaged with a client to help them fix or better understand a challenge. For example, if an entity has a data incident (not legally a breach) I provide legal advice on whether the incident actually rises to the level of a “data breach.” I like to say that I’m the conductor of an orchestra of varying string instruments because I’m advising on the legal obligations while lining up the appropriate vendors to assist within their technical areas of expertise, as needed, including engaging forensic companies, communicating with insurance carriers, and as necessary, engaging breach notification vendors and threat actor negotiators.  Coordinating these moving parts, into a seamless and symbiotic symphony is exciting and deeply fulfilling.

What do you love most about your job?
In every aspect of my career as a lawyer, the one central thing that I can say I love the most is being there for my clients when they need me the most, at the point of a data incident, or when they learn their intellectual property may be subject to an infringement or their products are being accused of infringement and everything in between.  I try to be a calming, strategic voice to help navigate the challenges that each of those scenarios presents.  I also enjoy the thrill of fast-paced, high-energy, and exciting incident response management. As this relates to incident response work, I’m really helping a client in their most vulnerable state because they are just looking for “What do I do? I can’t get into my network. I can’t process these purchase orders. I can’t get to my suppliers on time. I can’t pay my employees. What do I do?” Being able to help at that moment is very gratifying.

What has been the proudest moment in your life and/or career?
That’s a tough one. I’ve been fortunate to have many moments of pride in both life and my career. As far as my career goes, at least one highlight that comes to mind is my argument as a fifth-year attorney before the Federal Circuit, which is a federal appellate court specializing in patent cases. I’ve been fortunate to have several others since then, but that is at least the first that comes to mind. In my personal life, I enjoy being physically active. I’ve run a couple of half and full marathons. I have two amazing children, and now I get to enjoy and take pride in their accomplishments.

What is something you wish you would have known at the start of your career? If you could go back to the first day at your first job right out of college, what is something you
I wish I could go back and tell myself to be more confident. It took me some time to get my legs under me as an attorney. I’m certain that some of my colleagues might find this notion amusing, but I truly suffered from “imposter syndrome”.  I think that is unfortunately an all-too-common feeling for many women-in-tech, and potentially other men and women in competitive industries. I’ve learned over time that confidence is not the same as being brash or overconfident. Had I been a bit more confident in myself, I might have leaned in more and maybe challenged things that warranted challenge at the time. After 18 years of practicing law, I’m comfortable sharing my thoughts and leading a conversation, but that was much harder the first four or five years of my career when I looked around the table of folks far more tenured in their careers than I was.

Lastly, what advice would you give to a woman who’s interested in pursuing a career in technology?
Overcome the “imposter syndrome”. Ignore any feelings of intimidation because you do belong. You deserve a seat at the table. Technology is not some insurmountable facet of our lives. It pains me when young girls and women say, “I can’t do math” or “I’m just not wired that way”. Growing up, I loved solving problems. I enjoyed the fulfillment of getting that last piece in the puzzle. So, if there’s an issue or problem in the technology space, even at home, I’ll want to troubleshoot and figure it out. The moment you surrender and you give in, or you say I just don’t understand, either the technology wins or society wins, and that’s a fail to me.