Taking the Next Step
For more than five years, Jennifer Choe Groves was Senior Director for Intellectual Property and Innovation at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) in the Executive Office of the President. Although she returned to private practice in April, there was a lot she liked about the job. “I particularly enjoyed dealing with global issues and their far-reaching ramifications,” she reflects. “I was negotiating free trade agreements effecting entire segments of industry, expanding market access opportunities for copyright, trademark, and patent owners to do business globally. Also, being on the White House staff , I was at the center of creating policies and making important decisions for the U.S.”
As chair of USTR’s Special 301 Committee, Groves led a team representing nineteen U.S. government agencies in the development of the annual “Special 301 Report” on worldwide intellectual property (IP) rights enforcement and protection. The report examines IP practices in approximately ninety countries and identifies the worst off enders. “Outside of the U.S., the report is very well-known,” she explains. “In Korea or Mexico, for example, most taxi drivers are familiar with Special 301. [A nation’s appearing] on that list can deter foreign investment. Countries lobby hard to get off of it.”
Prior to her time at USTR, Groves spent seven years in private practice focusing on IP, entertainment, and litigation. Groves explains that her years at law firms and pursuing an LL.M. degree at Columbia University School of Law, where she specialized in IP and international law, served as great background for the rest of her career. “Many of the issues I dealt with then were very relevant during my time at USTR, and are proving to be valuable again.”
Groves was born in Chicago and grew up in New Jersey. She first became interested in the idea of becoming a lawyer in high school. She had no lawyers in her family—her father is a retired chemist, with more than 100 patents to his credit (including inventions of chemical compounds that were used to build spacesuits for astronauts), and her mother is a retired business owner who owned and operated gourmet cookware stores. Nevertheless, her family regularly discussed patents and inventions at the dinner table. Through a close family friend, now-retired New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Robert Clifford, Groves landed summer jobs at New Jersey’s Morris County Courthouse in various departments throughout high school and college. In law school, she returned to work at the same courthouse. As it happens, that same family friend spoke at Groves’ law school graduation ceremony.
On what otherwise reads as a fast track to her career in law, Groves made a musical detour. Throughout most of her teens, she was enrolled in a precollege piano and composition program at the prestigious Juilliard School of Music. For a time, Groves was considered among the best young concert pianists in the New York City area. Although she considered a career in music for a time, ultimately she decided against it. “I was good,” she recalls matter-offactly. “I played Carnegie Hall, but my friends were winning competitions internationally and had CDs out. Being a professional concert pianist is a hard life. I opted for something more stable.”
Due to her experience with music, she initially was drawn to the idea of a career in entertainment law—an approach that ultimately paved the way to her IP and entertainment practice. “Throughout my career, I’ve worked very closely with businesses that rely on inventors, authors, song writers, musicians, artists, and other creators,” she shares. “Innovation is so important to protect, as I’ve seen first-hand by my father’s experience with inventions and patents.”
Groves attended Princeton University, where she majored in English and women’s studies. When not in class, she taught piano—a part-time job more lucrative than other jobs available on campus. In truth, Groves virtually ran a de facto music school, instructing more than forty local youths in addition to Princeton undergraduate and graduate students alike. She also staged highly anticipated biannual concerts, often attracting professors she had known at Juilliard.
Also during her undergrad years, Groves volunteered as a rape crisis counselor and worked with battered women. It was there that she first encountered her friend and mentor—famed attorney and best-selling crime novelist Linda Fairstein, who is perhaps best known for prosecuting the “Preppy Murder” case against Robert Chambers. “When I met her, she was at the Manhattan’s D.A. office,” reflects Groves. “I admired the great things she was doing with her law degree, so after law school [Rutgers School of Law], I also ended up at the Manhattan’s D.A.’s office in a trial bureau and the domestic violence and sex crimes unit, and remained there for three years.
“The D.A.’s office was a great place to be as a ‘rookie’ lawyer,” she continues. “My first day on the job, I stood up in court and introduced myself to the judge. Within two weeks, I’d had my first jury trial. Before that, the closest I’d been to trial was watching the O.J. Simpson trial on TV,” recalls Groves with a chuckle. “The training was invaluable. Attorneys from my trial bureau prepped me before trials, and critiqued me afterward. Being there taught me to think on my feet, and gave me the confidence to argue—and, later, to speak internationally—before large audiences.”
During her tenure at USTR, Groves never imagined that she would one day return to a fi rm. Nevertheless, when Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP recently invited her to join its Washington, D.C., office and lead the charge to build a firm-wide practice group, while also leveraging the firm’s expertise in international trade and IP law, she recognized an exceptional offer and accepted. Groves joined Hughes Hubbard & Reed in April as partner and chair of the firm-wide International Intellectual Property Rights and Entertainment Practice Group. Groves is the firm’s first Asian Pacific American woman partner and practice group chair.
With her return to the harddriving world of private practice, Groves is, rather ironically, attempting to remedy what she describes as the most challenging aspect of her sixteen-year career—work/life balance. Among her priorities is the need to spend quality time with her two young daughters, and her husband, Ted, a corporate litigation attorney at Sedgwick, Detert, Moran and Arnold LLP. “When I interviewed, I mentioned my concerns,” remembers Groves. “They replied that as long as the work gets done and the clients are happy, it’s OK that I take time to be with my family.”
A blend of varied experiences has brought Groves to where she is now. For the time being and the foreseeable future, this inspired attorney’s estimable but tricky goal is to reach her full professional potential while not neglecting her family life outside of work. “I’m finally in the place,” she concludes, “where I can best make it happen.” DB
Patrick Folliard is a freelance writer based in Silver Spring, Md.
From the May/June 2010 issue of Diversity & The Bar®