Q&A with Heidi Keefe and Derek Colla (from Vault.com)

Heidi Keefe is a partner in Cooley's litigation department and a member of its intellectual property practice group. She joined the firm in 2009 and is resident in its Palo Alto office. Keefe represents clients in high-stakes patent trials before juries and judges. A former astrophysicist and registered patent attorney, she easily understands a variety of technical disciplines, from software to medical devices. Keefe is frequently recognized as a leading lawyer. In 2014, she was one of only 20 lawyers in the U.S. to be named to Law360's list of "Influential Women in IP Law." She has also been named one of the "Top 45 Women Attorneys in the U.S. under 45" by The American Lawyer, one of the "Top Intellectual Property Litigators" and "Top Women Litigators" by the Daily Journal, and one of Northern California's Super Lawyers, among others.

Derek Colla is an associate in Cooley's business department and a member of its emerging companies practice group. He joined the firm in 2008 and is resident in its Washington, DC office. Colla's practice focuses on representing high growth companies and their investors. He has helped to form, finance, and advise hundreds of emerging businesses in areas such as Internet and digital media, consumer products, clean technologies, software, medical devices, and business services. In the past three years alone, he has counseled companies and investors in more than 100 VC financings, with an aggregate value greater than $1 billion, and has advised companies on numerous mergers and acquisitions, initial public offerings, and follow-on public offerings. Colla earned his law degree at Harvard and his undergraduate degree at Washington and Lee University, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.

Please provide an overview of what, substantively, your practice area entails.

Keefe: I am a patent trial litigator who focuses on high-stakes cases for clients in the technology space.

Colla: My practice entails providing business and legal advice to high-growth companies and the investors who finance them. Most often that means serving as a company's outside general counsel. Usually I can answer their questions on my own, but if more depth is needed, I'll know the right attorney to put them in touch with to get specialized advice. My own areas of deep expertise are matters involving the purchase and sale of all or a portion of a business—VC financings, various types of mergers, sales and acquisitions and IPOs and other offerings of securities to the public.

"I get to experience some of the thrill of working at a startup while having the
financial stability of working at a law firm." — Derek Colla

What types of clients do you represent?

Keefe: I am lucky enough to have a broad array of tech clients. Right now, for example, I am doing work for Facebook, HTC, SpaceX, ServiceNow, King.com, Horus Vision and Oculus. I have also done work for medical device and biotech companies.

Colla: I partner with clients that are creating something that doesn't currently exist, often with some sort of new technology or business process that provides them with an innovative competitive advantage. Some examples are SpaceX (rockets), Framebridge (e-commerce), Power Supply (foodtech), cove (shared workspaces), MediaMath (adtech), TradeKing (fintech), Trevena (biotech) and Alarm.com (internet of things). I also work with some of the most prominent VCs in the business, including NEA, Marker Financial, Scale Ventures and QED Investors.

What types of deals and/or cases do you work on?

Keefe: I work nearly all the time on patent disputes, whether in District Court, at the Patent Office or in the appeal process. Typically, we get called in on high-stakes or "bet the company" cases with interesting legal issues on the cutting edge of intellectual property.

Colla: Some of the more prominent transactions I've worked on in the past year or so include SpaceX's $1B financing by Google and Fidelity, Mandiant's sale to FireEye for approximately $1B, MediaMath's $73.5M Series C financing and Trevena's IPO. I also worked on approximately 80 VC financings in 2014.

How did you decide to practice in your area?

Keefe: I honestly kind of "fell into it." I had always wanted to be a lobbyist for the Space Program. But, when I started to work in the area, I realized that politics really wasn't for me. Through that process, though, I realized that I really enjoyed trying to explain high tech concepts to lay people. So, one of my professors suggested I try patent litigation, since I would have to teach tech to juries and judges. I instantly loved it and a career was born.

Colla: I was in high school during the initial dotcom boom and never lost the desire to work in tech. I majored in computer science in college but realized I had more of a passion for tech as a business than as an engineer. I went to law school and then ended up at Cooley, which provides a great platform to get integrated into the tech industry. Originally, my plan was to practice for a few years and then go work for one of my clients, and even though I've had the opportunity to do so a few times I've decided to stay at Cooley in each instance because I genuinely enjoy what I do. There are very few jobs where you get to work with a broad range of dynamic companies that are changing the world.

What is a typical day or week like in your practice area?

Keefe: As much a "lawyer answer" as this may seem: it depends. The honest truth is that there is no single "typical day" in my life. Thanks to the Federal Circuit and the Supreme Court, lately patent law is an ever evolving beast who constantly needs to be fed different things (lame analogy, I know, but it is true). One week I will be arguing a case in front of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board, the next I will be back in the office preparing witnesses from Facebook for deposition, and the following week I'll be in DC learning about the next launch of a potentially reusable booster rocket. I love that I have no "typical week."

Colla: Most days I have a coffee or lunch with a client or prospective client to catch up or talk about how we can work together. In the office, I spend about one-third of my time on the phone discussing various matters with clients, and the rest of my time is devoted to reviewing and drafting contracts and other agreements, training newer associates or working on some of Cooley's new initiatives like Cooley GO.

What is the best thing about your practice area?

Keefe: The best things about my practice area are the ever changing problems that my clients let me help them solve. I never get bored. I am always learning new technology, getting to play with new toys—I have literally gotten to "order" associates to play video games—and helping to advance patent law. It is truly FUN.

Colla: I get to experience some of the thrill of working at a startup while having the financial stability of working at a law firm. I also get to work with the founders and CEOs of some of the most innovative and fastest growing companies in the world. The relationships I've built are the most rewarding part of my professional life and have tended to improve my social life as well. Let's face it: tech executives and VCs, as a group, tend to be way more fun than most lawyers!

What is the most challenging aspect of your practice area?

Keefe: Everything that I just mentioned above as the best thing about my practice is also the most challenging. I almost never see the same thing twice, and the law is constantly changing under our feet, causing us to have to come up with new and better ways to answer novel problems that we couldn't have ever predicted.

Colla: Providing high-quality legal services to early-stage companies at a cost they can afford takes a tremendous amount of skill and discipline. I also need to cultivate relationships with other service providers both within and outside of Cooley so that I can provide referrals to the best available resources to help my clients meet their business and legal goals. I enjoy this aspect of my practice, but it takes a lot of time and effort.

What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone hoping to enter your practice area?

Keefe: I recommend taking IP survey courses to make sure you like and want to be a part of this crazy field. I also highly recommend actually paying attention in Civil Procedure. Other than that, just have a passion for technology; don't be afraid of it!

Colla: Associates who come in with knowledge of accounting and experience using Excel have a natural advantage. A lot of the transactions we work on do not involve investment bankers, so if you can build a liquidation analysis and analyze financial statements you are going to have a leg up.

What misconceptions exist about your practice area?What do you wish you had known before joining your practice area?

Keefe: People think you have to have a technical degree to be a patent litigator. You do not. You have to have a passion for tech and a desire to learn. You cannot be afraid of numbers or science, and you have to dig in deep to learn it. You have to be willing to be the dumbest person in the room so you can learn it well enough to teach anyone. I wish I had known just how busy I would be.

Colla: I knew in law school that going into a transactional practice was nothing like being a litigator, but I did not know how different corporate practices were across law firms. The culture and business styles of the companies you work with will have a significant amount of influence on the culture of your firm and practice. If you work at Cooley, for example, it may feel a lot like you are working at a tech company. The emerging companies group at Cooley may even feel a lot like working at a successful startup or VC firm. This is quite a bit different than working at a Wall Street firm, which I'm guessing feels a lot like working at an investment bank.

What is unique about your practice area at your firm?

Keefe: At Cooley, the patent litigators actually all have to be real-life trial lawyers, not just the guys who work toward settlements. We have evolved into a "go-to firm" for trial work, and I love that. It is the best, most challenging, and most rewarding part of any case (especially when you win), but trials are so expensive that they are becoming a rare event. The fact that we do so many of them is awe-inspiring to me.

Colla: As an emerging companies lawyer in DC, I've had opportunities to collaborate with lawyers across almost every office and practice group within the firm. As Cooley has expanded here in DC and to new locations in LA, Shanghai and London, those interactions have grown exponentially.

What activities do you enjoy when you are not in the office, and how do you make time for them?

Keefe: I love to travel, to experience new foods, people, wine, etc. I try to just always remember that no one writes books about the weekend they spent on the couch, and not a lot of memories are made from staring at the TV (unless crazy friends drinking wine with you are part of the TV experience).

Colla: This sounds like a small thing, but I'm a big proponent of getting home to have dinner with my family every night. I also take a two-week vacation each year where I completely unplug. That sort of work-life balance is more the rule than the exception at Cooley, which is a big part of why we have such low attrition.

Excerpted from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas. Reprinted with permission. © Copyright 2015 Vault.com, Inc.

Related Contacts
Derek Colla Partner, Washington, DC
Heidi Keefe Partner, Palo Alto