Playing to Your Strengths: A Conversation with Jennifer Junkin

Pete CodellaArticles

Here is the latest in the series of conversations with inspirational Utah women in business. GOED’s Jessica Jerome is our latest correspondent speaking to the women behind the business, research and ideas that are changing the world. These women share their work, thoughts and advice. Note the opinions expressed by interviewees do not necessarily represent those of GOED, but they do promise to be interesting.

Jessica sat down with Jennifer Junkin, a mother of three and lawyer at Holland & Hart LLP, to talk about intellectual property, having work-life balance, and how to play to your strengths.

Tell me what brought you to Utah?

I grew up in Massachusetts. When I was 28 my husband and I moved to Washington, DC. I got a job fairly quickly at a well-known firm, but it just wasn’t a good fit. One of my law school classmates was working at my now-current firm, Holland & Hart LLP. H&H had an opening in line with my experience, and I had a previous, enjoyable experience living in Utah in 2009 when I interned at a law firm in downtown Salt Lake City.

At the time we were looking to leave DC, we had two children and we really wanted to find a place to have a good work-life balance, a decent house in an area that didn’t involve an hour-long commute, while still being able to do the things we enjoyed. Utah offered that balance for us.

What has your path up until now looked like?

I graduated with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and shortly thereafter I worked as an engineer for Pratt & Whitney, a gas turbine manufacturer. I knew I wanted to get an advanced degree, but getting a master’s degree in my experience area wasn’t going to add anything to my salary or my career path, so I started looking at a law degree and found that option very appealing. I went to Suffolk Law School, right on Boston Common. Paul Revere, Samuel Adams … you’re studying law and the history is all around you.

I moved in-house at Pratt & Whitney in their legal department. I was doing mainly defensive intellectual property work, making sure a lot of what they were doing was not going to infringe on other people’s IP rights. I also did a lot of patent harvesting, figuring out what ideas we wanted to patent and what was specific to the program that we wanted to protect. Now at Holland & Hart, I focus on patent law, but also intellectually property law as a whole. I help companies leverage multiple types of intellectual property to achieve their corporate goals.

What is the most rewarding aspect about what you do?

It is always just doing a good job, and having pride in your work. In my line of work, I am the commodity, I sell myself, so the job I do is important. I do work for large companies, small companies and I also do pro bono work through the USPTO. I just filed a patent application for a couple out of American Fork, and hearing their praise and how what we did is going to affect their lives means a lot. There is value in knowing what I do helps people.

What are some challenges you face in your line of work? Or some challenges of being a working mother?

I have experienced challenges everywhere I’ve been, and ironically they have all been similar. Learning to be okay with those challenges is something that can be difficult, and finding champions to help you through those challenges is something you need to survive.

Being an attorney can be incredibly demanding, but one of the things I like about my job is the flexibility. I also have a working spouse. My husband, who is my biggest supporter, is taking paternity leave right now and is experiencing what that really means.

Traditionally, it’s much more prevalent to have a male working with a female at home taking care of the children. In DC, there were quite a few female partners who had stay-at-home husbands, and it wasn’t seen as weird. Maybe one spouse has more drive for a career, maybe one spouse is more educated, and typically it’s always been assumed that person is the father. I try to reinforce using the term “stay-at-home parent” to get rid of the gender stereotype.

I am a female engineer, so that immediately puts me in the minority. Then, I am also a lawyer, making me even more of a minority, so it’s interesting to have all these battles. I think as a woman, people don’t always give you credit for what you can do or what you want to do. Sometimes you have to find a champion to get your voice out.

Also, as a female you have to be aware that women are much more likely to say “I’m sorry” for things. It is important to be aware of what your strengths are and what your weaknesses are, and working to overcome them so you don’t come across as always apologetic.

What advice would you give to a young person, out looking for a job in today’s world?

Have confidence in what you know you have. Understand the environment you’re in and what’s going to get you further. Understand that you offer a unique perspective and you have your own strengths, challenges, and experiences that are going to add value your team. They chose you for the job for a reason. You don’t have to understand that reason, but you need to take the opportunity you have and make the most of it.

If you try to prove yourself to people, you subject yourself to their opinions, and that can be detrimental because people’s opinions come from their own experiences and sometimes prejudices. Proving to yourself is more important than proving to other people.

I tell myself, “I am who I am, I know what I know, and I got this.” You look at it as you have different experiences and you have different things to offer.

What do people think about Utah when they come to visit you? What do you continue to love about it?

I think in general everybody’s amazed when they get here. There are very few places where I can live six miles from downtown, in an affordable house, thirty minutes from world-class skiing and hiking, three hours from some of the best national parks in the country.

There is also a great work-life balance. It is understood that we work, but you don’t live to work. You work to live, and it is very much a model that everyone lives by.