Earlier this year, DLA Piper announced Jessica Wilson’s appointment to co-chair of its Litigation & Regulatory group in the firm’s Boston Office. She joins co-chair Stefanie Fogel in the role, making the Litigation & Regulatory group now a women-led practice.
The BBA recently sat down with Jessica and Stefanie to talk about their roles, their careers, and their plans for elevating women within the firm and the greater legal community.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How long have you been with DLA Piper, and what has your career path looked like to get where you are now?
Stefanie Fogel: I started off my career with DLA Piper at one of our legacy firms, Piper and Marbury, in Philadelphia. I’ve been with the firm for about 25 years; I started in 1995 right out of law school as one of the first 10 or 15 attorneys to join the Philadelphia office. At that time, I was focused on being a true trial lawyer; in those days, I tried a number of cases, mostly in the products liability space. After doing trial work for a number of years, I found myself looking for a new challenge and moved more into the regulatory space.
Being a regulatory lawyer—more on the front end of product development and R&D—you get the opportunity to work with engineers and innovators within certain companies and learn to appreciate the risks that are relevant throughout the life of product development, which I love. I’ve really grown my practice in the regulatory space, while still handling litigation matters. I now head up our global consumer goods food and retail sector and our FDA practice in the US. My practice has really grown with the strategic growth and expansion of the firm over the years.
Jessica Wilson: I have been at DLA Piper for my entire legal career. After law school, I completed a federal clerkship but had been a summer associate at DLA Piper and then became an associate; I’ve now been at the firm for more than 15 years and a partner for more than five years.
My practice is focused on pharmaceutical and medical device products liability litigation, primarily mass torts. In addition to the pharmaceutical medical device products liability, I also have a niche practice in clinical trial design issues, so if things go wrong in a clinical trial, I might get called to see what we can do to mitigate risks associated with that so that it doesn’t alternately result in litigation. I have also served on an institutional review board for a couple of academic institutions, which has given me the ability to see a lot of clinical trial issues as they arise in real time.
What does it mean to you to now be part of an entirely woman-led practice? What kind of support did you receive on your way to where you are now, and how do you plan to extend that support to women attorneys following in your footsteps?
SF: I really didn’t have any female role models in Philadelphia when I was first beginning my career, and I eventually became the first female partner in that office. I think as a result of that, I really did make it my mission to change that to the extent that I could. I founded the Leadership Alliance for Women—what we call the LAW program—at the firm, which is now a global program. Jessica is now a very important leader in that organization. The idea was to create a platform for us as women to network within the firm and to find mentors and develop business even when we’re so spread out around the country, meaning you don’t always have those role models immediately accessible to you. We’ve followed that path as a firm, and it’s become a mantra and a way of life for us at DLA Piper.
I know when it comes to women-led practices, the statistics are still not where we need them to be. We’re working very hard with the leaders in the firm and with our clients directly to change that. The way we interact with clients in our community only improves as the number of different voices we have at the table grows. I know we will have to continue to roll up our sleeves and work very hard at it, and with the next generation—like Jessica—and then the generation behind her, that’s the goal.
JW: Having spent a lot of time at DLA Piper and benefited from the folks before me, my appointment to this role did not stand out to me as unique for a woman—which I think says a lot about DLA Piper. I really have benefited from the trailblazing within the Boston office and the larger DLA Piper platform by women like Stefanie and other opportunities such as the LAW program. We have regular meetings with all of the women attorneys in the office. We also plan a lot of career advancement-related events for women in the office, so that’s been a great opportunity.
How will the two of you share duties as co-chairs? What will the division of responsibilities look like?
JW: Stefanie and I have known each other for years, and we work very well together collaboratively. As a general matter, I take more of a lead on litigation-type questions or issues, while Stefanie would focus on the regulatory issues. That said, most things that come up are broader, and on those issues, we would work together and discuss things as they arise.
SF: It’s so much easier to have another person who understands the operative environment. We welcome and respect each other’s perspectives, so day-to-day it’s easy for us to divide and conquer with respect to litigation and regulatory. From an office morale and strategy perspective, it’s nice to have each other to bounce off ideas and collaborate.
Coming out of the pandemic, how will you foster a work culture and environment that puts DLA Piper in the best position to succeed?
JW: DLA is a national firm, so we had been working well for years pre-COVID through various technologies like Zoom. That helped tremendously when the pandemic hit; while it certainly made things unpredictable, the transition to work-from-home and then hybrid schedules was fairly seamless because we didn’t have to put a lot of new processes in place. We were already used to working with colleagues in other offices, so the need to see each other in real time wasn’t as critical.
That said, I think we have to find a way to incorporate younger team members and give them more opportunities to interact with us in person because that’s not organically happening in the office the way it had in the past. It’s more on us to be thoughtful about engaging them in additional opportunities. We’ve already been discussing more ways to meet with colleagues, but in an intentional way—how can we bring people into the office and truly engage with them? That’s a process we’re still working through.
SF: It’s on us to figure out ways to create and maintain an environment where every colleague wants to invest their time and grow. We need to continue to create productive and fulfilling opportunities that drive in-person attendance while remaining flexible in a way that allows the next generation to see themselves investing in DLA Piper for the long term.
What are your goals for the practice? How do you hope or plan to grow over the next few years under your leadership?
JW: We have a vision for Boston, which is to grow the practice with intention, rather than just for growth’s sake.
We want to continue to build and foster relationships with existing clients who are based in Boston or have an outpost in Boston, and then build new relationships with potential clients—particularly within all of the rich biotech opportunities here. We’d like to continue to be seen as a go-to firm for litigation and regulatory needs. That requires us to retain top talent while developing the next generation of lawyers in Boston.
SF: We want to continue to be very thoughtful about what we do, who we do it with, and how we do it. The market in Boston offers so many opportunities for partnership given our culture and the talent that we’ve spent a lot of time strategically growing over the past couple of years. As Jessica said, there are really interesting things we can be doing in Boston in the areas of innovation, biotech, life sciences, food tech, and more, and that is something that we are focused on and will continue to prioritize.
How can the BBA, and the greater legal community, continue to support and uplift women in the profession?
SF: I think what we’ve learned through the LAW program and the Global Women Summit, which we hold every 18 months now, is that sometimes we can be most effective when the topic isn’t necessarily focused on women, but rather women are naturally included to speak on other topics within the legal community. The more that becomes normalized, the better the profession will be in the long run.
JW: I also think just the way that you’re engaging with us right now, the BBA’s interest in telling our story and getting our points of view, highlighting women in the legal community who have had certain achievements, is fantastic. I’d encourage the BBA and others to continue to shine a light on women in the profession in that way.