Women in Business Q&A: Mika Reiner Mayer, Partner, Cooley LLP

Women in Business Q&A: Mika Reiner Mayer, Partner, Cooley LLP
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

Mika Reiner Mayer, partner in Cooley LLP’s Palo Alto office, is one of the most sought-after lawyers in patent prosecution and strategic portfolio management for life sciences startups and established companies alike. Widely known for her strategic insights and deep understanding of business, she is the go-to diligence counsel in Silicon Valley for life science companies and their investors.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

The truth is, I can’t pinpoint how my life experiences have made me into the leader I am today. I grew up in a small college town in Ohio. I was the product of mismatched parents who divorced before I turned four. I was taught the value of hard work at a young age. I was active in team sports. While I’m sure each of these experiences framed who I am and taught me important life lessons, it is difficult to tie any one of them to a specific attribute of my leadership style. Like most of us, I’ve had experiences in life where things didn’t go quite my way, which set me back. I’ve also had my fair share of positive experiences that motivated me and propelled me forward.

Whether because of, or despite my, life experiences, I have certain deeply held convictions. It is those convictions that affect my leadership style and affect the decisions I make today. I believe in right and wrong. I believe in hard work. I believe in open communication. I believe in honest feedback. I care deeply about those close to me. I am fiercely loyal, and I will fight for what I believe is right, even to my own detriment. These convictions are transparent to my team—they know I have their backs. The result is an environment where everyone works hard, works collaboratively, and works for the benefit of the entire team.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Cooley LLP?

I spent fourteen years at my prior firm before joining Cooley. During those years I built a strong team, gained significant experience, and grew as an attorney and leader. I was highly regarded, served on important committees, and had a significant voice with key decision-makers. I had never seriously contemplated leaving. It was where I grew up. Over time, however, I began to see that my practice didn’t fit well with the strategic objectives of the firm, and realized it was time to move on.

Cooley had been on my radar for years. We shared many clients, and many of my professional colleagues and friends worked there. I watched as Cooley took steps to build up key groups that aligned with my practice, and by the time I made my move I had no doubt that it was the right place for me and my team. Cooley has the best emerging life sciences corporate practice in the world, and a significant percentage of my clients are emerging life science companies. As a result there are natural synergies at Cooley that didn’t exist at my prior firm. Having gone so long without these synergies makes me appreciate them more than I think I would have if I had started at Cooley, and consequently, I’m better prepared to leverage them.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Cooley LLP?

It was challenging to start over at a new firm after so many years at my prior one. The move to Cooley itself was hard and disruptive for all those around me. My clients were caught off-guard, my colleagues were caught off-guard, and my team was caught off-guard. I hoped that the bonds I had built with my team over the years would be enough for them to take a leap of faith and join me at Cooley. While it took a few months for everyone to transition to Cooley and get back up to speed, it’s been smooth sailing since. In fact, it’s been better than I imagined it would be. Cooley walks the walk when they describe their culture as collaborative. Within a week of being at Cooley, colleagues from other practice groups and other offices had reached out to work with me on a variety of projects.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?

Irrespective of industry or gender, I believe you need to choose a career that feels right for you. One that you think adds to your life rather than takes away from it. For better or worse, we spend the majority of our time working. If you don’t like what you’re doing, if your work drains you, if your work is just a way to make a living, then you won’t be motivated to work as hard as you can, and won’t grow to your potential. I also believe it’s a good idea to be very clear about your goals and go after them tenaciously. Lastly, I think knowing who you are and being true to who you are, independent of how other people appear to define you, is important in any industry whose practitioners have strong personalities.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?

Never forget to be compassionate because the practice of law involves real people and real lives.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

I have always thought that that term “work/life balance” was counterproductive—especially to working mothers. I really dislike the word “balance” in this context. It implies that there is some sweet equilibrium that one can find where everything is right and everything is Zen. I don’t know a single working mom who feels like they have “balance” most days. More often than not, the women I speak with talk about how they feel like they are not doing their best in either their professional life or their personal life. Something is always getting the short stick.

The simple fact is, there is no limit to the amount of time one can invest in their professional life or their personal life, but there is a limited amount of time in each day. As a result, tradeoffs must be made. How much compromise any one individual is comfortable with, is a personal decision. I have never hidden the demands from either side of my life. My children know that I may have conference calls at night with clients in Asia, and in the morning with clients in Europe. My colleagues know that I may need to leave the office some days early to pick up my children from school. I’m fortunate to have support from my wife, who while also a partner at a large law firm, will help cover for me when emergencies arise, whether work or family related. At the end of the day, I have an incredibly gratifying career and a wonderful family. Although my daily schedule is hectic, my life is very full.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?

I don't want to overgeneralize what the main challenges for women are, but given my experience and network, and speaking only for the fraction of women who have families, I think the greatest challenge is in negotiating the tradeoffs between one’s professional life and one’s family life that I just discussed above. More generally, women are still struggling against social norms that have lagged behind the times, and their own social consciousness.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

Mentorship has made a huge difference in my professional life. I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with Tom Ciotti, a luminary in my field. He was a true sponsor in every sense of that word. He gave me challenging and interesting assignments and demanded excellence. He demonstrated confidence in my ability and in my work product, and never took credit for my work. He promoted me inside and outside the firm, and discussed my work whenever possible. He always brought me to the table and fought for me to be there when others were hesitant to do the same. He shared years of professional and personal wisdom, and helped prepare me for my success. I work hard to be that same type of sponsor for those on my team.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

I personally think of women leaders as those, who despite the odds against them, obvious barriers, and personal missteps, leave a mark that inspires others. These women are sometimes in leadership positions, and sometimes they are leaders simply by the example they set for others. There are many of these women that I admire. For example, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who has spent her career overcoming gender bias while being a brilliant Justice.

What do you want to accomplish in the next year?

I’d like to continue to grow my team and continue to expand and deepen the relationships we’ve made with our new clients and colleagues.

Popular in the Community