Jeffrey Gitchel, Pittsburgh resident and seasoned attorney with over 20 years of experience in corporate governance and corporate matters, litigation, commercial matters, and intellectual property. He attended Oberlin College for his undergraduate studies where he majored in Religion and minored in Government. After some time in New Jersey away from school,he attended law school at the University of Michigan.
He returned to Pittsburgh after graduating from law school and began to practice law at K&L Gates. While there, he broke legal ground, filing the world’s first case under the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP). He joined Bayer Corporation in 2004, serving at times as the head of its Trademark Department, chair of its Policy Committee, lead of its Compliance Working Group, counsel for its Procurement Department, and numerous other roles. He left Bayer in January 2018 to attend to a variety of personal matters and mourned the loss of his mother in July of that year. He currently maintains a solo practice.
What surprised you the most when you started your career, what lessons did you learn?
Coming out of law school, I realized that I didn’t know much about the practice of law, but I didn’t know how little.
When you first start practicing, learning the day-to-day work can seem like the primary challenge. Just figuring out how to do things, the best way to write, gaining additional knowledge about the area you’re specializing in, all that day-to-day stuff that seems like the vision of success in growth and learning where you say, “If I can just learn that, I’ll be okay.”
It’s only later that you realize that all that information was just a foundation, that at the end of the day, what really is important is judgment. It’s not that I would have done anything differently because foundational learning is critical.
It’s that assessment, that wisdom, informed by that learning that distinguishes a lawyer. It’s understanding what is important and bringing that insight to bear, even bringing non-legal considerations into account. Balancing all those considerations can be a real challenge for a lawyer. Learning to be able to do that has been a great area of growth for me.
What is one piece of advice you would give someone starting in your industry?
When someone you are working with makes a decision or gives a client advice, ask them why. Try to understand not just the legal ins-and-outs, but the thinking behind the decision or advice, like what the factors they are considering, what weight they are giving to those factors and why, and the connection between those factors and their conclusion. Trying to understand someone’s experience is a great shortcut to your own growth.
If you could change anything about your industry what would it be and why?
This is a difficult one for me. It’s not that I would change anything about the legal field per se, it’s more the perception of the legal field that I might want to change. Lawyers are often seen by their business clients as the enemy , as the person who is going to be an obstacle or the one to say “no”. That’s not our role.
We’re there to add value to any project a client is working on. It’s just that we’re there to add a particular type of value. I would like to help find a way for people in the industry to talk about law as a value add rather than as an area of expertise. Holding the opinion that lawyers have our area of knowledge and we tell the client what they can and can’t do, that’s a very narrow perspective of what lawyers can do for their clients.
How would your colleagues describe you?
I think my colleagues value my judgment and also my sense of humor. I think they would describe me as direct, honest, critical, supportive and funny. One colleague used to call me her rabbi. I’d like to think that the fact that she was willing to share that with me, as much as what she said, speaks to the kind of relationships that I have with people and how they think of me.
How do you maintain a solid work life balance?
For me it’s about priorities, drawing lines, and keeping perspective. The danger is that work can bleed into all of the rest of your time. That’s why I say it’s about priorities and drawing lines. It is fair to say your “life” is important and that there is family time or me time that work may not touch. Where that line is, and where happiness lies, depends on your perspective. If you have a perspective on work is life, or work is the most valuable part of life for you, a balance weighted heavily to work may be satisfying. If you have a perspective where work is one of many important parts of life, I think it’s easier to create what most people think of as balance.
Who has been a role model to you and why?
I can’t say that I’ve had a single role model, but I’ve been able to learn from many of the people I’ve interacted with throughout my life. Most people have skills and values that you can learn from. There are lots of people that I have learned from over the course of my life and career.
What does success look like to you?
Life can be a series of stressors in both your professional and personal life, and success is finding a way to manage those stressors and minimize the tension in your life.
It means having enough income so that you can provide for the wants and needs of those you care about without experiencing meaningful stress. It’s having a personal life full of love and happiness where you’re satisfying all your personal needs. It’s having a career that gives you satisfaction and happiness. And it’s about doing all those things in a way that feels comfortable or at least as comfortable as possible.
What is one piece of advice you would like to leave our readers with?
Keep perspective. Remember why you’re doing what you’re doing and focus on that. Don’t be afraid to change if your “why”, or something else, changes, but be open and honest about that need to change with yourself and the people who are close to you, because it will affect them.