Merchant & Gould Names 1st Female Managing Director

March 14, 2023

By Jasmin Jackson

Law360 (March 14, 2023, 3:37 PM EDT) -- Merchant & Gould P.C. has installed its first female managing director in its more than 120-year history, the firm said Tuesday.

Attorney Heather Kliebenstein will lead the intellectual property firm's seven offices after two decades of experience guiding its clients through complex IP and technology litigation. Kliebenstein told Law360 on Tuesday that the appointment is "a combination of humbling, exciting and meaningful all at the same time."

She added that it's "extremely important" for her to show her two young daughters that "any opportunity is available to them."

"I believe that modeling what we want younger attorneys and younger people to achieve is massively important. … Having that representation at the top level can't be replaced," she said. "That's actually one of the primary reasons that I decided to jump into the role."

She succeeds former Merchant & Gould managing director Christopher J. Leonard, who joined Shook Hardy & Bacon LLP as senior counsel last month. Kliebenstein stressed that she doesn't intend to significantly change the firm's direction. "In a nutshell, we want to elevate what already makes us great," she said.

"I think it's easy for a new leader to come in and want to change things and shake them up, but when you have an institution that's as old as Merchant, I think that the best path, and maybe the more challenging path, is to align who we are as a firm — our history and our culture — with the current trends of the legal market," Kliebenstein said.

Merchant & Gould's newest managing director will join forces with the firm's chief operating officer, Tracey R. Skjeveland. While Skjeveland manages day-to-day operations, Kliebenstein will be largely client-focused.

Kliebenstein said she and Skjeveland make a "dynamic duo" and merge the "best of both worlds" — "somebody who understands the attorney side, the client service side, and Tracey, who really understands the processes and the efficiencies in the firm."

"We want to be the best place possible to grow a career in IP and technology law with the brightest and best attorneys, but we also need to have the best support and processes for the practice of law," Skjeveland said in a Tuesday statement to Law360. "And that's where the combination of Heather's client focus and my attention to day-to-day operations will help steer the firm."

Merchant & Gould hired Kliebenstein in 2004. She was promoted to partner in December 2012.

Kliebenstein told Law360 in an April 2015 interview — which covered a lack of gender diversity in IP boutiques — that when she was a young associate, "it was really hard to imagine myself as a shareholder or managing partner in the future because I didn't see anyone in the boardroom that looked like me or had similar career goals."

"When you don't have those role models, it's kind of easy to convince yourself that another career might be a better choice for you," she said at the time.

The firm said in a statement Tuesday that its selection of Kliebenstein reflects its "vision for the future" and reaffirms its "ongoing commitment to its diversity, equity and inclusion efforts."

Kliebenstein earned a bachelor's degree in environmental science from Iowa State University and her law degree from the University of Texas School of Law.

--Editing by Gemma Horowitz.

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