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AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

Jack Chen, Legally Blind Patent Attorney for Google

The 10th Annual Samuel N. Hecsh Window on the Working World of Law Feature Story*

Intro: Having been an inventor at heart since childhood, Jack Chen not only created his own inventions, he became a successful patent attorney so he could help others in a bigger way. Read Jack's story to see how he merged his two greatest interests into a brilliant career.

The Story: Currently I serve as Patent Counsel in the legal department at Google, focused on Google's Social products.

Jack with his guide on Mt. KilimanjaroMy Patent Counsel role involves working with outside counsel to protect Google's inventions, licensing and acquiring patents, and developing strategies to align Google's patent portfolio with Google's various business objectives. Day to day, I meet with engineers to vet inventions, review outside counsel patent application drafts, and review responses to rejections from the Patent Office. I also draft and negotiate purchase and licensing agreements. Finally, I develop analytics and review Google's patents to determine what strategies to implement to enhance Google's portfolio (increasing filings in certain areas, acquiring patents, etc.) Within the next month or so I am increasing my role to cover a broader swath of law than just patents. This additional new role of Product Counsel for Chrome will be similar to a mini General Counsel. This added responsibility will be very good for me because it will broaden my scope of experience allowing me to pursue one of my goals which is to serve as general counsel for a large company.

It is no exaggeration to say that I work with the most brilliant people on the planet. It is humbling to work with each person at Google because I learn from people continuously. Everywhere I turn there is someone who knows more about the law or engineering or leadership than I know. I'm also extremely fortunate to have landed with my current manager. He is a true people manager in the full sense of the term. He has continuously supported my extra needs, including special document formats for team documents, obtaining specialized computers and equipment, and even supporting the hiring of an assistant to help me be more effective in my job. The company develops the most cutting edge products, which comes with the added challenge of continuously finding ways of working with those technologies as a blind employee. This effort has been challenging, but none of these challenges has stopped me from contributing to my team and making a significant impact.

I found my current role purely by chance. Looking to make a transition from law firm life, I knew that Google would be a great place to work. Although attorney roles usually come through recruiters, one day I simply looked on their job site and saw an opening for a patent attorney. Within the next two days, I submitted my package. After five rounds of interviews and meeting with nearly a dozen interviewers, I was extended an offer. During this process, I took a chance. Usually I don't disclose my disability, but in this instance, I wanted to make a memorable impression, so I included a recent article published about me competing in the New York City Triathlon to demonstrate that I didn't see myself limited by any challenges.

All of my previous experience has led in a logical way to my current role. As a child, I was an inventor at heart. I wanted to create the next new tool to help make my parent's lives easier. For example, when we left the house in the mornings my mother would usually say something like, "Did I turn the stove off? Should we go back?" I wanted to create a way for her to turn the stove off from wherever she was. Nowadays, that can be done.

I graduated with an MS in computer science. While working for a startup, I began becoming interested in patents. I worked with outside counsel to create a patent portfolio of fifteen patents for the company. I leveraged my interest in inventing and was an inventor on approximately ten patents. Through my work with outside counsel, I gained a greater appreciation for law. I saw that law would allow me to work more with people than computers, something that I appreciated as an outgoing person. I decided to go to law school to invest more in law. After graduation from Fordham University, I worked as a patent attorney in two firms and then switched to an in house position to gain a greater work life balance.

My main accommodations include a computer with a screen reader. Much of my work is reading and writing, so the screen reader has given me most of what I need to work effectively. Other accommodations have included my own office to avoid excessive noise (I don't use one now), headsets to listen to my computer without disturbing others, and OCR software to convert print and graphical documents into text. I have recently been provided with an assistant to help me be even more effective than I am now.

Jack and tandem bike partner competing in the NYC TriathlonBy far the greatest thing about my job is the high caliber of people I work with and the innovative environment at Google. There are so many people with so many incredibly creative minds that blaze the way to the future. With so many smart people, it is sometimes even harder to stand out and to feel like you are making an impact, sort of like the proverbial saying of being a small fish in a big ocean.

This company often goes the extra mile to provide benefits that allow its employees to be the most productive and happy they can be. For example, Google's food program sources the highest quality ingredients for its menus and provides meals that most restaurants would hunger after (yes, pun intended).

Working at Google gives me the opportunity to work on the most innovative issues in the law, even allowing me to work on cutting edge legal issues that shape the very laws themselves.

Other upsides of my work include:

  • working with people: Lawyers serve clients. Therefore, the greatest value of a lawyer is his ability to interact with the clients.
  • Much of the work centers around reading and writing, so it is particularly suitable to those using screen readers.
  • In house work supports a much greater work life balance in general than firm work.
  • Law is particularly suited to people who can clearly and concisely articulate reasoned arguments.

Challenges to this type of work include:

  • The less than stellar willingness of those administering the Bar exam to be flexible with accommodations makes the exam doubly difficult for those with visual impairments. I was made to use a tape player, not a computer, for portions of the bar exam that included lengthy reading comprehension type questions. It was like taking a reading comprehension exam on a one line teleprompter for a sighted person.
  • As with most jobs, one needs to work to stand above the rest to achieve great success. Doing ones work diligently is often not good enough.
  • One must work extra hard to build trust and overcome stereotypes. Law is about trust. Some segment of the client base has little experience with blind individuals and therefore is less willing to trust their most critical issues to a blind person. There are few blind attorneys in corporate America, so greater effort is required to overcome stereotypes.

My general advice for those looking for a career in this field of work is to address the elephant in the room from the get-go and frame your experience and abilities in your own terms.

The Contact: Jack Chen

*The American Foundation for the Blind is pleased to present "The Samuel N. Hecsh Window on the Working World of Law," funded by the Samuel N. Hecsh Fund at the American Foundation for the Blind. A new article in memory of Mr. Hecsh appears annually.

After losing his vision, Mr. Hecsh attended law school—with some help from a scholarship from AFB—and had a satisfying career. Feeling he could not continue his previous employment, he met with many lawyers who were blind and attributed his success as a blind attorney in part to his encouragement from these mentors.

We thank his wife, Muriel O'Reilly, and daughters, Janet and Caitlin Hecsh, for choosing to honor his memory in this special way. The Samuel N. Hecsh Window on the Working World of Law is designed to encourage other people experiencing vision loss to choose to enter the field of law.

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