The IP litigator’s engine always runs at full speed
Published in 2019 Illinois Super Lawyers magazine
By William Wagner on January 24, 2019
Good luck trying to keep up with Olivia Luk Bedi.
She rises while it’s still dark and goes for a run through her Bucktown neighborhood. Not a casual jog—it’s training. The 41-year-old Bedi competed in the Chicago Marathon in 2018.
That warmup is followed by the routine of a working mom: waking up her two kids (ages 3 and 7), dressing and feeding them, and getting them out the door and to school. Then she dashes off to the Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg offices in the Loop or maybe to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, where she represents individuals and companies in complex intellectual property cases.
At day’s end, she often heads to a meeting or event related to one of the many professional organizations to which she belongs: the Richard Linn American Inn of Court; Local Patent Rules Committee for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois; Ladies in IP Society; Federal Circuit Bar Association; American Writers Museum; Chicago Innovation Awards; Economic Club of Chicago; or The Women’s Coalition.
At home, there’s more legal work, or maybe laundry, or maybe a little of each.
“I don’t think anyone can actually keep up with her,” says her husband, Jonathan Bedi, one of the founders of criminal defense firm Bedi & Singer.
“I just tried to stay out of her way,” says Bob Byman, a partner at one of her former firms, Jenner & Block.
Bedi shrugs it off with a laugh and points to a cup of Starbucks. “I get very little sleep,” she says. “I drink a lot of coffee.”
She adds: “I’m still growing my practice; I want to bring in a lot of money for the firm; and I want to bring in and mentor more female attorneys, whether it’s for my firm or another firm. I want to play a role in helping the profession in general. I keep giving myself new goals as I get older.”
Following her graduation from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2000 with a B.S. in chemistry, she had just one goal: to be a patent prosecutor. She closed in on it with all the vigor you’d imagine, working as a patent examiner for the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office in Washington, D.C., by day and attending American University Washington College of Law by night.
“Being a patent examiner was an incredible job to have, knowing I wanted to be a patent lawyer,” says Bedi, a native of Alpharetta, Georgia. “A lot of people go to law school without knowing [what field of law they want to enter], but I was laser-focused. I was in the IP Society from day one, and I got to know the federal judges in D.C. at the appellate level for patent law. It was very fulfilling, the start of a very busy life.”
Not that there weren’t plot twists. Shortly after she began at Powell Goldstein in D.C., her then-boyfriend Jonathan took an in-house position with Navistar in Chicago. In 2005, he proposed. So she was off to Chicago, where she didn’t know a soul.
“I thought leaving D.C. would be a career-killer for me,” she recalls. “I had already spent five years networking in the IP space in D.C. I was very well-connected.”
But she found her footing almost as soon as she landed, starting with Latham & Watkins in 2006. It was then that she changed from patent prosecution to patent litigation.
“Latham & Watkins only offered litigation,” Bedi says. “I wasn’t looking to make the switch to litigation, but I was intrigued because my friends who were doing litigation loved it and always made fun of prosecutors, saying, ‘That’s so boring. What are you doing?’ So I took a leap of faith. … I’ve never looked back.”
In 2008, after moving to Jenner & Block, where she was part of large, mostly defense-side litigation teams and rarely went to trial, she eventually reached another fork in the road. Says Bedi, “I thought, Do I want to stay at Jenner & Block, where I have my best friends and they’re really, really good to me? Or do I want to be a first-chair trial lawyer? I had seen what my husband was doing [as a trial lawyer], and I really wanted to do that type of thing.”
Enter Niro, Haller & Niro (now Niro Law Group), a boutique firm focused on enforcing IP rights for small companies and individual inventors.
“I wanted to go to a small firm that was in court all the time,” says Bedi, who joined the firm in 2012. “Everyone at Jenner & Block was like, ‘Why would you go there? They’re the pirates. They’re the ones that are suing all our clients.’ But I wanted to be the one arguing in front of the judge.”
For one of those people on the bench, Chief Judge James Holderman of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Bedi was a breath of fresh air. He presided over several of her cases and was struck by her forthright style.
“I came to know that if Olivia Luk was arguing the matter or presenting the case, I was going to receive a true statement of the facts—from her standpoint obviously,” says Holderman, who retired in 2015. “She wasn’t going to try to sugarcoat the facts in a way that wasn’t supported by the evidence; she wasn’t going to exaggerate the facts. I knew I’d always get the straight story. In my mind, that’s what separates good lawyers from super lawyers.”
Bedi continued to move forward. In 2016, she signed with Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg, which provided her with a full buffet of opportunities.
“There has been a purpose with each move,” Bedi says. “With this one, I wanted to go somewhere that wasn’t a patent boutique. I wanted a general practice firm where I could bring in work. And I wanted to go to a Chicago or Midwestern firm. Every employee [in the firm] is in this office. I really enjoy the atmosphere here.”
Nevertheless, she’s stymied in one way: by her knack for preventing cases from going to court. Says Bedi with a sardonic grin, “I still do go to court, but I’m actually really good at settling cases.”
Exhibit A is a copyright case in which her opposing counsel was Matthew Cavanagh of the Cleveland-based firm McDonald Hopkins. The case was filed in 2014, but Bedi didn’t come onboard until late 2017, after the client had severed the relationship with its original firm.
“Too many lawyers think the best way to represent their client is to be very aggressive, strident, and convinced of their client’s righteousness,” Cavanagh says. “This was a very complicated case. If Olivia hadn’t been Olivia—if it had been a different attorney who had come in with that aggressive attitude—the case still wouldn’t be resolved. It would still be litigated aggressively, with both sides pouring legal fees into the case. Olivia looked at the case very objectively. I knew she didn’t agree with our position, but she didn’t completely dismiss it, because she saw that the best resolution for her client was a settlement. It was a classic compromise. Too many lawyers don’t listen, but she listened and understood.
“We both value and put as paramount our ethical obligation to our client. Oftentimes, that will lead to a settlement. Although that might be contrary to our selfish desires to try a case, it’s often the best outcome.”
When Bedi looks at the most meaningful cases of her career, she fixates on the ones that reflect what it’s like to reach the top in a profession still dominated by men. With a hint of steel in her voice, she relives a patent case that she tried in the Northern District of Illinois during her time at Niro, Haller & Niro.
“There was a gentleman on the other side, and we had been going at it with motions and phone calls,” recalls Bedi. “It was a tough relationship, but I’m not going to back down, even if I’m much younger and a woman. We got in front of the judge, and [the opposing lawyer] said, ‘Her little mind … blah, blah, blah.’ He was always very rude and demeaning to me, but that just stuck out. I kept my mouth shut because I’m not one to butt in; I take courtroom decorum very seriously. I let him finish, and then I said, ‘Your Honor, my little mind read the rules in the statute, and this is what should happen. And this is why my client should win.’ I addressed it very civilly and professionally. I won, and I think the guy had mud on his face after that. He was really embarrassed. When we left the courtroom, he was chasing me, apologizing, because he looked so bad in front of the judge and on the record.”
Then there’s a patent infringement jury trial from 2015, also in the Northern District of Illinois.
“I had just had my baby,” Bedi says. “In the middle of an examination, we all broke for lunch. Everyone else was eating, but I had to go pump because I had a 6-month-old at home. It was a weeklong trial. We’d go back to the office afterward and work until 2 in the morning every night during the trial. When I’d get home, I’d want to see my baby. At that point, he was still getting up every two hours. So I’d be with the baby the rest of the night—nursing the baby, taking care of the baby. Then I’d shower and go back to court, where I’d be front and center arguing jury instructions against the other side. When you do something like that, you know you can handle so much. Women do that all the time. There are things we do that go above and beyond what our male counterparts are doing, which they don’t even know about.”
Bedi views it as her duty to help raise that awareness level. It’s one of the reasons she founded the Ladies in IP Society.
“If you look around, the law school classes are 50-50 men and women,” she says. “If you go to the law firms, they say it’s 50-50 men and women, but once you reach the ranks of partner, there’s barely any of us. Women have to be better in order to be treated even equally. I founded the Ladies in IP Society about five years ago. We share war stories and what we can do to help other women, and we cheer them on when they receive honors and nominate them for awards.”
Bedi is a warrior both for women and her clients—a happy warrior.
“People naturally like her when she walks into a room,” Byman says. “Some people who have her lack of shyness come off as arrogant or conceited. That doesn’t happen with Olivia.”
Adds Bedi, “You want to be respected for your brain and your work ethic, but you don’t want people to dislike you, because that’s also not good. I generally love people and being friends with people. That’s my personality.”
At the end of her day—after she’s run her miles, represented her clients, participated in her extracurricular activities, and folded a little laundry—Bedi is careful to remember what truly drives her.
“I just want to be a great mom, of course,” she says. “I want my children to be happy and loving, and close to us. I’m hoping, even with our schedules and the way we run things, that they are happy, and that they see what we do as a loving thing. It’s important to me to be around their schools, too, so I’m a first-grade chair and soccer coach. I want to make sure that we’re in their lives.”
As Byman puts it: “I said eight years ago that Olivia’s going to rule the world someday. I still think that’s possible.”
Olivia Luk Bedi’s most publicized case has nothing to do with IP litigation. It’s a criminal defense trial from 2011, People v. Shannon, in which she represented Silvonus Shannon, a 20-year-old Chicago man who was among a group accused of murder in the beating death of a Fenger Academy High School student in 2009.
“Olivia had never tackled a witness, and she wanted to get some extra trial experience,” says Robert Byman, a partner at Jenner & Block, where Bedi was working. “She asked if I would supervise her in a pro bono case. I said, ‘Sure. Go talk to the pro bono committee.’ She went out and got the highest-profile murder case that was pending in Chicago that year.”
People v. Shannon attracted international attention due to a video of the incident that went viral and appeared to show Shannon stomping the boy’s head. The media glare added an element of intensity to a case that already had touched Bedi deeply.
“I got really close to him and his mother, and I just felt so sorry for them,” she says. “He was born into this terrible neighborhood where the victim was actually bullying them. It was really emotional. [The media attention] added more stress, of course. You’re looking at the press every day to see what they wrote, and you’re like, ‘Oh, they got it wrong’ or ‘Why didn’t they say this?’ It added another dimension.”
Ultimately, the jury found Shannon guilty of first-degree murder, and he was sentenced to 32 years in prison. It was a bitter pill for Bedi to swallow.
“He was found guilty of first-degree murder because of the felony murder statute,” she says. “If second-degree murder had been on the table, he would have gotten that. He touched the kid, but so did seven other people. The jurors felt sympathy toward him. They even wrote a note saying the judge should be lenient on him.”
Adds Byman, “She did a fantastic job. Unfortunately, we came in second in the trial, but it wasn’t for lack of effort. She went out and beat the bushes to try to find character witnesses and additional witnesses. She established a rapport with Silvonus that was amazing. It was the kind of rapport I’ve had maybe once or twice in a career of almost 50 years.”
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