Science Major

Pam Jacobson’s biology background has influenced more than one career

Published in 2020 Washington Super Lawyers magazine

By Leslie Forsberg on July 16, 2020


Pam Jacobson once spent her days using artificial intelligence to research ozone depletion and predict the occurrence of lupus in families.

Her exposure to math and science came early in life. “There was a real emphasis on STEM when I was growing up,” says Jacobson, now firmwide coordinator for K&L Gates’ intellectual property group. Her parents were both physicians in a small town in northern India—her mother a pathologist who graduated from medical school at 19, and her father an orthopedic surgeon. When Jacobson was 5, the family relocated to Chicago, where her mom went on to head a lab at the Shriner’s Hospitals for Children and her father entered private practice. 

“There was an emphasis on doing well in coursework,” Jacobson says of her upbringing. “I think I was almost 8 when I realized that people could do other things besides teach and be a doctor.

“I think my interest in law probably started in high school. One of my teachers pulled me aside and suggested I join the debate team after one of my class presentations. I was hooked.” Jacobson began watching politicians and reading publications like The Nation and The Economist

But her main pursuit remained the sciences. She earned degrees in molecular biology and English literature, with a minor in math, from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1995. Her artificial-intelligence work on ozone depletion was for Allied Signal (which later merged with Honeywell), and she later worked with AI related to autoimmune disease research at the University of Chicago.

Along the way, Jacobson interacted with attorneys in matters ranging from signing nondisclosure agreements to helping in a litigation matter. “I was so impressed. Even when they didn’t know anything about the technology, they would just keep asking question after question until they got it,” Jacobson says. These interactions fed her fascination with the intersection of science and law. 

She and her husband, David, moved to Portland in 1998, where she applied to law school at the University of Oregon and studied her first year. In 1999, they relocated to Seattle, and Jacobson transferred to the University of Washington School of Law, graduating in 2001.

They have two 30-something sons, a teenage daughter still at home and a daughter at the University of Michigan studying electrical engineering. “She was doing AI work on the Mars rover, and I generally have no idea what she’s talking about,” Jacobson says.

Jacobson credits her own background in math, statistics, computer science and hard sciences with giving her a foothold in understanding the technology involved in her clients’ high-tech patent portfolios, and in representing clients in litigation involving machine learning. The thought process behind the predictive modeling that helped in her lupus research also helps her figure out the next move of opposing counsel or her client’s competitors.

“You learn to think a certain way in everything you do,” she says. “The way I was taught to think in those particular disciplines really helped clarify the way for me to approach legal problems.” 

The Mentor 

Realizing her background in math and science has opened doors, Jacobson lends support to those—especially girls and young women—who might not otherwise be exposed to opportunities in these fields.

She has given career talks to students; taught at the UW’s Center for Advanced Study & Research; and mentors new grads who reach out to her for advice. She also mentors through organizations like the International Trademark Association and the Washington State Patent Law Association. 

“I’m passionate about early childhood education for girls in math and STEM,” she says. “So many people gave me so many opportunities early in my career. I want to do the same.”

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