Ann Cathcart Chaplin

How a 38-year-old is leading Fish & Richardson’s litigation practice group

Published in 2011 Minnesota Rising Stars — August 2011

When Ann Cathcart Chaplin is cheering on one of her three sons at a Little League game or at home cooking a family meal, she appears like any other mom. She’s not. When this mom reaches for a jug of milk from the refrigerator, she pauses for a moment, thinking about the procedure for making polyethylene and the trade secret case she successfully settled for global giant Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. Her roles as both mom and intellectual property attorney aren’t mutually exclusive.

It’s clear the managing principal of Fish & Richardson’s Twin Cities office cares deeply about her clients, their work and her colleagues. Her devotion hasn’t gone unnoticed by the firm either: In March, Chaplin, now 38, was appointed as the leader of the litigation practice group for Fish & Richardson. The new role calls for overseeing nearly 200 attorneys in 11 offices worldwide.

Chaplin, from Marine on St. Croix (just north of Stillwater), who joined Fish & Richardson in 2001, has loved solving problems and helping people for as long as she can remember; that blend of compassion, collaboration and enthusiasm has proven successful when representing clients like 3M, Google and Auburn University.

As a Harvard law student, Chaplin had planned to use her skills practicing criminal law. However, a summer working for the Stillwater public defender’s office where she represented clients arrested the previous night, became a reality check. “It takes special people to do that,” she says. “I mother everyone so I worried about them and I cared about them, and it broke my heart because they kept coming back every week and it was very frustrating. And I thought, ‘If I’m this frustrated now from that short period of time, how would I ever do it for a long period of time?’”

The following summer she found her niche in IP law while working as an associate at Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi. Chaplin, today one of just a few IP attorneys without a technical background, has no problem delving in and learning the complex issues surrounding patents and technology. “I just love the variety of it because I always have to learn something new; it keeps it interesting. You get to speak to all sorts of interesting people,” she says of her practice. “I think that it’s just really fun to see what [clients are] doing and then to be able to play a part in supporting them in the way that we do.”

And she’s quick to credit her team. “I think it’s very collaborative, what we do, especially with litigation,” she says. “You work in teams and you work with one another and you’re not saying, ‘I’m the only one with good ideas.’ We’re all these people coming together and sharing our ideas to come up with the best ideas of how to do it well.”

At home, Chaplin does her best to explain to her three sons, ages 3, 6 and 8, what she does when she goes in to work every day. (Her husband, Tony, stays home with the boys.) “They’re not even at that age where they understand the court system and that [you have] a judge; that when we people have disputes, we have this nice way to work it out in a civilized fashion where we can have differences and someone decides,” she says. “So I try to explain for them.”

Chaplin describes how she recently took her children through the steps of a deposition, explaining to them how she gets to ask someone questions under oath. “I said, ‘And then Mommy asks them questions and they have to answer. And someone writes it all down and somebody videotapes it,’” she told them. “And [my sons] go, ‘Oh, my gosh, can you ask him anything?’ And I said, ‘Well pretty much anything …’” The explaining can get too complicated, so Chaplin sticks to the basics. “They said, ‘Oh, please Mommy, please, please, please, ask him [about] the closest planet to the sun. Let’s see if he knows it.’ And I said, ‘Well that’s going to be hard to work in. But if I can work it in, I will.’”

So, after a lunch break from the deposition she explained that her children had begged her to ask a certain question. The man being deposed, in good humor, admitted he didn’t know which planet was closest to the sun—though Chaplin insists he was probably just indulging her—and after a laugh, the deposition continued. Chaplin returned home to tell her sons what happened and the three boys went to sleep that night proud that they, in fact, did know which planet was closest to the sun. “I want them to feel like they understand what I’m doing and they’re a part of it, too, as much as [they] can be,” she says.

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