The Challenge Junkie

Brenna Legaard keeps her motor running        

Published in 2008 Oregon Super Lawyers — November 2008

Brenna Legaard's college judo coach told her never to complain about a referee's bad call. It's just part of the game, he'd say.

That advice has come in handy in Legaard's legal career. "The judge is the referee," says the intellectual property attorney, a former member of the International Judo Association and the United States Judo Association. "When I tell my co-counsels that, they give me the same look I used to give my coach," she adds, laughing.

Ranked nationally and a former competitor in the U.S. Open of Judo, Legaard just can't get enough of the martial art. Before attending law school at Case Western Reserve University, she taught English in Japan to satisfy her craving to compete. Then, while earning a science degree at Idaho State University, she taught judo. "We [the instructors] would throw each other across the room, and the girls would look at us like, ‘Are you kidding me?'" she says. "It can be so empowering."

Legaard, 34, with Portland's Chernoff Vilhauer McClung & Stenzel, enjoys the thrill of fast bikes, too. She and her husband, Scott, own several sport and dirt motorcycles. They ride their BMW 1150 GS motorcycles along the Northwest's winding highways, and once explored Northern California by motorcycle.

Legaard says she's not an adrenaline junkie so much as a "challenge-junkie." That bodes well for her clients, many of whom are victims of patent infringement and must prove their genius to a judge and jury. For example, says Legaard, "The engineering mechanical properties of plastic are usually explained through mathematical equations." The challenge is translating that for 12 ordinary people. "I always tell the paralegals the lawyer who understands the science will win," she says. "I don't know if that's always true, but it's a good starting point."

It was true this year when Legaard won her largest verdict to date—$14.7 million—for a patent-infringement case. She defended a medical-device manufacturer and a doctor against a well-heeled rival device-maker over the doctor's shoulder-surgery method. In this case, Legaard knew the scientific facts particularly well. When opposing counsel argued that metal couldn't be substituted for plastic because metal detectors would cause trouble for patients, Legaard—being the attorney and not a witness—had to bite her tongue. She has three metal anchors in her shoulder from a judo injury, and passed undetected through the courthouse metal detectors each day of the trial.

Legaard's judo practice has dwindled since her son, Aaron, was born in 2007, the same year she made partner. She says she'll be back on the mat soon enough.

In the meantime, the teachings of judo continue to serve her well. When confronted by attorneys attempting to be intimidating, she says (to herself), "Please, unless you're going to choke me, I'm unimpressed."        

 

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