Why Teresan Gilbert Wants Every Day To Be a Challenge

After overcoming prejudices in the once male-dominated field, Teresan Gilbert challenges the lawyers she mentors to push themselves

Teresan Gilbert is constantly on the move. In fact, it’s difficult for her to find the time for a casual conversation during her busy work day. It’s hard for her because stopping for a chat would mean she isn’t producing, influencing, or changing something. It’s a problem, she says. Yet, in practice, it’s proven to be anything but.

That’s how she raised her two daughters by herself. It’s also how she’s able to mentor so many of her young colleagues and how she developed a curriculum for a college course on intellectual property and the law. Finally, it’s what made her the chief intellectual property counsel for Lubrizol.

The Lubrizol Corporation, a Berkshire Hathaway company, develops and manufactures chemicals for the automotive, industrial, and consumer markets. With its headquarters in the Cleveland suburb of Wickliffe, Ohio, and offices worldwide, Lubrizol employs roughly 9,000 people.

As chief IP counsel, Gilbert counsels on and researches IP legal matters, evaluates freedom-to-use matters, drafts and negotiates IP agreements, and pursues licenses and acquisitions. The global nature of her work and the company’s numerous divisions and specialties keep Gilbert and her team of twelve on the move.

Lubrizol is made of three segments: additives, advanced materials, and oil-field solutions. The first supplies chemicals, additives, and technology for engine oils and industrial lubricants. The second specializes in ingredients like polymers for consumer and industrial products, which range from antiwrinkle cream to phone screens. The third aids in exploring, producing, and transporting oil. This pioneering research and constant innovation means Gilbert’s IP practice must evolve with the company.

A LIFELONG
LEGAL YOGI

Teresan Gilbert first picked up yoga in 1973, when she and some friends would roll their mats out in their college’s student union. Today, the self-proclaimed type A personality uses the practice to clear her mind and be present in the moment.

“When my daughters were in high school, whenever they lost their lunch or something, my mantra around the house was, ‘Okay, let’s breathe, guys, let’s breathe!’” she says.

She also considers it a tool she can use off the mat and in the workplace. When her mind is quiet, Gilbert can focus better. That way, her decisions come from a place of compassion and knowledge, not emotion.

Gilbert is currently enrolled in a 200-hour yoga teacher training class—not because she wants to teach, but because she wants to improve her practice.

“Sometimes I laugh and say that when they put me in a nursing home, I’ll be their yoga teacher,” she says.

With seven lawyers and five paralegals under her guidance, Gilbert says she spends just as much time managing as she does practicing law, which keeps the job interesting. At this stage in
her career, she’s more than ready to assume the role her mentors filled for her.

Gilbert returns to the lessons she’s learned as a seasoned lawyer who also came of age when women were a slim minority in the workplace. She instills confidence in her mentees and challenges them to find answers for themselves. She hopes that the lessons from her own career will encourage young lawyers, especially women, to keep pushing forward.

She remembers a time when very few women practiced IP law. It’s why she applied to law school in the first place. “It was 1976,” she says. “Everyone told me, ‘Go be a nurse, go be a teacher, a physical therapist, a journalist.’ My mother wanted me to be a hairdresser. I wanted to do something women weren’t supposed to do.”

As a law clerk in her last year of school, Gilbert asked the firm about coming on as a lawyer. “One of the guys said to me, ‘How can I travel to Kansas City [for work] and tell my wife I’m traveling with you?’” she says. She didn’t get the job.

Gilbert was later hired at Sohio/BP America Inc. as an IP counsel. In the beginning, she was—at best—one of two women in the room at any given time. Her male coworkers would joke that she was hired to check the box for corporate diversity tax breaks. However, she also had great mentors there who challenged her and gave her chances—men who, more often than not, had raised daughters, she notes.

After sixteen years, she joined Lubrizol, and in 2013, she became the company’s chief IP counsel. Today, women constitute more than half of the Lubrizol legal division.

At the behest of her daughter, then a law student, Gilbert joined the Case Western Reserve University faculty as an adjunct professor in 2012. Each year, she typically teaches one IP law class, where she’s excited to bring the real world into the classroom for the next generation and advise them in their first career steps.

Although she’s constantly teaching, Gilbert never stops learning. Her goal of developing one new hobby every year has given her skills in golf, gardening, knitting, and repairing furniture. She’s also a yogi.

Gilbert’s newest challenge is drawing. In her art classes, she draws milk bottles, glasses, and cartons, and she also is trying her hand at sketching portraits of her daughters. She chose not to pursue painting because she says it doesn’t have to be as accurate as other media. And where would the challenge be in that?