From managing a fast food restaurant while attending college to Director of IP Operations at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP, Carrie Sadowski has established herself as a prominent woman in intellectual property (IP) through experience and hard work.

“We did not have a lot of money growing up,” she explains. “I knew early on I wanted to go to law school but without a wealthy family, I did not think it would be possible.” Undeterred by the challenges of establishing a legal career without following the traditional education path, Carrie drew on her steadfast attitude to achieve her goals. 

The journey to law firm success

An interest in criminal justice earned Carrie a bachelor’s degree from Radford University in Virginia. After taking her LSATs in her senior year, Carrie pursued an associate’s degree in paralegal studies to help her take the next step to law school. “So I packed up and moved to Northern Virginia where several of the best law schools are located!” she says.

Carrie found her first job after college as an IP legal assistant in an IP boutique law firm in Northern Virginia. “I remember taking a test when I interviewed for the job and was not sure of many of the answers to the IP questions, but in just six months of working on the job it all clicked,” she says.  Carrie worked at the IP boutique firm for a year and had to move back to Roanoke, Virginia, where she joined a firm as a paralegal assisting with commercial real estate closings, civil litigation, and bankruptcy while teaching paralegal courses at a local college at night.  After several years, she decided to move back to Northern Virginia and was rehired at the same IP boutique she worked at previously.  

“IP is so much more specialized,” says Carrie. “You are not doing the same thing every day and you need to really dig into what you are doing and pay attention to the details.”  After a year, Carrie was recruited to Pillsbury to work as an IP paralegal. 

“When I first joined Pillsbury, I had two managers, but when they both left, I quickly had the opportunity to step into that role,” she explains. “Being an IP legal assistant and paralegal before moving into management has helped me over the years because I better understand where the secretaries, paralegals, and docketing are coming from.  I understand the department’s needs because I have been in their roles.” 

Successfully managing operations at the firm for two years – in addition to completing her paralegal tasks – other firms quickly recognized Carrie’s skillset and began to reach out to her. In 2008, Carrie joined Bingham McCutchen as the firm-wide IP Manager, she later joined McDermott Will & Emery as their firm-wide IP Administrator while she also received her master’s degree in law firm management at George Washington University.  Six years later she was enticed back to Pillsbury to finish where she had started.

 “And that’s how it happened!” she exclaims.

Directing IP at Pillsbury

Strategically located ten miles from the White House, and near the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Pillsbury’s Northern Virginia office is ranked by Chambers USA as a top provider of intellectual property.

“I wear many hats in this section,” says Carrie when asked about her current role as Director of IP Operations at the firm. “Eleven of our national and international offices practice IP and I work closely with the Practice Section Leader and each IP Local Section Leader at each location, dealing with such challenges as IP technology deployments, business development, marketing, HR, budgeting, IP account queries, and cross office staffing support, just to name a few.”  

Pillsbury’s offices in Virginia and Nashville are responsible for docketing services across the firm – with 15 people currently working in the docketing department under Carrie’s supervision. Carrie also assists in managing the firm’s conflict process and ensures any IP transfers in and out of the firm are actioned, reviewed, reported, and communicated accurately. “I also meet with our partners to work closely on Pillsbury’s strategic business plans and how I can drive the IP section of our firm to greater success,” she adds.

With such a busy work schedule, delegation is key. “We use CPA Global to assist us with our Inprotech configurations and law updates and everything in between,” she says.  CPA Global’s support has helped restructure Pillsbury’s backend systems support and take some of this responsibility from the firm’s docketing department. 

While Carrie’s path to a top role in IP management may have been atypical, she nevertheless has excelled in her chosen field. In addition to the formal education she got along the way, her time at various employers, particularly with Pillsbury, has enabled her to build a strong expertise in intellectual property that has made her an invaluable asset to the law firm.