Eldora L. Ellison, PhD

Eldora L. Ellison, PhD

Education: JD, Georgetown University Law Center; PhD, biochemistry, molecular and cell biology, Cornell University; BS, biology, Haverford College
Company Name: Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein & Fox
Industry: Law
Company CEO: Michael B. Ray (Managing Director)
Company Headquarters Location: Washington, DC
Number of Employees: 375
Words you live by: Live without regret.
Who is your personal hero? My grandmother—a wise, kind, loving woman
What book are you reading? Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing
What was your first job? Working in my college’s cafeteria
Favorite charity: American Red Cross
Interests: Boating
Family: Large extended family, fiancé, and two future stepchildren

We Don’t Succeed Alone

As the child of a police officer and a factory worker, I never would have guessed that I would obtain a PhD from an Ivy League university and become a patent attorney, equity partner, and member of a law firm’s executive committee. It’s not that I doubted I would become a professional (I wanted to become a “real doctor,” as my mother called it), but I had no clue about the field of patent law. My interest in patent law was piqued when my PhD advisor sought to patent the protein I studied for my dissertation.

Then, a friend’s father told me about technical specialist jobs in law firms, and another friend’s mother made an introduction that helped me land such a job. I suspect I would not be where I am today without those individuals opening my eyes and opening doors for me. But initial opportunities, and even hard work, do not ensure success in law; statistics in law firms show that attrition rates for women and persons of color far outpace those for men and white people.

In the early years of my career, Paul Clark, a white, male partner with whom I worked, invested time not only in giving me candid feedback on my work product, but also in getting to know me personally, building a trusting relationship, and giving me forthright career advice. Were it not for his efforts, my career may well have gone off track in its early stages. Upon moving to my current firm, I was fortunate enough to work closely with Jorge Goldstein, another white man who gave me candid feedback and advice. I seek his guidance to this day. He also gave me opportunities and support, not only on client matters, but also in navigating the dynamics of a law firm.

Again, individuals had a significant, positive impact on my career. Of course, many other people contributed to my professional development over the years—in some instances because they motivated me not to become like them. But the individuals to whom I refer above stand out for their selfless support of me personally and professionally. They also exemplify to credo of paying it forward, which I have done in my career for both women and men of various backgrounds.