Chemists in the Real World

Judie Dziezak

 


Judie Dziezak,
Attorney


Judie Dziezak has been an attorney for about 20 years, and heads her own law firm practicing in FDA regulatory law and intellectual property law.

When she graduated from college, Judie had no intention whatsoever of going into law. She was targeting a career in pharmacology or food science. Armed with an M.S. in food science from Purdue University, she sought a position in the food industry. However, at that time, the industry was hampered by a recession and was not hiring. That prompted her to broaden her search to consider positions that would utilize her bachelor’s degrees in chemistry and biology. The position she accepted was as a chemist in the adhesives and polymer industry, with Morton Chemical Company.

Driven by her interest in the food industry, she was delighted to be offered a job as a food scientist with Quaker Oats Company. For four years, she enjoyed the challenges of R&D. In the course of that work, she discovered an inherent interest in writing and speaking. When Food Technology magazine — an international publication of the Institute of Food Technologists — posted an ad for an associate editor position, she leaped at the opportunity. In that position, she wrote more than 65 articles, including comprehensive technical reports, attended numerous conferences, and met many people, many of whom were lawyers. With each successive job building upon the knowledge base of its predecessor, she was lured into law school by her interest in analysis, writing, and speaking.

She went on to law school, passed the patent bar exam, worked as a litigator and acquired experience in several law firms, ranging from a medium-sized, international firm (with 230+ attorneys) to small boutique firms. She, however, disagreed with certain questionable business practices she observed at some of the firms, and decided to start her own firm. She did so in 2003.

What is the highest level of education you completed? 

I have a Juris Doctorate — i.e., a J.D. My highest technical degree is an M.S. from Purdue University in food science. My thesis was directed toward stabilizing chromatographically isolated and purified anthocyanins (plant pigments) by complexing them with flavonols so they retained their color. Before entering the Food Science Department, I worked in the Department of Pharmacology. There, I conducted research on the effect of halogenated benzenes on acetanilide esterase, acetanilide hydroxylase, and procaine esterase, working with rat models. That work culminated in an article in the journal, Research Communications in Chemical Pathology and Pharmacology.

What is your major responsibility in your current position?

As an attorney, I practice in two areas: FDA regulatory law and intellectual property (IP) law.

On the FDA side, I help companies in the food, dietary supplement, and cosmetic industries to stay off of the radar screens of FDA and FTC. My work focuses on helping them comply with assorted regulations in terms of manufacturing, marketing, and developing their products.

And on the IP side, I help businesses identify which intellectual assets — for example, trade secrets, trademarks, and innovations — are protectable, develop strategies for protecting such assets, and help the companies monetize those assets through licensing and other technology-based agreements.

What's a typical day on the job like?

I am blessed with a lot of variety in my work! Some days are spent at the desk, writing, counseling clients via telephone conferences, developing strategies for complying with FDA regulations or for protecting innovations, and negotiating technology-based agreements. Other days involve meetings outside the office, and lunches with colleagues.

Describe your work environment.

As an attorney, my workplace is a law office.

Does your job follow a typical 9-to-5 schedule?

Typically, my work week runs from about 45 to 52 hours, which includes out-of-the-office events.

What do you like most about your job and why?

I love the variety in the work I do. I enjoy using my technical background, married with a touch of creativity, in helping clients resolve their legal issues. I am “big” on preventative guidance, especially if it requires a creative touch — I try to keep clients from getting ensnarled in situations that would cost them a lot of money to extricate themselves. Knowing that I helped a client advance its business and achieve its goals gives me tremendous satisfaction.  

What is your best productivity trick?

Lists!! I strive to get a minimum of three things done each day, no matter what happens. I keep an up-to-date list and cross off each item as it is completed.

What's the best career advice you've received?

The only career advice I ever received was after I had worked as a chemist and was seeking a position as a food scientist. I was interviewing with a Fortune 300 company (at that time). The R&D director there said to pay attention to the atmosphere and “see if it’s right for you.” In other words, pay attention to the general “feel” of the place — if it’s positive, negative, accepting, or repressive — and how the people treat each other. I did, and I ended up accepting the job offer presented to me at the interview. I appreciated the wisdom of that advice and invoked it through my careers.

To my chagrin, however, when I entered the world of law, I dismissed the wisdom of that advice and accepted a job I should have turned down.

I had been offered a position with a law firm which I didn’t feel I wanted, but also didn’t want to turn down. My gut was saying, “walk away.” But the legal matters the firm handled sounded fascinating. So, I dismissed all the “signs” and accepted the job. Shortly after starting, I saw business practices there that I did not agree with. I also later found out that the patent attorney I was hired to replace, who handled chemical patents, had been let go for submitting fraudulent dinner receipts.

So now, when asked what advice I have for new graduates ready to embark on job-hunting, I always tell them to pay attention to the atmosphere and the energy of a prospective employer. Think about any clues revealed about their ethics. Don’t compromise your values just to “fit in.” Don’t be afraid to stand up for what’s right, even if you are the only one doing so. When you get older and look back, you will have absolutely no regrets.

Do you have any special talents or traits that make you a great fit for your job?

It’s more of a “trait” than a “talent”: I thrive on variety in my work, I love learning new things, I need to be challenged, and I am pretty flexible.