As a patent attorney with clients at the cutting edge of tech, Graciela Gomez Cowger said she’s often humbled at work.
“It has the dual challenge of keeping up with law and keeping up with technology,” she said of her case work. “You’re always the dumbest person in the room.”
Many would disagree with that last claim. The Ridgefield resident had earned an electrical engineering degree before embarking on a career in law and was just recently named CEO of Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt, one of the largest law firms in the region.
The promotion makes her the first woman to lead the 125-year-old firm. In a note to the firm, Cowger said she was honored by the appointment.
“I am excited to lead this firm, providing our clients with unrivaled legal services and supporting our lawyers with the tools they need to succeed,” she said.
Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt has six attorneys based in Vancouver and more than 100 in Portland. Peppered from Seattle to Mountain View, Calif., the firm has more than 170 attorneys in seven cities. Among its Clark County clients is the Port of Vancouver.
Cowger attributed her promotion to her focus on intellectual property. She said it made her standout from the selection process because it fosters skills like thinking quickly. The field made her “used to quickly adapting to change and innovation,” she said.
Change seems like a constant for her. Cowger emigrated from a young age from Tijuana, Mexico, and earned an electrical engineering degree from San Diego State University. She and her husband eventually took jobs at Hewlett-Packard in Vancouver in the 1990s.
However, she said she realized she wasn’t as passionate as many of her co-workers and began to look for another challenge.
“I left a well-paying and stable job to take a flyer, to take a risk and jump off a cliff and go to law school,” she said. Cowger earned her law degree from the University of Washington.
Years of scientific study helped make her a successful intellectual property attorney. She has practiced for 20 years and, before its merger with Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt in 2015, she worked into a partner role at Stolowitz Ford Cowger LLP.
Cowger now takes over for President David Bartz Jr. and Managing Partner Mark Long, who together led the firm for 16 years. She said the move to be run by managing partners into a CEO is to take on a more “corporate structure.”
“It really mimics our clients and how they’re operating, frankly,” she said.
Outside of law, people may recognize Cowger for her work with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.