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Meet Network Member: Keiko Sugisaka

Nov 18, 2019 | News & Updates

Keiko Sugisaka of Maslon

Could you tell us more about your previous role as an Assistant Attorney General with the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office?

During my time at the AG’s Office I regulated and investigated charitable assets and nonprofits, which included HMOS. I also handled consumer fraud matters and civil and criminal appeals.

For about four years, I reported directly to the Solicitor General. This meant I was responsible for the execution of the Office’s priorities related to investigations and litigation regardless of subject matter rather than representing a particular state agency.

Keiko Sugisaka of Maslon

Could you tell us more about your previous role as an Assistant Attorney General with the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office?

During my time at the AG’s Office I regulated and investigated charitable assets and nonprofits, which included HMOS. I also handled consumer fraud matters and civil and criminal appeals.

For about four years, I reported directly to the Solicitor General. This meant I was responsible for the execution of the Office’s priorities related to investigations and litigation regardless of subject matter rather than representing a particular state agency.

Has your experience there influenced your work now? If so, how?

Yes, I get calls when clients are facing investigative actions from the AG’s office and/or issues related to Minnesota’s Government Data Practices Act. Having firsthand knowledge of the Office’s priorities and decision-making processes allows me to provide insight and guidance on how to respond and minimize risk. It’s valuable because the process differs significantly from regular private litigation.

Also, I think my current work is influenced by the experience I gained by regularly interacting with the public. The ability to communicate clearly, listen to and understand concerns while being relatable to a whole host of people who are very different from you is a transferable skill. Today, I am able to use this skill when interacting with colleagues, clients, witnesses and everyone in the courtroom.

I also think the breath of work I handled at the AG’s office is significant. The variety of matters has given me the confidence to know I can take on a completely unfamiliar area of law and successfully manage the work.

How do you describe your practice?

Most of my work now is on the defense side of products liability and business litigation matters. My clients can range from Fortune 500 companies to start-ups. I handle matters that can be local or national in scope and also include MDLs and other consolidated actions.

In our past interviews we haven’t covered someone with such vast IP experience. Could you elaborate on your IP work?

For the first six years of my practice I was a patent litigator handling nine-figure cases even though I didn’t have a technical degree. This was during a time when having a science degree and being admitted before the USPTO was not necessary to practice in this space. In 2011, however, the America Invents Act was passed, which drastically changed how patent cases were litigated. Now most patent cases begin with an Inter-Partes Review (IPR) and in order to engage in these proceedings you need to be barred by the USTPO. As a result, most of the IP work I currently handle relates to trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets litigation.

That said, my background in patent work has served me well in my work with products. There are many aspects that overlap like reviewing technical specifications of a product and its manufacturing, marketing, design and distribution.

What differentiates you as a trial attorney?

This is always a difficult question to answer. However, I think that my professional background helps to differentiate me as I have a robust blend of public and private experience. I’ve also been told that I’m particularly good at connecting with people and establishing trust.

Personally speaking, I find it a privilege to be trusted to help others with their legal problems. I keep this in mind when approaching each of my matters, regardless of the size of the client or dollar amount at issue.

Could you describe one of your most challenging cases and how you worked your way through it?

I had a case in the Northern District of California – and I have to take a moment to acknowledge local counsel and fellow Network member Farella Braun + Martel, who were terrific partners on this case.

We represented 17 defendants, which included several related start-up entities, their investors, a number of employees and four indemnified parties (which included two of the world’s largest retailers, a tech company and a national bank).

The 27-count complaint brought by domestic and international plaintiffs alleged trade secret misappropriation, trademark infringement and a number of state law claims relating to online payment technology. They claimed about $1 billion in damages.

The complexity of the case was amplified by our discovery that the plaintiffs on the case had falsified corporate formation and registration documents in order to confer standing on the Irish corporate parent plaintiff. I was able to obtain an Order dismissing the foreign plaintiff for lack of standing and requiring arbitration against the remaining plaintiff. Additionally, we were granted a stay of litigation pending arbitration.

Simultaneously, we also sought sanctions based on the Court’s inherent powers. Our sanctions motion required a full day evidentiary hearing where we brought in an Irish barrister who was an Irish corporation law and registration expert.

After this hearing, the Court ended up vacating the arbitration order and awarding us terminating sanctions by dismissing the entire lawsuit with prejudice as to all defendants and awarding our attorneys’ fees. The terminating sanctions were appealed, and we prevailed at the appellate court as well.

The attorneys at Farella included James Morando and Deepak Gupta who were absolutely phenomenal partners to have on this complex and unusual case.

What types of clients do you typically work with?

Most of my clients are mid-sized to global-leading companies. They include publicly traded manufacturing, technology and medical device companies.

How do you describe your ideal client?

My ideal client is one who is committed to investing in a genuine and longstanding partnership with outside counsel in order to solve their legal problems. I love clients who are interested in collaborative problem solving and sharing their business objectives for a case so we can tailor the right strategy to achieve those results.

What is your client service philosophy?

Be responsive in both time and substance. My goal is to make my clients smart, successful and happy.

You currently serve on the firm’s three-person Governance Committee, which manages the firm, and you co-chair its Tort & Product Liability Group. Could you elaborate on what these leadership roles entail?

Our governance committee is comprised of three members with one member serving as the Chair, akin to a managing partner. These are all elected positions without term limits. Together, we handle a significant part of the day-to-day management of the firm, in conjunction with our COO and other administrative leaders. We tackle issues related to finances, facilities, marketing, HR, technology and business strategy.

I welcome the added responsibilities of this role because I am invested in the success and future of the firm and everyone in it. Also, at a firm our size, it’s easier to know what everyone is doing, how people are doing and the issues that need to be addressed by the GC.

How do you balance the demands of leadership against the practice of law?

At times this is challenging because the three of us on the GC do maintain full-time practices. In order to successfully manage these competing roles, it is essential to have good and reliable colleagues. Our colleagues are well aware of the demands of our leadership involvement. To that end, we are all able to count on them to help us cover case or client matters, which may conflict with our management duties.

What would people be surprised to learn about you?

I am a pretty rabid soccer fan. Besides the fact that I still play year-round and am way, way past my prime, I am a Tottenham Hotspur fan (COYS!) and follow the English Premier League. My Tottenham allegiance was acquired from my husband, who is a dual British/Australian citizen. We basically spend weekend mornings during the EPL season watching games. People always look shocked to learn this about me.

What experiences have shaped your perspective the most? How?

I believe growing up in two cultures has had a huge impact in shaping my perspective. My parents are pretty traditional Japanese and I grew up in Minnesota where there are very few Japanese people.

Growing up in two cultures has taught me how to adapt while navigating differences with an open-mind and I feel that I am pretty attuned to different perspectives and cultures. I think it has also given me the ability to fit in anywhere and weave in and out of different settings with more ease.

How do you stay connected to trends and changes in the legal industry?

I read a number of legal blogs related to medical devices and drugs and e-discovery. I also read Law360, and regularly attend key conferences within my space.

We also regularly share information with other firms we partner with for real-time connection to what is happening in the industry and our cases. Locally, I am involved in our local Federal Bar Association chapter, which is very active. I am also an at-large member of our State’s Judicial Selection Commission. I think my involvement within local organizations also helps me keep my finger on the pulse of our industry.

How do you define a good trial attorney?

In my view, a good trial attorney is someone who is well-prepared and can quickly adjust and pivot to changing circumstances. Good trial attorneys also excel at creating compelling narratives on behalf of their clients and can build rapport with juries.

What non-legal accomplishments are you most proud of?

Hands down, I am most proud of my three kids. I have a 12-year-old and 10-year-old twins. So far they’re good students and good people, but it’s still a work in progress.

I think I’ve done a pretty decent job balancing a demanding practice while still making meaningful time happen with my family. But again, it’s still a work in progress.

Are there any non-legal issues you are passionate about?

I would say I am passionate about the issues surrounding affordable housing, or the lack thereof. I recently joined the board of the Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity. We are witnessing how the Twin Cities area is quickly becoming one of the most expensive housing markets in the country.

I have also handled a number of pro bono cases related to housing issues. My role in these cases really opened my eyes to how important it is to have access to safe, stable and affordable housing.

I am also committed to issues of diversity within our industry. It is important for us in leadership positions to attract, retain and promote diverse attorneys.

Addressing diversity and inclusion issues in the legal field is a marathon, not a sprint, and corporate legal departments have generally done a better job diversifying their ranks than law firms. However, it remains at the forefront for us at Maslon. We believe diversity makes better teams, better work product and better results.

About Maslon

What do you consider are Maslon’s key differentiators?

Our culture is very much influenced by our one office set up. Sharing the space with all of your colleagues creates a certain degree of connectivity sometimes lost when firms have multiple offices. Our culture is very collaborative, and we have an extremely strong sense of community.

Our clients are the greatest beneficiaries of this team-focused way of working. Clients also appreciate our agility and efficient staffing because of our size, underscored by our ability to tackle complex issues with excellence.

About The Network

How have you maximized your involvement with The Network?

I have reaped the benefits from the resort programs and the products liability program last year. The educational information and resources – as well as personal connections – from these programs are outstanding.

I also call regularly on fellow members as resources in particular areas of expertise and for assistance as local counsel. In one particularly contentious case, we engaged four different Network firms across the country for discovery motions happening concurrently in various jurisdictions.

The Network is always my go-to resource to identify local counsel. The benefit is knowing these lawyers are high quality and rigorously vetted. They know the courts, judges, opposing counsel and it helps to better inform our legal strategies.

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5602 Marquesas Circle, Suite 205; Sarasota, FL 34233 | 914.332.4400

"TRIAL.COM", "The Network", and "The Lawyers' Knowledge Network" are registered service marks of The Network of Trial Law Firms, Inc.
© 2019 - The Network of Trial Law Firms, Inc.