Only eight years into her career, Elizabeth Tuan ’13 has already notched several significant victories. A partner at Los Angeles-based Irell & Manella, where she has worked since she was a summer associate, Tuan is a patent litigation specialist with a focus on the biotech and pharmaceutical industries. In December 2019, she was part of a team that successfully represented the Sloan Kettering Institute for Cancer Research and Juno Therapeutics Inc. in a patent infringement suit brought in federal district court. A jury deliberated for less than a day before bringing in a $752 million verdict in favor of Tuan’s clients. She also practices regularly before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
The type of litigation Tuan practices combines several of her many talents. She earned her undergraduate degree at the University of California, Berkeley, majoring in molecular and cell biology. “I wanted to do something that focused on tech but also allowed me to do the other things I loved to do, like oral arguments and writing briefs,” Tuan explained. “I didn’t want to waste my background in the sciences, so I thought it was a perfect marriage.”
But Tuan has always wanted to reach out. The daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, she serves on her firm’s diversity and hiring committees. Last year, she was selected as a Pathfinder by the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity, a program designed to help a new and more diverse generation of attorneys ascend to leadership positions.
Tuan also has an active pro bono practice. A recent victory for one of her pro bono clients is as satisfying as any she has won in the corporate world, she said.
A young woman visited a car dealership hoping to trade in her father’s old car. The dealership pressured her into buying a car she didn’t want and followed her back to her father’s house late at night to get him to sign some of the paperwork, even though he could not read or speak English. After the woman defaulted on the loan, a state trial court denied the dealership’s petition to compel arbitration. Thanks to Tuan’s brief and argument, that decision was affirmed in the California Court of Appeal.
Fighting a contractual arbitration clause in state court is about as far from Tuan’s typical practice area as can be, but she thinks the experience benefited her as well as her clients.
“I’ve always been focused on patent litigation, so I’ve never, in my billable practice, worked on anything else,” Tuan said. “But there are a lot of muscles that you have to exercise as a lawyer. On a typical patent case there may be a bunch of different issues, so being able to work on a different type of case, with a very different type of client, and in a different kind of court, was great. It’s important to give yourself a different type of experience and grow as a lawyer by doing unfamiliar things.”