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Bobbie Wilson

Posted By CMCP, Friday, June 28, 2013
Updated: Friday, February 27, 2015
Untitled Document
Bobbie Wilson, Partner | Perkins Coie LLP
by David Tsai, Perkins Coie LLP

In celebration of LGBT Pride Month, we feature Bobbie Wilson, who is a partner at Perkins Coie LLP’s San Francisco and Palo Alto offices.

One of CMCP’s original steering committee members, Bobbie has inspired many with her work as a trial lawyer, representing major corporations and pro bono clients, including the City and County of San Francisco in the California Marriage cases. Bobbie has also served as an important role model for lawyers and law students who are women, of color, and/or LGBT.

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Bobbie is a graduate of Columbia University School of Law, where she was a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar. After graduation, Bobbie served as the Felix Velarde Munoz Fellow at The Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center in San Francisco. As a fellow, Bobbie worked on high-impact employment cases with other attorneys we now know as judges, including Alameda County Superior Court Judge John Marshall True III and Northern District of California Judge Edward Chen. At The Legal Aid Society, Bobbie also worked with Patricia Shui, who is now Associate Director at the U.S. Department of Labor.

After her fellowship, Bobbie spent two months traveling in the South Pacific in Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji. During her time "down under,” Bobbie bungee-jumped, hiked the Routeburn trail, and almost drowned during the "Awesome Foursome,” when her raft failed to go over (instead of down) the "Toilet” because "some Belgium boys failed to paddle hard enough.”

In 1991, Bobbie joined Howard Rice Nemerovski Canady Falk & Rabkin, a premiere litigation firm known for its former Supreme Court law clerks and the exceptional quality of its litigation product. Bobbie first worked as a summer associate, and later joined the firm’s partnership in 1998. Bobbie was the firm’s first African American litigation partner and has served on almost every firm committee, including the Management Committee.

At Howard Rice, Bobbie served as lead counsel in trials for diverse clients, including Fortune 500 companies and individuals. It was also at Howard Rice that Bobbie got the call to represent the City and County of San Francisco, then-San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, and then-San Francisco Assessor Mabel Tang as the lead pro bono counsel in the fight for marriage equality in California. The litigation ended up before the California Supreme Court and came out with a win. It was not long after the decision was handed down when Bobbie married her spouse, Trina.

During the first Internet Boom (" craze v. # 1.0”), Bobbie worked in-house for EFI on behalf of Howard Rice. Bobbie also served as a loaner Assistant District Attorney in the San Francisco DA’s Office Misdemeanor Unit under the Honorable Kamala Harris. After 19 years at Howard Rice, Bobbie decided to join Perkins Coie. It was one of the hardest decisions Bobbie ever had to make.

Since joining Perkins Coie in 2010, Bobbie has already served as lead trial counsel on a number of complex civil litigations, primarily in the area of intellectual property. Bobbie’s practice focuses on patent, trade secrets, Internet privacy, Section 230 (Communications Decency Act), copyright, competition, and class action matters. She serves as lead trial counsel for companies most of us are familiar with, including craigslist, Netflix, Google, First Data, Broadcom, Nintendo and Airpush.

Bobbie is known for obtaining real success by getting good results in trial for difficult cases. Whether it is a grant of summary judgment in a Section 230 case, dismissal of a class action lawsuit, or a $56.00 punitive damages award as new trial counsel, Bobbie gets results for her clients. Bobbie has been recognized as one of the Top Women Lawyers in California on several occasions, as well as being recognized by California Super Lawyers. Bobbie also currently serves as a Lawyer Representative to the Ninth Circuit.

Recently, Bobbie was selected to be a 2013 Legal Counsel on Diversity Fellow, participating in a landmark program created by the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD) to identify, train, and advance the next generation of leaders in the legal profession. "This is a singular honor for Bobbie Wilson,” said Robert Giles, Managing Partner of Perkins Coie LLP. "Bobbie joins a select group of experienced attorneys from diverse backgrounds who have been recognized for their potential as leaders in their organizations.”

Bobbie has served on numerous boards, including The National Center of Lesbian Rights (NCLR), The SF Chamber of Commerce, and the Bar Association of San Francisco (also serving on the Executive Committee).

Why does diversity matter?

Diversity matters because it makes the world, you and your work better. Inclusion of differences, respect for differences and embracing other makes you a better person and better lawyer. Moreover, it gives you the ability to serve your clients and their businesses better because you can view their issues through a broader lens. Diversity also makes life better and more interesting all-around. Hopefully, law firms will catch up and embrace what is inevitable given the global population.

What do you feel are your three major accomplishments as an attorney?

  1. Representing the City and County of San Francisco, then-Mayor Gavin Newsom and then-Assessor Mable Tang as lead pro bono counsel in the fight for marriage equality was the "Brown" of my time. Those first few days standing shoulder to shoulder with Terry Stewart, San Francisco’s Chief Deputy City Attorney, and defeating the first two attempts to enjoin then-Mayor Newsom’s decision to allow marriages, kept those marriages going for almost/a little over a month. Four years later, when the decision came down from the California Supreme Court in May 2008 that we had won, I couldn’t have been prouder.
  2. As a summer associate at Howard Rice, representing a woman with multiple myeloma against her insurance company who was refusing to pay for her cancer treatment. Hiding under the argument that the procedure she needed was "experimental,” the insurance company was going to let her die. Because suing the company was not really an option given the limited time she had left, I had to convince the company to allow her claim and pay for her treatment. The company finally relented and she got her treatment. She could not afford counsel so the firm allowed me to represent her for free.
  3. That in my small way I have broken through some racial and gender barriers so common in law firms. Through education (Explaining why "they” do what "they” do; for example, "why do they call themselves African American? I don’t call myself Caucasian American”), perseverance and being present. Think about the number of people in the country who got a look at their first gay couple on national television when sex-marriage began in 2004. It changed people’s views -- not all -- but some. Similar thing with me staying and being at a private law firm. It changes perceptions (especially at the partner level) and it opens the door wider for those who come after. It isn’t a Rosa Parks moment but if we are not at the table, who will speak for us?

What do you feel was one of your biggest setbacks?

One of my biggest setbacks -- though it’s not really mine alone but I feel it deeply -- was the loss on the Proposition 8 vote. We had worked so hard to secure the right to marriage equality through the courts, and then we let it slip away at the polls. I keep asking -- still -- what more could I have done? And while I wait for the United States Supreme Court to rule, I wish we could have kept the victory that we had in May 2008. But perhaps we will have another victory from the United States Supreme Court.

From that experience, I learned that rights can be fleeting and that they can be taken away by the whim (some say "will”) of the people. We need to be ever vigilant and protective of our right to choose our families and to choose who we want to love.

What makes you happy outside of work?

The major thing that makes me happy outside of work is my family. Trina my spouse, and Lola, my seven-year-old Havanese. We have fun traveling, cooking, exploring our urban habitat and just enjoying time with friends who are also family. Some of the other things that make me happy are finding a great red wine at a great price point and learning about different spirits. I am becoming quite the bourbon aficionado thanks to some colleagues who gave me a holiday gift of a membership to a bourbon club and… it’s been all she wrote.

Who are the three people you look up to the most?

I am not sure I "look up” to anyone. In the stratosphere of people I greatly respect/admire/want to have a conversation with: Michelle Obama, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Beyoncé. In the real world? Then it’s everyday folk like Dru Ramey, Marilyn Hall Patel and Kamala Harris. There are some men also, but you gave me a limit of three.

What is your favorite read?

My favorite read is science fiction. I have a fertile imagination and love the possibility of it all. I cannot imagine that this rock (no diss to Mother Earth) we are on is all there is. Science fiction takes my love of astronomy, vivid imagination and hope for better future and allows me to escape for a time.

Where would you like to travel to?

I would like to travel back to Africa. I have been to South Africa, but I want to explore more of the continent with Trina and learn more of its history. I am also looking forward to exploring Antarctica someday. Frankly, if I could afford it, I would pay for a seat on one of the space shuttles -- I would love to be amongst the stars.


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