Alumni Profile: Joel Matteson ’08, In-House Counsel for Barlean’s
November 18, 2016
What year did you graduate? 2008.
Please describe your journey from law school to where you are now. After graduating from Thomas Jefferson School of Law in 2008, my wife and I moved to Bellevue, Washington, a few miles east of Seattle. I went straight to work studying for the bar exam. I actually have fond memories of studying for the bar—not because I am a glutton for punishment—but because passing the bar was a major accomplishment and because perhaps for the first time I fully applied myself. To avoid distractions, I delayed getting cable or internet (I did not have time to waste); I pitched tent at a local Starbucks (they have a few in Seattle) where I spent countless hours nursing my ever-growing outline and caffeine habit; I joined a bar prep study course (which I strongly recommend everyone do regardless of their level of preparation); and I dedicated myself to studying 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. It paid off a few months later when I was sworn in as a proud new lawyer.
After passing the bar, my focus shifted to finding work. My graduating class debuted at the nadir of the recession, so this was no small task. But I had resolved that I would make the most of whatever opportunity came along. I ended up accepting an associate attorney position at a small but well-established Bellingham firm, about 90 miles north of Seattle. My practice involved mostly personal injury litigation and medical malpractice and there was a lot of work to do. Although it was far from glamorous, that first job had an upside and I decided to focus on the upside. I could have focused on the less-than-ideal aspects, but I am glad I didn’t. That first job provided broad hands-on experience, from initial intake to negotiation, mediation, arbitration, trial (both as second chair and lead counsel) and appeal, where I prevailed against a major insurance company.
After a few years as a civil litigator, someone in the community took note of my work and strongly recommended me to the CEO of a burgeoning, well-established dietary supplement company looking to hire in-house counsel. Overnight, my practice shifted from civil litigation to business law: contracts, employment law, regulatory law, and intellectual property. These two very different legal jobs complement each other and balance my skillset. Starting last fall, I also began part-time studies at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle, where I am pursuing a LLM degree in intellectual property. I have also strived to participate in various Bar Association activities, including a stint as a co-editor for the official publication of the Young Lawyers Division, a term as a member on the Washington State Bar Association’s Young Lawyer Committee, and more recently, a position as a state delegate to the American Bar Association House of Delegates.
What is the most exciting / rewarding part of your job? Studies show that there are three factors crucial to employee satisfaction: 1) your relationship with your boss; 2) the level of appreciation you receive; and 3) your opportunities for growth. My current position as in-house counsel offers all three in spades. I enjoy the challenge of issue spotting in the business context. Contract drafting, for example, is all about issue spotting and addressing problems before they arise.
How did you become interested in your area of practice? A core area of my practice is intellectual property. From useful inventions (patents) to computer code and other novel writings (copyright) to secret information that confers a competitive advantage (trade secrets) to brand identifiers that help businesses distinguish themselves (trademarks), IP prevents unfair competition and protects business assets and hard work.
What advice would you give to students who have recently graduated and have passed the bar? Do not be discouraged if your first job is not your dream job. Remember that your legal career is a journey. Your first job is not your destination, it’s a start. If you persevere, one opportunity inevitably leads to another, often better opportunity. And don’t be discouraged if you don’t at first get a chance to practice in that juicy area of law that brought you to law school in the first place. In my experience, true satisfaction comes not from your area of practice but from the manner in which you practice that area.
Push yourself to always keep learning. Instead of bemoaning those mandatory CLEs we all have to take, dive in and find ways to apply what you learned. After all, knowledge is power.
Any fond memories that stand out for you about your time at Thomas Jefferson? Did any particular office help you in any way? Career Services? Student Services? Etc… I remember wading through those first-year difficulties as a brand new law student when a professor of mine, taking note of my situation, told me with conviction, “I know it’s hard now but it’s because you are going through a major paradigm shift in your thinking. You will adjust and become a great lawyer.” Those were encouraging words during a time when it was easy to lose faith. I also fondly remember my first internship at the Veterans Legal Clinic, run by Professor Steve Berenson. Two new exciting vistas were opening. I was dating the person who would soon become my wife while, simultaneously, making my tentative steps as a lawyer-to-be. During this time, Professor Berenson set a great example of what being a good lawyer entailed: hard work, integrity, humility, organization, and a commitment to helping the underrepresented.
Anything else you would like to add…Your time at Thomas Jefferson is what you make of it. If you decide, it can be a time of tremendous growth and opportunity that most people never get. Ignore the pessimism of the naysayers but learn from their cynicism. Take full advantage of every opportunity, whether it be an internship, a volunteer opportunity, or an extracurricular activity and enjoy the journey!