In the News The American Lawyer

Skilled in the Art: A Kirkland Associate's Journey From Kandahar to the Courtroom

Yvonne Beeler spoke with regarding her experience as an Army captain, her supporting role in a 3 1/2-month long trade secrets trial, and her first oral argument in August 2021

Kirkland & Ellis IP honcho Dale Cendali knows fifth-year litigation associate Yvonne Beeler as a strong technical lawyer who’s also poised and decisive under pressure—“a rare talent,” Cendali said.

During a firm team-building exercise, Cendali learned some of the back story as to why. Beeler is a West Point graduate and Army captain who led a platoon of 30 soldiers that literally helped pave the way for a troop surge in Eastern Afghanistan a decade ago. She earned a Bronze Star Medal and a Combat Action Badge, which is awarded for engaging with or being engaged by the enemy.

As grueling as IP litigation can sometimes be, “it will be a piece of cake by comparison,” Cendali surmised.

I caught up with Beeler earlier this week to learn more about her service, her supporting role in a 3 1/2-month long trade secrets trial, and her first oral argument last month.

Skilled in the Art: You got a chemical engineering degree at West Point, and I guess that wasn’t challenging enough by itself, so you also played some hoops and on the track and field team?

Beeler: Yeah. I grew up in Southern California, not too not too far from where I live now in Orange County, and played basketball, and was a triple-jumper in high school, then went to West Point and I walked onto the basketball team during the first summer there.

The first summer you go in early, you do West Point’s version of basic training. So six weeks of boot camp. During that time, I went to the basketball coach and I was like, “Hey, can I walk on here?” So I did some tryouts and [made the team]. That was really great. Played basketball for a year. It was definitely very challenging being a plebe at West Point and playing a sport. I learned a lot about myself during that year. It was a little different than my South Orange County beach upbringing. But I made it. I survived.

And then the last three years I transitioned and walked on to the track and field team, which the jumpers like to call the field and track team. And I triple-jumped for the rest of my time there. So that was super fun.

Q. I take it you began your military career just around the time troops were being surged in Afghanistan.

A. Yes, that’s right. I graduated in 2007. I commissioned as an engineer officer, as a second lieutenant. And I deployed pretty quickly, April 2008, and I was in Afghanistan for 15 months, so through July of 2009. And we as engineers spent a lot of time there building roads and bases to accommodate the surge. That seems like a million years ago now.

Q. I understand you were awarded the Bronze Star and the Combat Action Badge for your service. So, first of all thank you for your service. Can you tell me about the circumstances of those honors?

A. Sure. As a platoon leader I was in charge of probably 30 soldiers, most of whom had more experience in the Army than me. But luckily I had some really good NCOs that kind of showed me the ropes. I started out in Eastern Afghanistan, up in the mountains right along the Pakistan border. And it was, you know, wartime and it was a dangerous place to be. We were out building roads in places where nothing existed. So the enemy knew where we would be every day.

During my time there, without getting into specifics, there were several instances of IEDs either on our route to the road, or where we were working on the road, or where I positioned my soldiers for our security perimeter. We’d see a little metal glinting in the sand and then discover that there’s a giant, 200-pound bomb under there. Another time we saw some wires. It’s harder to spot than you would think, but one of our soldiers was luckily very vigilant.

We had IEDs explode on us and our vehicles. We were targeted by indirect fire, rocket attack. We also drove through an ambush. And so within all that, I started up at the Pakistan border and then I moved down to Kandahar, just leading my platoon through all of those challenges.

Q. You made it through all this OK?

A. It was a wild time. I made it through and luckily all of our soldiers made it through. Some of the equipment didn’t survive, but the soldiers did.

Q. Have you had any thoughts or emotions during these last few months, during the wind-down?

A. I don’t feel comfortable commenting specifically on the current situation, as it’s been so long since I was there. But I will say that, of course, every time we have casualties in the military at war or in an area of foreign service, it’s always tragic. I do hope that we can continue to move forward and make progress in getting our personnel evacuated.

From my experience, which is 10 years ago now but I was in a lot of different places, I think it’s not so simple as I think maybe people want it to be. It’s a complex issue. Afghanistan’s been around a long time. And I don’t think you can necessarily compare their culture or their government or infrastructure, or lack thereof, to what we have here in America. So I think ultimately it just reminds me that I’m very appreciative to live in this country.

Q. At what point did law school come on your radar?

A. I was definitely more science minded [at West Point]. It came time where I was deciding to leave the Army after doing a little over five years. Law school sort of popped up on the radar, seeing what some of my West Point classmates who had graduated before me were doing. I went to UCLA for law school.

Q. You were a judicial extern in the Central District of California Patent Pilot Program. What was that experience like?

A. For me it was the best experience as a law student. The patent pilot program is really great because it allows the judges who want to do patent cases to volunteer. There were six judges participating in the program when I was there, and I got to work for almost all six. And I got to do real substantive work. I worked on motions for summary judgment for non-infringement and validity. There was an inventorship issue. I worked on a claim construction order. I worked on a preliminary injunction, which was exciting. I also worked on a discovery issue, which maybe I can’t qualify as exciting. But I learned so much, so much.

Q. You worked briefly for a firm on the East Coast and then joined Kirkland in Southern California. And I understand that within a few weeks you were flying to Japan to help take depositions at the U.S. embassy in Tokyo.

A. Right. I joined Kirkland in August 2018. I didn’t really have any cases yet. And one day a partner called me down to a conference room where they were prepping for depositions. I think it was a Wednesday, and he said, “Can you fly to Tokyo on Friday for a week, and help us with these depositions?” And I was like, “Yes, I’m available. I’d love to.”

It was a great experience. I was a second-year associate. I was brand new [to Kirkland], I didn’t know anybody. Definitely a little intimidated. But all the partners were great. We’d work hard and then go out to dinner and go back to work more. So yeah, the start of a great working relationship.

Q. You also worked with partners Adam Alper and Mike De Vries on a 3 ½ month trade secret trial for Motorola Solutions that ended in a $544 million judgment.

A. That was quite an experience. We went to trial at the beginning of November 2019. Once we started the trial, you know, there were various holidays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and it just kind of went on and on.

I worked with one of the technical experts on the expert reports on how these two-way radios work, how the code works, and all of the innovation and labor and development that Motorola put into this piece by piece. And then having a company essentially steal it with no regard for Motorola’s IP rights.

So that was definitely in for the long haul. I feel like I can say that I’ve lived in Chicago. In the end we won a huge verdict, so that made it all worth it.

Q. I want to take you back to an Orange County Register article from a long time ago. You’re quoted as saying about West Point, “It’s tough and you get real dirty. It’s for people who want a challenge. You have to be active—physically and mentally tough.” When I read this I thought that could describe a trial team too.

A, Yeah, I think litigation in general is always challenging. The law is evolving. Things are constantly moving. Ultra-tough, and you have to be able to adapt. I definitely got less dirty at trial.

Q. You argued a stay motion last month in Teradyne v. Astronics before U.S. District Judge George Wu. It was a little unusual in that you were seeking to stay both patent and copyright claims following the institution of an inter partes review. So was that extra challenging?

A. You’re right that it’s not typical to have non-patent claims that you’re asking to be stayed. It just made so much more sense to go for the full stay. It’s a huge win for our client to get the full stay and to wait to see what happens with the IPR, and then litigate the rest of the case. There are certain efficiencies or economies of scale that you wouldn’t necessarily be able to recoup if you did it separately. So I think it’s in the best interests of the client for sure, the best interests of the court as well, conserving their judicial resources. We spent a lot of time doing the research and discussing it as a team and decided to go for it. And luckily, the court agreed with us.

Q. Have you argued motions before or was that a first?

A. That was the first time. It was a huge opportunity the team gave me because of all the work I’d done on the case. As an associate, being able to take a leadership role and be involved in the strategy from the beginning was just awesome all around..