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At the Intersection of Law and Engineering
USC Gould School of Law

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Margaret Abernathy (JD 2014) practices intellectual property law at Orrick in Los Angeles and is the secretary of the USC Gould Alumni Association. She discusses her background in engineering, transition to law practice and pro-bono work on behalf of veterans.
By Christina Schweighofer
 
Your background is in engineering. You co-founded an all-female micro-rocket startup as an undergraduate student at Duke University and worked in the aerospace industry and for the U.S. Defense Department before attending USC Gould. Why did you transition to law? 

My strengths were always in math and sciences. But I was also attracted to the law because of its role in shaping American society, and to policy because my family is involved in politics. My goal was to work at the three-way intersection of policy, science and law, and to use the law to protect innovation and encourage progress. So far, I have been able to work in two of the three fields at a time. After Duke, I dedicated myself for three years to satellite systems engineering, the rocket startup and policy work. As a law student, I stayed connected to the world of engineering by working in-house at SpaceX. Now, at Orrick, the bulk of my work is still for tech companies. My clients appreciate that I understand engineering systems and am not afraid to delve into their world.
 
Can you talk about your experience at USC Gould?

Coming from engineering meant learning a different way of thinking. In aerospace, things are often binary. You have lift-off or you don’t. There’s not much room for gray area or interpretation. The law is different. Professor Rebecca Lonergan, who teaches legal writing and advocacy, helped me understand the task of a lawyer as working toward a perfect answer and not giving up if we don’t get there.
 
Your pro-bono work is on behalf of veterans. What makes you passionate about veterans’ rights?

My father and grandfather were veterans in the Air Force and Navy, respectively, and I have always been mindful of their service to our country. Working in the DoD helped me appreciate the bi-partisan nature of our defense world, and then I clerked for a Federal Circuit judge, the Honorable Evan Wallach, who is one of only a few veterans on the court. Just working inside either of those buildings gives you a lifelong appreciation for the sacrifice of service members and their families.
 
What does your service as secretary of the USC Gould Alumni Association mean to you?

This is about continuity. I never want to forget that new graduates shape the legal space as much as we do. Building a strong mentorship relationship between the alumni and the current law students is, therefore, one of my goals as the liaison between the two groups. But Gould has always been a tight network. It makes my job easy!

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