Alumni Profile: Lisa Dunner (’95)

Lisa Dunner ('95)

Named one of the world’s Top 250 women in IP by Managing Intellectual Property and a Top 1000 trademark attorney by World Trademark Review, Lisa Dunner (‘95), Managing Partner of Dunner Law, has always been among the best in class. After achieving world rankings in singles and doubles as a touring professional tennis player, she focused on law, making Partner at McDermott Will & Emery before starting her own boutique IP firm in Washington, DC. We’re grateful that, despite a busy schedule and duties as a Commissioner for the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession, Ms. Dunner could offer a few moments to reflect on her career and time at John Marshall. 

JMLS: You were a professional tennis player before enrolling at John Marshall. When and how did you know you wanted to be a lawyer? What was your path to law school?

Dunner: Growing up, there were two things I wanted to be: a professional tennis player and a lawyer.  Since it was not likely that I could pursue a tennis career after practicing law, I played tennis first! I turned pro after graduating college, and I played on the pro tour for six years. Professional tennis really prepared me for the practice of law, because it gave me the confidence and mental toughness that are so important in the legal profession. Also, when I enrolled in law school, I was ready—I was eager to learn and begin my next career, and the career choice was easy for me, since I grew up in a family of lawyers. My competitive personality, discipline, and ability to focus led me to believe that law would be a good fit for me, and I think I was right. 

JMLS: How did you get into intellectual property?

Dunner: Many people don’t know that I worked at the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office in Chicago during law school, and I thought long and hard about being a prosecutor. I really like trial work and being in the courtroom just seemed to mesh with my competitive tennis days.  Nevertheless, IP has always been in my blood—through conversations with my famous-patent-attorney dad, Don Dunner, and my sister, who is also a John Marshall grad and patent attorney. I also love technology and business—both good interests for a career in IP.

JMLS: You established your own firm in 2003 after a successful career at larger firms. What led you to start your own business?

Dunner: Again stemming back to tennis, having been my own boss for so long as a professional tennis player, I think I am better suited to running my own show. My early law careers at Cushman Darby & Cushman (ultimately Pillsbury Madison & Sutro after the merger) and McDermott Will & Emery gave me the foundation to practice law, and having been a partner at McDermott gave me the credibility to go out on my own and develop business. It was the best move I have ever made, and I am very proud to have built a boutique IP practice in Washington, DC.   

JMLS: Do you have a favorite memory of law school?

Dunner: I have a lot of nice memories of law school, so it is hard to pick just one, but if I have to, it would probably be Moot Court. John Marshall has always had a great moot court program, and I loved competing in it. It was also fun to argue in front of district court judges, and I especially liked having my parents attend the arguments, since so often I had heard my Dad argue real cases.

JMLS: Can you tell us one thing that your John Marshall classmates might be surprised to learn about you?

Dunner: I don’t know how many of my John Marshall classmates knew about my tennis career, so that might surprise them. 

JMLS: You are the Chair of the ABA-IPL Women in IP Action Group, and one of your initiatives is the ‘Grit Project,” which is designed to educate women attorneys about the science behind the grit and growth mindset. Can you tell us why sharing this message is relevant today and how you have used the grit and growth mindset in your career?

Dunner: I have the honor of serving as a Commissioner on the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession. Through this role, I learned about the Grit Project, which is one of the Commission’s initiatives. Since I wholeheartedly believe in the message the project conveys—that the combination of grit and a growth mindset are traits that many successful women lawyers have—I decided that the ABA IPL Women in IP Action Group could help disseminate this message. As a result, the ABA IPL Women in IP are dedicated to the Grit Project, and we have taken it around the country to spread the word and teach about the initiative. I believe that the more people understand these traits, develop them, and use them—especially young girls and women—the more they will succeed. It is not just about intelligence; it is about perseverance, passion, and having an open and flexible mindset.

JMLS: Will you share with us some of your hobbies or leisure activities?

Dunner: I still love to play tennis, and I have started to focus on golf, as well, since I have had some injuries that keep me from playing tennis the way I used to. I also have a passion for animals, and I love spending time with my three rescue dogs.

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