When Rebecca Unruh graduated with a degree in biology in 1998, she knew some of the career paths she didn’t want to take but was still uncertain as to which ones would align with her interests. She had always loved science and math, with a strong interest in life sciences and a penchant for calculus, but didn’t want to be a doctor, thanks to organic chemistry, and didn’t think she had the drawing skills to be an engineer.
So, when she entered the workforce, she bounced around for a while, taking advantage of the dot-com boom with odd jobs in biology, tech, and academia while coaching softball on the side.
A passing comment by another softball coach about a lawyer practicing intellectual property law planted the seed that would eventually inspire her to go to law school. She married her interest in science with her aptitude for argument, for which she thanks her father. While in law school she got a taste of what it meant to be an in-house lawyer while working as an intern at Intel during her studies. From that moment on, she knew where she wanted to be, but she also knew that it might take time to get there.
“I got the bug for working in-house very early on but knew those weren’t typical jobs that you get fresh out of school. And I knew that I needed to go learn how to be a lawyer somewhere earning a decent income to pay down my bills,” she explains.
Unruh went on to work at a big law firm, where she cut her teeth as an intellectual property litigation associate with a focus on patent matters involving complex technology. She knew that she did not want to spend her career in private practice experience but appreciated that those law firm years were critical to her development and helped her grow the skill set needed to ultimately reach her goals.
“You have in your mind the way you expect things to go, but it’s important to be able to adjust that if that doesn’t happen,” she says. “One of the best ways to do that is to grow your skills and establish yourself so you’re able to adjust if needed. To me, growth means that you’re maturing; you’re learning in such a way that allows you to choose your direction or to be able to ride things out if your direction is, at least temporarily, being chosen for you.”
That wisdom is what paved the way for Unruh to take her first step in-house in 2014 with Western Digital Corporation and later join EagleView in 2021. She currently serves as general counsel at the geospatial data specialist, a role that’s given her an opportunity to make a big impact.
“When I moved to EagleView, the role I started with, head of IP, offered me the chance to manage all aspects of IP, prosecution, litigation, strategy, and counseling and was a perfect combination of the things I did for many years in different pieces,” she says. “The change from Western Digital to EagleView also put me in a much smaller and more nimble in-house work environment. It was something new and challenging—I am most interested in work that brings variety.”
Having spent years in private practice working with many different attorneys and also directly with clients on complex issues, she was well-equipped to sit on the other side of the table in-house and has built up her business acumen while embracing stretch responsibilities in her role at EagleView. She has also learned, and continues to learn, how to communicate effectively with a wide range of personalities.
“My goal is to put a friendly face on the legal department,” Unruh says. “Especially with innovators, you just have to go in and be someone who listens to what they have to say, help them understand what they can do in terms of IP rights, and recognize their accomplishments.”
She continues, “You can’t fake it either; you have to be genuine with your clients and understand what they want to accomplish, and then be able to explain how you’re going to help get them there. That’s why it’s important to find a practice area or a company that’s doing interesting things in areas you like because listening genuinely will be a natural outcome of that.”
Unruh urges young attorneys to be open to a variety of opportunities in order to find success.
“It’s not always about having a plan,” she says. “You have to be willing to do things you don’t want to do to learn the things you need to learn and to ultimately see how your experiences fit into what you’re trying to accomplish. And you may have to grind it out for a while, but in the meantime, seek out opportunities to do the things you want to do, and be transparent with the people you’re working with about it. Also, it’s not a fast process. You need to put some time in to learn and grow. I still do every day.”
“Gibson Dunn and Kieran Kieckhefer are thrilled to congratulate Becky Unruh, General Counsel at EagleView, on her tremendous accomplishments and her recent and much deserved promotion to general counsel.”