Dan Baldwin 2013-07-31 12:26:54
“We are a full-service firm with a focus on finding practical and sometimes creative solutions instead of rushing straight to litigation on every legal technicality we can come up with,” says Michael E. Gerity, managing partner of Israel & Gerity, PLLC. “We tell our clients, ‘Here are all the services we provide to keep you out of trouble: we form corporations; we draft contracts; we review contracts; we register and maintain trademarks and copyrights and assist with other intellectual property needs; and much more, all in order to help you avoid litigation in the first place. But, if anything goes wrong, we’re there to take care of you in any litigation, too,” he says. Israel & Gerity was founded by Michael E. Gerity and Kyle A. Israel in 2002. The firm practices all forms of civil litigation. Gerity focuses his practice on three major areas: commercial litigation, intellectual property representation and general business representation. Intellectual property representation has two very different sides: protection and litigation. On the protection side, the firm registers trademarks and copyrights, maintains those forms of intellectual property as well as patents and trade secrets, works on licensing, and does all of the other IP related transactional work. The firm also handles the litigation side in intellectual property matters when a client’s intellectual property is infringed upon, or when a client is accused of infringing on another’s rights. Gerity is one of a limited number of attorneys licensed to practice before the United States Patent and Trademark Office, a specialty bar and the only national bar license in existence. Gerity says, “It’s a big deal because you’re only allowed to sit for the exam if you have a hard science background, which few attorneys do. It puts me in a special place when it comes to the transactional side of this kind of work, as well as the litigation side.” The firm’s general business representation includes such diverse services as business formation (corporations, LLCs, and so on), contract drafting and review, mergers and acquisitions, commercial real estate work, creditor and debtor work, filings before the corporation commission and other business-related legal work. Here again, the firm provides the types of services meant to avoid litigation, but is fully prepared to litigate should the need arise. Gerity earned a B.S. in biology from Colorado State University in 1990. He graduated from the Arizona State University College of Law in 1994, earning several honors while in school, such as being selected to work on the Arizona State Law Journal and winning “Best Appellate Brief ” in the first year moot court competition. He was admitted to practice in Arizona state and federal courts the same year he graduated. He is also admitted to practice before the United States Patent and Trademark Office, as well as in the state of Colorado. Aft er graduating from law school, he started his legal career with a position as a clerk for the chief judge of the Arizona Court of Appeals. From there, he moved on to work as a deputy public defender for the Maricopa County Public Defender’s office, which put him in court almost every day. It was an invaluable experience, he says. “I got more actual courtroom experience in two years there than most civil attorneys get in 10 or more years of practice, simply because civil cases these days just don’t tend to involve a lot of actual courtroom work, much less actual trials. I developed a level of comfort in the courtroom there that is hard to get anywhere else, and that has served me tremendously throughout the rest of my career.” Gerity then began work at a large civil litigation firm in Phoenix. While there, he was fortunate to be given a significant amount of in-court work and full-case responsibility, especially considering that he was still a fairly new attorney. He clearly enjoys being in court, “That’s really the exciting part of the practice of law— the part that everybody sees on TV and thinks is all we ever do—so I’m happy to have gotten a lot of opportunities to do that kind of work,” he says. Aft er several years at the big firm, Gerity spent some time as of counsel for a prestigious, boutique commercial litigation firm, where he got the chance to work with a number of very well-respected and experienced attorneys on complex commercial litigation matters. However, the time then came for him to move out on his own, and Gerity formed his own law firm in 1999. “Starting my own practice was a real eye-opener. I had to learn everything about running a business from the ground up, but that experience has been a huge asset for me when it comes to representing my business clients,” he says. Operating his firm perfectly complements his law practice. “I understand from personal experience what it takes to own and operate a business, and I know the importance of practical and cost-effective business practices and solutions—I will litigate when it’s necessary, and I definitely like that part of the practice, but that’s quite oft en not the best approach for the client.” Intellectual Property Comes to the Forefront Gerity says, “My days are never boring. What’s nice about commercial litigation and intellectual property work compared to other avenues of the law is there’s always something brand new. I get so many calls from my business clients who say, ‘Here’s my problem; Can you help me?’ I’ll look at it and say, ‘I’ve never done it before, but I’ll figure it out.’ And it’s a brand new education. It’s a brand new issue. A brand new topic I have to ramp up on and get ready to go. When you deal with car crashes and many other areas of the law the majority of your issues are going to be the same in every case—the facts might be different, but the pleadings, legal questions and so on tend to be all the same. That’s not true in commercial litigation or intellectual property at all, and the practice proves to be an education every day.” And in the area of intellectual property, he also gets to learn about inventions and types of businesses that provide him with a whole new kind of education that has nothing to do with the law. “For example, I had a case about the break-away valves on gas pumps, and I got to learn all about how the gas pumps and hoses work. Now every time I go to the gas station, I notice the break-away valves. Learning about new things all the time fascinates me,” he says. Gerity doesn’t see major changes coming in the nature of his practice within the next decade or so, although the area of intellectual property is becoming almost a dominant focus in many businesses these days. Gerity says, “Everything is about technology. Everything is moving to the cloud. You’ll find that trademarks, copyrights and patents and related property are universally becoming more valuable than all of the hard assets of a business combined. Everything else pales in comparison to intellectual property value.” He cites, as an example, the fact that the Coca Cola trademark is “arguably the single most valuable piece of property on the entire planet. When that logo is applied to just about any product, it immediately adds tremendous value for the company, and protecting and enhancing that kind of value is big, big business—it’s really something that no business can afford to ignore.” Intellectual property is becoming a larger portion of the firm’s work simply because it is becoming such a forefront issue for businesses. “The value is really in the name and the intangible rights. Intellectual property is really sweeping the legal and business landscape and is now one of the most important things businesses need to focus on. If they don’t set up a foundation for protecting those assets for the long term they’re going to have problems,” he says. This is why Gerity’s license to practice before the United States Patent and Trademark Office is such a benefit to many of his clients. “The hurdles for getting that license are extremely high. You have to have a technical background – engineering, biology, or some other hard science – or they won’t even let you sit for the test, and the test has something like a 30–35 percent pass rate. Having that license really separates me from the crowd in my areas of practice,” he says. Gerity adds, “A lot of attorneys who do litigation work in the area of intellectual property are not actually licensed to practice before the USPTO, as it is not absolutely mandatory that you be. However, the truth is that, to really understand the issues that you’re litigating, it’s a tremendous benefit to have that license. There just aren’t that many attorneys out there who have it and who also do litigation work—most of the attorneys with that license focus their practice almost exclusively on writing patents. I don’t do that. While I do handle the transactional side, particularly with trademark and copyright registrations and maintenance, I also handle litigation. Knowing the ins and the outs of the Patent and Trademark Office is, in my view, critical to successful litigation in the area of intellectual property.” Finding Balance Gerity believes that maintaining a healthy balance between personal and professional life is essential for himself and his family, but also for serving his clients’ needs. “Balancing my personal life with my law career, especially when I’ve got a lot of outside interests, helps me stay connected, which I think keeps me qualified to give clients those practical and efficient solutions that aren’t always in the legal realm. Of course, some of my outside interests directly pertain to the kind of work I do. I do a lot of investing and a lot of research on business and I actively keep up with the current business trends and issues, which is all very helpful to me to make sure that I don’t just approach my clients’ business from a lawyer’s perspective.” Despite his busy practice, Gerity seems to have no problem finding this kind of balance in other ways as well. Outside of work he is a licensed EMT and a singer/guitar player in a hard rock band. He volunteers as an EMT for the Crisis Response Unit with the Phoenix Fire Department. “We go out to the scene of serious, traumatic injuries and death. We’re there basically to take care of everybody else. We support and counsel the family and those impacted by the incident so that the firefighters can focus directly on the injured people.” On the lighter side, he plays in the band Eight Cents Total, which plays rock and heavy metal music. “There are four of us and we each put in out ‘two cents worth’ and that’s where we came up with the name. We’re not a band that practices every day and lives out of a van, ready to go out on tour and take over the world. I’m not about that. We all have day jobs, so we do this for fun. I’ve played all over town, including big events at the SanTan Brewing Co. in Chandler, and shows at venues like the Marquee Theatre and Club Red. I’ve also had the honor of performing as an opening act for such well known bands as Dokken and Great White,” Gerity says. Gerity and his wife, Natalie, have three young children: Kelton, Kiernan and Keilidh. His wife is a paralegal at a large firm, and all three kids attend a trilingual immersion school where they learn Spanish and Mandarin Chinese on top of English. “I can help them with their Spanish homework,” he jokes, “but when it comes to the Chinese, they’re on their own.” Gerity’s partner, Kyle Israel, also does civil litigation, but he focuses on some very different areas of law, including construction defect litigation and personal injury work. He went to law school with Gerity and they’ve been friends since then, in addition to being business partners. The firm as a whole works closely with each client from the initial contact through strategic planning, the careful execution of that plan, and then on through final resolution of the matter. Gerity says, “We pay attention to detail and work hard to help our clients avoid problems, but if litigation is required, we’re highly experienced and are ready with a real-world, practical approach to the challenge.”
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