How She Did It: Intellectual Property Attorney Tonya Marie Evans
MEET ATTORNEY TONYA MARIE EVANS: One of the few African American women to play on the professional tennis circuit like Venus and Serena Williams, Tonya Marie Evans knows how to combine passion and persistence to achieve lofty goals. She’s played at the U.S. Open, attended Howard University on an academic scholarship and worked at the U.S. Court of Appeals. Never content to follow the crowd, Tonya later partnered with her mother as an intellectual property attorney in Philadelphia, providing legal advice and protections for area business leaders and artists. She also launched her own literary firm, Legal Write Publications. This legal, athletic and artistic dynamo added professor to her resume when she accepted a teaching job at Widener University School of Law in 2008.
MN: You work in a field many people respect – law. That said, earning a law degree is no easy task, demanding dedication, commitment, confidence and resilience, the same attributes that help women succeed as business leaders. Why law, Tonya? Why did you take on such a challenging career field?
TE: I think my path to the field of law is part nature and part nurture. My mother, Susan Borden Evans, is an attorney and I basically grew up in the law library and Black Law Student Association office while my mother attended Temple University School of Law. And all of my “aunts” were her friends and attorneys too. So their example showed what was possible and also what was expected. As for nature, I think I came into the world with a healthy dose of intellectual curiosity and debate skills. Both lend themselves well to the practice of law, which I enjoyed very much before transitioning into my present position, Professor of Law.
As an aside, it is no secret that the skills developed and honed in law school, skills like research, writing, issue spotting and analysis, negotiation and – most essentially – problem solving, are easily transferrable into areas outside the actual practice of law. All of these skills have served me well in publishing and other business pursuits, and certainly now as a law professor.
MN: How long were you practicing law before you partnered with your mother and started an entertainment law firm in Philadelphia? What was the experience of launching and managing your own law firm like?
TE: I clerked for a federal judge in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals for one year, and then worked at two international firms for about three years before transitioning into practice with my mother. That time was one of the greatest joys of my life because we were also nurturing our publishing company, FYOS Entertainment, LLC (now dba Legal Write Publications).
One of the many successes was offering a full service intellectual property practice, an area of law in which African-Americans and women were substantially underrepresented historically. My mother is a licensed patent attorney and assisted inventors in navigating the patent registration process. I focused on copyright and trademark counseling, registration and licensing, in the literary and music industries, mainly. We both also assisted with business entity formation, counseling and the review and negotiation of contract. Servicing a client’s general business and intellectual property needs was a vital link, one I am most proud of. This is especially true in the 21st century where manufacturing of physical goods is receding into the background and intellectual property and creating digital goods is growing exponentially. It is critical for small business owners to identify, protect and monetize their intellectual property assets early in the life cycle of the business. Some important dates and protections can be lost when intellectual property assets are not protected in a timely fashion. These assets include: business name, logo and goodwill, printed materials, digital goods, web content, databases, and materials created by employees in the scope of their employment. The unwary business owner can also wind up in court defending an infringement suit if they are not careful in the online environment.