Ola Adekunle '07 with MacKenzie Milam '20 and Jeremy Cook '20 during Google's 2018 Legal Summer Institute. Adekunle was recently named to the 2019 Class of Lawyers & Leaders by West Virginia Executive magazine and WVU Law.
When he decided to apply to law school, Olaolu "Ola" Adekunle ’07 had veered from the path he created for himself and began a new, unexpected journey.
Pursuing a legal education presented financial and academic challenges for Adekunle, an international student with a STEM background, but his support system at WVU helped him succeed academically and reach his professional goals.
Now, Adekunle is a patent counsel for Google LLC at their headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., and he mentors young attorneys, helping others grow and reach their own goals within the legal profession.
After he finished his bachelor’s degree in computer engineering at West Virginia University in 2002, Adekunle began furthering his STEM education with hopes of obtaining a PhD and becoming a researcher or a professor. But then he learned about intellectual property law and the role it plays in creating innovative technology, and something clicked.
“I get nerdily excited about technology and innovation, and finding out there’s an area of law for someone like me and that would allow me to apply my technical background was really exciting. I didn’t know I had an affinity for the law until I started gravitating toward this way of thinking,” Adekunle recalled.
Adekunle came to America from Nigeria after he finished high school, settling in Shepherdstown, WV. His parents had saved enough money to pay his tuition for a bachelor’s degree, but it was up to Adekunle to secure funding for his post-graduate education.
“Being an international student, paying for higher education was a challenge,” he explained. “International students can’t take out federal loans, and we often don’t get the same consideration for scholarships.”
Then Adekunle met Professor of Law Emeritus David Hardesty, who was president of West Virginia University at the time, during a group dinner at the President’s Home.
Still unsure how he would finance his J.D.—and still unsure that his higher degree would be a J.D.—Adekunle arranged a meeting with President Hardesty to talk about the legal profession. Hardesty earned his J.D. at Harvard Law School and worked in private practice for 19 years before starting his career in higher education. After his presidency at WVU, he was a professor at WVU Law until he retired in 2018.
Hardesty encouraged Adekunle to stay at WVU for law school, so he set up a meeting with then-WVU Law dean John Fisher. After that meeting, Adekunle knew he wanted to pursue a law degree and work at the intersection of law and technology.
But how would he pay for it? President Hardesty had some ideas. He helped Adekunle seek out graduate assistantships on WVU’s downtown campus that came with a tuition waiver for law school.
“I applied to a number of law schools and received multiple acceptance offers, but when it came down to it, WVU gave me the opportunity to get a great legal education and to pay for that education with tuition waivers,” Adekunle said.
With funding secured for his education, Adekunle hit the ground running at WVU Law. But law school proved much more difficult for him than engineering school had been. He never gave up, though, and took advantage of the College of Law’s open door policy throughout his law school career.
“I came from a background that isn’t necessarily considered a pre-law degree. It was challenging, but the professors and staff at WVU Law made the effort to give me one-on-one help when I needed it,” he explained. “The mentality on Law School Hill is a hardworking mentality, but also humble and collaborative. The competition at WVU Law is not the typical law school competition, and the environment is conducive to learning. There are people here who are more than willing to help any way they can because we’re all in it together working towards a common good and a common goal.”
Adekunle graduated from WVU Law with the goal of becoming an in-house counsel for an innovative company within 5 years. He landed a job at a mid-sized patent law firm in Alexandria, Virginia after he took the Virginia Bar Exam, and his countdown began.
In 2010, he took a job with an IP boutique in Austin, Texas. Then, in 2012, exactly five years after earning his J.D., he began a position as patent counsel with Hewlett Packard in Houston, Texas. He had achieved his goal.
Now an in-house counsel, Adekunle wanted to help other young people achieve their own goals. He quickly became involved in Street Law, a global nonprofit that helps advance justice through classroom and community programs that educate young people about law and government.
As he grew at HP and became a senior attorney, Adekunle mentored the company’s more junior attorneys and became active in recruiting efforts. He also served as a mentor in HP’s summer legal internship program for law students.
In 2017, after five years with HP, Adekunle moved to California to take on a new challenge as a Patent Counsel for Google.
He and his team help shape Google’s patent portfolio to meet its business needs by enabling freedom to operate and preventing/deterring copycats. Adekunle analyzes patent acquisition, divestiture and cross-licensing opportunities. He also helps create a legal framework to combat potential patent threats against Google.
“Google makes great products. We want our engineers to be able to focus on creating great products for our users, rather than be concerned with patent issues like their freedom to operate or patent infringement,” said Adekunle. “We need our portfolio to enable that freedom and also deter copycats from going after the differentiating features in our products.”
Adekunle and another former HP attorney helped bring the Street Law initiative to Google, and they launched their first program in May 2018. In the first installment of the program, 35 Google employees participated, supporting and teaching legal concepts to under-supported students from a high school in Oakland, California.
He is also part of the steering committee for the Google Legal Summer Institute, a program for underrepresented second-year law school students. Admitted participants spend the first week of the program at Google Headquarters in California, and then complete a summer internship with one of Google’s partner law firms around the country.
“The whole goal behind the Google Summer Institute is mentoring and building a pipeline for diversity in the future of the legal profession,” Adekunle explained. “It’s also a great chance to get other law firms and companies thinking about diversity and inclusion.”
Two WVU Law students were selected for the 2018 Google Summer Institute. They interned at Mayer Brown LLP in Palo Alto, California, and at Hogan Lovells in McLean, Virginia, after spending a week at Google.
It was fitting that two WVU Law students were accepted into the Summer Institute because, according to Adekunle, the College of Law and Google share many institutional values. When Google looks for job candidates, he said, it looks for “Googleyness” – traits like being an out-of-the-box thinker, a self-starting and hardworking mentality, compassion/empathy, values feedback, thrives in ambiguity, does the right thing, and challenges the status quo. Those traits are fostered on Law School Hill among students and faculty.
“I always tell law students, ‘don’t give up if you struggle.’ Things get easier if you continue to be hardworking, and I think the culture at WVU Law sets that foundation for its students to keep in mind as they grow in their careers,” said Adekunle. “For me, law school was much harder than engineering school. But this is a rewarding career that allows you to make a big impact in your community, in your family, and beyond. Despite the challenges, if you work hard towards your own goal, things will eventually come together. So when you do climb to that next level in your career, remember your humble beginnings. Reach out to pull someone else up with you.”