Bri Rizzo first became interested in intellectual property in a philosophy class she took while earning her B.A. in government at the University of Virginia. “I had never really thought about the idea of intellectual property—the idea that you could preclude others from using something intangible, and that you could make a living doing that,” she recalls. “As I learned more about it, I realized it was a kind of law I could wrap my mind around and really enjoy.”
Rizzo considers herself lucky because “I knew what I wanted to focus on coming into law school.” She joined the Vanderbilt Intellectual Property Association as a 1L and served as the organization’s vice president of event planning as a 2L. Events included a well-attended panel funded in part by the Hyatt Student Activities Fund— “Is Patent Stockpiling Trampling Innovation?”—which addressed the contentious issue of “patent trolls” and featured a Vanderbilt law graduate, Julie Samuels ’05 of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, among the speakers. Rizzo also arranged a digital trademark law panel event featuring trademark and tort law experts Paul Kruse, Glenn Perdue, Lee Holmes and Caprice Roberts.
As a 2L, Rizzo took Intellectual Property Law from Professor Daniel Gervais, an expert on international copyright law and worked as his research assistant on a project addressing the intersection of tort and trademark law last spring. “It was a really exciting project that addressed Google’s Adwords policy. It gave me the opportunity to dive into something I was personally interested in early on in law school, and as a bonus it gave me something substantive to talk about in my job interviews, which was huge,” she said.
Her work on the project helped Rizzo secure a job as a summer associate with Venable in Washington, D.C. “It turned out that the woman interviewing me focused her work largely on digital media. She saw that I had done research on legal issues relating to Google Adwords, and she asked, ‘Can you tell me about what you found?’” Rizzo recalled. “It was a great conversation, and it really allowed me to make a connection with both her and the firm more broadly.”
At Venable, she worked on a broad range of both transactional and litigation-related projects. “I was lucky enough to experience a bit of several different legal fields, including intellectual property law, advertising and regulatory law more generally, corporate law, and commercial litigation,” she said. “When I look back on my summer at Venable, it’s clear to me just how important the first two years of my legal education have been—not only relating to the substantive law I’ve learned, but also the skill sets I acquired through more broadly focused programs offered by the school. Vanderbilt not only prepared me to turn in high-quality work, but also prepared me to interact well with others in a professional setting.” She joined Venable as an associate based in Washington, D.C., after her graduation in 2014.
Rizzo also served an internship in the legal department at Stuart Weitzman in New York during winter break 2012-13 that exposed her to international trademark issues. “I really loved that the trademark field combines the hard lines and incentive structure of business law with a bit of art law—I liked that interplay,” she said. “I was extremely lucky to find an internship with a fashion house and to see how trademark law plays out on the ground.”
Rizzo chose Vanderbilt because “I wanted to expand my horizons and experience a new culture, but I also loved that Vanderbilt maintained a friendly Southern environment,” she says. “Once I visited Vanderbilt, I knew I would come back.” As a 1L, she joined the Ambassadors, a group of student volunteers who work with Vanderbilt’s Admissions department to reach out to prospective students, and worked with Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Julie Sandine to integrate mentoring programs started by a number of Vanderbilt’s student organizations into a single, centrally coordinated program. “We realized that we could streamline the process of matching incoming students with mentors—and could as a result, hopefully, end up with more incoming and current students participating,” she said.
Rizzo credits her own mentor, Ashley Stefan ‘13, with “helping me figure out my basic educational path; for example, whether I wanted to work abroad, as she had worked in a law firm in Germany.” She took Public International Law from Professor Ingrid Wuerth as a 2L. “I went into the class knowing little about international law, but Professor Wuerth was able to make really complex concepts accessible and understandable,” she said. “Now I really do feel that I have a steady grasp on the topic.”
Although Rizzo recalls her initial 1L experiences with the Socratic method as stressful, she says, “At Vanderbilt even when you’re stressed out, you feel comfortable,” she said. “The professors here are supportive and accessible—in the end, they’re so well-prepared they create a classroom environment that you want to prepare for.”
Her advice to incoming 1Ls: “Keep up with the readings – 30 pages might not feel great on a Sunday night, but you’ll thank yourself come November!”