In this episode…
Our guest today on Engaging Experts is Teena Sankoorikal, whose work in technology related litigation has kept her consistently fascinated and inspired throughout her career.
Whether it be her early work on copyright related MP3 music software cases, or newsworthy trade secret and anti-trust cases, our conversation with Teena explores some of the cases that propelled her into a successful career in law.
On this episode, David Seeley interviews Teena, who is a Partner at Covington & Burlington. David and Teena explore early career opportunities, technology litigation, the perfect expert witnesses, and empowering Asian American leaders through the Don H. Liu’s Scholars’ Program.
Note: Transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Host: David Seeley, Business Development Manager, Round Table Group
Guest: Teena-Ann V. Sankoorikal, Partner, Covington & Burling, LLP
Introduction: Welcome to Engaging Experts, the podcast that goes behind the scenes with influential attorneys. Our guests will describe their practice and expertise. Then, we will go deep on various topics related to effectively using expert witnesses.
David Seeley: Hello, and welcome to another edition of Engaging Experts. This is David Seeley, Business Development Executive with Round Table Group and one of the hosts of this podcast series. Today we have another fantastic guest, Teena Sankoorikal, Partner at Covington and Burling, LLP. Teena is a commercial litigator who has handled numerous high-profile complex litigation and intellectual property disputes. She is a member of Covington’s Evaluation Committee and serves as the Ombudsman of the New York City office. Teena is a fellow of the Yale Science and Engineering Association, a member of the Asian American Bar Association of New York, a 2015 Fellow of the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity, and a member of the Selection Committee for the Don H. Liu Scholars Program. Teena has a Juris Doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania Law School where she was on the editorial board for the Law Review. She holds a Bachelor of Science from Yale University where she graduated cum laude with a double major in chemistry and sociology. Teena, we are happy to have you with us today and I am looking forward to our discussion, but before we do that, here is our sponsorship message.
Announcer: This episode is brought to you by Round Table Group, the Experts on Experts®. We’ve been connecting attorneys with experts for over 25 years. Find out more at roundtablegroup.com.
David Seeley: Welcome Teena. It’s a pleasure to have you with us today. I want to start right at the beginning and let our listeners hear a little bit about your story. Take us back to your start. You’re a student at Yale University. You have a double major in chemistry and sociology. Tell us a little bit about your time at Yale and share with us how you eventually arrived at the decision to go to law school and become an attorney.
Teena-Ann V. Sankoorikal: I was raised in Mobile, Alabama, and moving to New Haven, Connecticut, which is where Yale is located, was a different and big transition. New Haven was very different from Mobile, so in that respect, it was a bit jarring when I first got there as a 17-year-old, but through the course of my time, I enjoyed being at Yale. I met a lot of interesting and bright people, students, and teachers. I spent most of my time on Science Hill, but I remember, and I look back fondly on these frank open discussions that we had in our classes on all types of subjects. We explored ideas and thoughts to reach our conclusions on different subjects. It was a great learning experience. Now on law school, and that was interesting. Before I started college, I was leaning towards law school and while I was at Yale, I took some pre-law classes and settled on law school. Even though I was majoring in chemistry and sociology, I thought that the logic and thinking in chemistry might be useful in law school and beyond, so I stuck with those two majors.
David Seeley: I was interested in reading your profile about that transition of going into law so that is an interesting, interesting way to put it. I notice too that you got your start with a powerhouse national law firm. Cravath Swaine and Moore. You were an associate attorney with them for 17 years. First of all, I am curious to see what it is like, and what you thought of starting with such a top law firm, like Cravath Swaine and Moore, and secondly, what was the journey like going from associate to partner and moving up the ranks?
Teena-Ann V. Sankoorikal: When I started at Cravath, which was about 20 years ago in 1999, it was a small litigation class of 15 or so litigation associates, so we were a tight-knit group from the start. At that time, the firm had larger cases, so many of us ended up working together, not necessarily on the same aspects of the case, but related aspects. It was nice because there was a lot of camaraderie within our class. The cases themselves were very interesting. I worked on a variety of cases, antitrust, First Amendment, securities, copyright, and patent. Through the course of my time as an associate, I had the opportunity not only to work on many different types of cases but many different clients. Then throughout my time as an associate, I was allowed to manage cases as I progressed until I became a partner in the litigation department. It was a great opportunity for me because they kept staff cases very cleanly. I got to see how cases went from drafting to managing, to the taking of depositions, defending depositions, working with experts, writing expert reports, taking expert depositions, doing the pre-trial work, and then going to trial. It was nice to be able to see the arc of cases but also to be able to manage different scenarios through the course of my time as an associate.
David Seeley: Now you are with Covington & Burling, LLP for more than 21 years as an attorney. In all that time you must have some interesting cases or memorable cases that stand out to you. What are some that were memorable for some reason.
Teena-Ann V. Sankoorikal: That is a good question. There are a handful of cases that stick out for different reasons. Sometimes the subject matter was interesting. Sometimes they were cutting edge at the time, and sometimes because I just liked the case itself. I remember as a first-year associate working on one of the earliest music software copying cases. This was one of the earliest MP3 cases, and at the time the law was not settled on the copying of software. That was interesting to me because we were thinking through difficult issues and from my perspective it was new technology, which was interesting. I also remember working on a famous disappearing image app. We represented one of the co-founders and that was an extremely interesting case because it was challenging, but also because it was front-page news. There was a different case for a different client, which involved a trade secret. An antitrust case and our client had been accused of the theft of a whole host of trade secrets, and this was, I think, the first time in my career where I realized the value of sitting there looking and pouring through documents because what we figured out was that most of the trade secrets that had been inserted against our client were ones that our client had created in the first place. It was nice to be sitting in a room with other associates as we were pointing that it was the same language we were seeing on the list. So those are a few that I enjoyed. I think the most memorable was an assisted GPS case. I found the technology fascinating. I enjoyed delving into the technology and understanding how assisted GPS works and it is relevant to me. How location services for my phone are determined every single time I move. It was nice to be able to see the technology and its relevance to my everyday life.
David Seeley: You talked earlier about working with experts and opposing experts early in your career, and many of our listeners realize that for 27 plus years, we have engaged and connected experts with attorneys as well. We have helped so many law firms and are so appreciative of those opportunities. How important are experts in the course of your work and litigation? When looking for an expert, what kinds of things do you look for? There is not the perfect expert out there, but what kinds of things are you looking for and how important are those experts in your daily work?
Teena-Ann V. Sankoorikal: I have relied on and worked with experts throughout my career. I found them to be invaluable in certain cases where expert presentation is important. They help to distill difficult concepts, help to explain, and make clear what is known in certain areas and what is within the purview of an expert, because I can say it, but it is not the same as when an expert who has “X” number of years’ experience says, “This is the way the math works. This is the way the science works. This is where the technology works.” There is a certain value and importance placed on someone with knowledge speaking up, which dovetails into your second question, which is what I am looking for as an expert.
There are a handful of things that I look for each time I am speaking with experts. Relevant experience is the first thing I look for in an expert. Is this someone who knows the space, has experience in the space, or has taught in the space? The body of his or her experience puts the person in a situation to speak with authority on a subject matter. The second relates to knowledge. Their experience is not only in the space but also as an expert the knowledge is in the subject area. It matters to me that the expert is credible. At the end of the day, our job is to advocate for our clients but to do that, you have to be credible. People have to believe what it is you are saying, and so credibility matters to me.
The last piece of this is and they are sort of related. There is not a word that I can put on. Honesty is the wrong word but someone who has the sort of strength to tell me, “No, I disagree.” There are views that I as a non-expert will have about the technology or the size, but it is important to me to hear, “Well, you don’t quite have it right” or “No, I cannot say that” from the expert. I need to work with someone that I am confident is going to push back when I may have it wrong. I am not trying to get it wrong. The last thing I want to do is get up in front of the jury or anyone else and get it wrong and put our client or me in the hot spot. It is important to me that the expert is someone who has the fortitude, the confidence and is not shy about speaking up when it is important to do so.
David Seeley: Very good points.
Teena-Ann V. Sankoorikal: It is not an elegant way of putting the last factor, but that was very important.
David Seeley: Thanks for sharing. As I was reading through your biography, accolades and awards, one of the things that I read was about the Don H. Liu’s Scholars’ Program and I mentioned that you were on the selection committee of that program. Can you tell our listeners more about what that program is, what it seeks to do, and how you became involved in it?
Teena-Ann V. Sankoorikal: That program is important to me. The goal is to identify and empower future Asian American leaders and to help address the reality that Asian Americans remain underrepresented in positions of power and leadership in the legal profession. What the scholarship hopes to do is to help the people who are identified along the path of their legal careers. That is the purpose of the organization and I also love it because I had the opportunity to meet with law school students who are just impressive given their backgrounds, what they have accomplished, the hurdles they have overcome from refugees to people who have worked 20 hours a day while managing law school and working full time. Folks who have been exposed to significant discrimination during their lifetime. It is an extraordinary group of people and with that, my colleagues on the evaluation committee are [just as] impressive in their own right. It is a great opportunity for me to participate, hopefully, give back a little, but also to help the next generation of future Asian American leaders. I got involved because I was formerly on the board of the Asian American Bar Association and Don H. Liu. During my membership on the board, he was kind enough to invite me to be on the evaluation committee.
David Seeley: What a great story and a great program. I was intrigued by it. I got on the website and read about it and it is a wonderful thing. It is something that is needed and well put together. Let’s shift gears to outside of work. When you are not busy doing a great job, being a great attorney, and winning cases. What do you like to do? What are some of your hobbies outside of work?
Teena-Ann V. Sankoorikal: I spend a lot of time hanging out with my 8-year-old daughter. That is a lot of my free time. Currently, she is on the swim team, so that takes a lot of our time. I love it. I think she is wonderful and every minute I have with her is fantastic. Setting that aside, I like to run when I have time. I like to cook and all types of different things. I do not profess to be any great cook, but I do like to cook. I like to read when I have time. Those are the things I like to do, but she takes up the vast majority of my time, and I love it.
David Seeley: I have three kids, so I know exactly what you mean. You wrap yourself in their world and just enjoy every minute of it. Do you have a favorite dish you like to cook? Any style of food you like to cook more than others?
Teena-Ann V. Sankoorikal: No, I like to try different things. Unfortunately, my daughter does not like to try many things. We are trying and she is getting much better at trying, at least even if she does not like it. But I like to cook different things.
David Seeley: Well said. Well said. I love to visit New York City. I have been several times. Such a great place to go and there are endless things to do, and history is involved there. Living there, do you have a couple of favorite spots that you like to frequent or a couple of great areas?
Teena-Ann V. Sankoorikal: We love to go to Central Park and Riverside Park. We spend a lot of time there and if she is not playing there then I like to run on Riverside Park towards downtown, which is nice. We also like to go to shows, so that is always good. I missed doing that over the last year. I like to eat out, which is always fun. [My daughter] likes to eat pizza, so we spend time at various pizza places, which is good.
David Seeley: The shows are right up my alley as well so that is awesome. Obviously like you said you missed the shows during the pandemic, but do you have a favorite show that you attended?
Teena-Ann V. Sankoorikal: Oh, I cannot even think of one. No, the last one I saw, which I had seen 10 years earlier was Wicked. It was interesting for me to see it again. I had seen it with the original cast. Ten years later, it was interesting to watch it through my daughter’s eyes, which is also fantastic.
David Seeley: That is a fantastic musical. It was great to have you on our podcast today. I am appreciative of your time and allowing our listeners to learn more about you and your practice. Thanks so much for being with us today. Thank you for taking the time, I really appreciate it.
Teena-Ann V. Sankoorikal: It was nice of you to have me on.
Go behind the scenes with influential attorneys as we go deep on various topics related to effectively using expert witnesses.
Teena Sankoorikal is a commercial litigator who has handled numerous high-profile, complex civil litigation, and intellectual property disputes. Teena is a member of Covington & Burlington’s Evaluation Committee, and she serves as the Ombudsman for the New York Office. Teena has advised multinational companies on a variety of matters relating to trade secrets, business torts, breach of contract, trademark infringement, and more.
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