Black Women Thrive: Interview with Lawyer Sheena Claire Gibson

Attorney S. Claire Gibson
(Cross-posted on The Blasian Narrative).

If you can't catch Claire in Okinawa where her high-school-sweetheart-turned-husband is a United States Marine stationed on island, you can find her in Tokyo consulting on Intellectual Property law filing projects, or in New York City, her stateside base of operations. 

Traveling between Okinawa, Tokyo, and NYC might appear to be a headache for some, but Claire has lived a modern-day semi-nomadic lifestyle since she was a child as she lived between Barbados from where her family hails and New York City where she was born. Gibson enjoyed a wholesome upbringing on the island nation and spent 3-5 months a year in NYC.

"In Barbados...we lived on a 4 acre orchard. My dad was a customs official, my mother was a teacher...I went to a nice elementary school where my mother taught, did well on my high school entrance exams and moved onto one of the best high schools on the island. My free time was spent on the beach or under a coconut tree stuffing my face with fruit."

However, her opportunities to bask under the Barbados sun decreased after Gibson's parents divorced when she was a teenager and Gibson and her mother moved to NYC permanently after the split. Although she believes the move was beneficial, it wasn't what Gibson initially desired.

"[E]ven though it worked out so well for me in the end, I preferred the quality of life in Barbados. After moving, we immediately went from being a middle class family to a working class family. Adding to the economic burden, my mother was limited in the amount of money she could bring from Barbados to the U.S."

Furthermore, Gibson quickly discovered that education wasn't a primary concern for most of her high school classmates in New York who were preoccupied by their material possessions. To a degree, this made Gibson adopt a somewhat reclusive nature as she came from a family and background in Barbados that respected education. 

"I was sent to the local magnet high school, which admittedly was significantly better than the standard local zone high school but still was not to the standard which I was used to...Growing up in Barbados, I was very social but after moving to NY and starting school there, I became very socially withdrawn during my freshman and sophomore years."

Fortunately, after graduating as valedictorian of her high school class, Gibson was awarded several scholarships, most notably the JPMorganChase Thomas G. Labreque Smart Start Scholarship, a merit-based award that allowed her to receive a cost-free education at the prestigious Columbia University. There, she quickly came out of her shell, and between studying for her BA in Political Science and interning at JPMorganChase through the scholarship program, Gibson made many life-long friends. "I still have close and dear friends from both places," Gibson says.

Upon graduation, Gibson continued her education at Brooklyn Law School where she earned a Juris Doctor degree, and pursued a focus on Intellectual Property Law. Inspired by her grandfather, Gibson always knew she would become a lawyer.

"He told me I was going to be a lawyer and I believed it [laughs]. He always talked about the value of education and encouraged my cousins and I to always learn as much as possible because it was the one thing no one could ever take from you." 

Initially Gibson was interested in pursuing a career focused on Civil Rights law and fighting the good fight but her admitted energetic naivety waned when she discovered the world of Intellectual Property Law. IP law is a relatively new field of law popularized only about 50 years ago and as such appeals to many. 

"During my internship years at JPMC I was afforded the opportunity to work for [the US Intellectual Property] attorney in the Office of the General Counsel. Before working for him, I had no real understanding of IP.  IP is...still a very young field of law...so it was new and exciting and interesting for me."

Thus, Gibson developed her interest in IP law, and eventually received opportunities to work for NBC Universal and DreamWorks Animation as a law clerk and Intellectual Property Specialist, respectfully. She enjoys the dynamic nature of her job "as technology continues to grow and change, [and] the law is being forced to grow and change with it. Patent lawyers get the best of it but soft IP lawyers like myself focusing on Trademark and Copyright issues also have an interesting time."

In the summer of 2014, Gibson struck out on her own and began her own private IP practice to align her personal and professional lives. Prior to moving to Japan, Gibson and her husband lived apart for over a year focused on furthering their individual careers; however the distance proved to be trying for the newlyweds. 

"[I]t was difficult managing a daily conversation moreover trying to see each other more than twice a year. So I moved to Japan and decided to establish my own practice which would allow me the flexibility I needed to travel...[while] balancing my career as an attorney with my commitment as a military spouse."

While admitting she probably would not have moved to Japan if it weren't for the nature of her husband's decade long military career, Gibson's status as a rare breed in Japan-a Black female lawyer-doesn't faze her one bit. In fact, she feels more comfortable in Japan than some areas in the US, and believes curiosity toward her is friendly in nature.

"Occasionally people are rather curious about me, then if the conversation gets to the point where we discuss my career, they're even more curious."

Furthermore, Gibson is quite comfortable among fellow lawyers in Japan, although she states their attitudes vary by nationality.

"When I'm around other lawyers, it really depends on where they're from. There are a lot of Australian attorneys in Japan and from my experience, they tend to be a bit warmer than fellow US based attorneys. It likely has to do with perceived competition, but I'm just guessing."

Although Gibson now spends much of her time in Japan, she still makes it a point to keep track of current events around the world, including the current #BlackLivesMatter movement in America. Her background as a Political Science major and position as an IP lawyer have resulted in Gibson's interesting take on the sociopolitical campaign; she sees technology as a major aspect of the movement's foundation.

"We're now at a time when fortunately more and more people have high quality cameras at their disposal thanks to their cell phones in addition to dash cameras, body cameras, etc. Add to that the speed of information communication via social media networks and racism and injustice don't have as many places to hide anymore. I hope that the movement continues, that it keeps focus and that these issues continue to be exposed and discussed. We are long overdue to have a national level discussion on race in America."

Aside from assisting clients with protecting their brands and business names, and keeping up with current affairs, Gibson enjoys spending time with her dogs, learning Japanese and traveling all over Asia. Since making the move to Japan, she and her husband have been determined to see as much of the continent as they can.

"I've been to the Philippines, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand. I enjoyed all of them tremendously. If I had to pick one, I guess Singapore would be my favorite. I really could see myself relocating there permanently. It's got a nice urban life, culture, good business sector and I can still get Caribbean food if I want it."

At this time, Gibson is unsure how long she will live in Japan, but it's clear she's making the most of her time and is a great representation of a bold, educated Black woman abroad.

Sheena Claire Gibson (31) holds a BA in Political Science from Columbia University and a Juris Doctor from Brooklyn Law School. She has worked in the field of Intellectual Property for 10 years before starting her private practice, which focuses on copyright and trademark brand protection strategies for businesses and individuals. Details regarding her services can be found at her firm's website.

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