Renaissance woman

By Luis Ruuska

For Leigh Outten (’13), it seems that becoming a lawyer was inevitable. After all, it’s in her genes.

“I come from a lawyering family. My grandfather was a lawyer in Knoxville, my great-grandfather was a lawyer in Knoxville, and my uncle was a lawyer in Knoxville,” says Outten. “When I was young I had the idea to be a lawyer, but then when I was a teenager, I had absolutely no idea.”

Outten’s aptitude for math and science led her to graduate summa cum laude from UT in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. After working briefly for a unionized factory, she realized the work was not for her and decided to continue her education.

In the following years, Outten graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with two Master of Science degrees—one in nuclear engineering and another in technology and policy. She then went on to earn an MBA from Collège des Ingénieurs, one of France’s most selective academic institutions.

“I decided to stay in Europe [after graduation], but then decided I really wanted to go to law school,” says Outten. “I said to myself, ‘I’ve had this idea for years, I really want to go to law school, I’m just going to do it.’ So I went back to UT.”

The transition to law school initially came as a bit of a culture shock for Outten. “In engineering you did your problem sets, you worked hard, and you got the answer. It’s not like engineering was easy, but usually you could find the solution and get a good grade,” she says. “But in law school, you were graded against everybody else, which was really difficult at first, and [the answers] were not always a ‘yes’ or a ‘no.’”

Despite this, Outten found that working one-on-one with her professors aided in the transition. “At MIT you were working with some of the best professors in their field, but they didn’t really have time for you,” she says. “But at UT Law it was really nice because you worked with outstanding people and they made time for you. I really appreciated that, getting to know some of the professors, getting to see what they were doing, and having that personal relationship.”

After graduating with her JD in 2013, Outten returned to Europe and worked as a patent agent for a private firm before being hired as an in-house patent counsel with the Adidas Group at their headquarters in Herzogenaurach, Germany.

“The nice thing about the company is it’s very international; I really like that. I get to work with the inventors every day, and the inventors are from everywhere, so it’s just a nice mix of people,” says Outten. “I also work with the innovation team. They really have to always be thinking of the next product, so it’s cool to see something that they’re talking about for 2020.”

Looking toward the future, Outten plans to become a solicitor in England and Wales and has already passed one of the two tests required to practice. However, she says she’s happy now and doesn’t know whether she will ever go back to a private law firm.

“I like working in-house because I like working on a big team, I like seeing the products, being hands-on, working with the inventors,” she says.

Outten says UT Law students should have confidence in their skills and legal training. “You shouldn’t be intimidated by the ‘big-name’ law schools … I think the education you get at UT Law is just as good or better,” Outten says. “I think students can do what they want if they go for it.”