Honors and Awards

Blank Rome’s Katherine Franco Named “Outstanding Diversity Role Model” Finalist at HBJ’s 2017 Diversity in Business Awards

Blank Rome Associate Katherine Franco was named an “Outstanding Diversity Role Model” finalist at the Houston Business Journal’s (“HBJ”) inaugural Diversity in Business Awards, which honored the companies and business professionals who are promoting and advancing diversity in Houston, at a reception held on November 9.

Ms. Franco was named a finalist in recognition of her “exemplary efforts in promoting diversity both in [her] career and in the community.” Nominees were noted by the HBJ as “leaders [who] work to drive change and increase awareness of different cultures, genders, and lifestyles. What’s more, many work to diversify their companies’ business practices.”

Fifteen companies and 11 individuals were named finalists for the award. The nominee categories for individuals included nonprofit and for-profit role models as well as heads of diversity departments; business categories included large, medium, and small companies that met HBJ’s criteria involving the percentage of minority, women, and LGBTQ employees in the workforce, community involvement, and diversity in the workplace, among others. Businesses that demonstrated a commitment to minority-owned vendors were also recognized.

To learn more about the finalists and winners of HBJ’s inaugural Diversity in Business Awards, please click here.

Katherine Franco's 2017 Diversity in Business Award profile, as published in the Houston Business Journal on November 10, 2017.

Katherine Franco started her own law firm after a superior from a previous firm told her “a young Latina isn’t the look of professionalism” when she asked that her name be added to the company’s website. The law firm she founded would eventually dissolve, but Franco and her business partner still consider the endeavor a success.

Today, as an associate focused on intellectual property, Franco is one of the younger members of the firm’s patent lawyers and is often the only woman or person of color in the room. She uses the path to her current role today as a teaching tool for others. Additionally, she has lectured at the University of Houston Law Center on intellectual property and labor law, and became an adjunct professor there. Today, she gives lectures at the University of Houston several times a year and speaks on panels regarding intellectual property issues.

Why do you think it is important for companies of every size to focus on diversity initiatives? Diversity initiatives allow companies of every size to welcome employees from a range of backgrounds. By providing a supportive environment, companies stand to benefit from a wealth of new ideas and innovative solutions to complex problems. Bringing unique perspectives to the forefront of a business ensures not only better results in house but allows for the business to reach a broader customer or client base.

What are some of the biggest accomplishments by you or your company in the field of diversity? As someone who is still fairly new in their career, I don’t know that I have many “big” accomplishments in the field of diversity. But I think the actions that I have taken that have had the most impact to affect diversity all involve normalizing women and people of color in my field. I try to accept every invitation to speak at conferences or at law schools, or even to sit on committees in leadership positions, in order to not only provide my unique perspective in my field, but to make sure that my face is seen as that of a patent attorney rising in the field.

What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome in your career? Early on in my career, I hit a roadblock at a law firm where I was an associate. After having received rave reviews for my work product, I asked for more face-to-face time with our clients and potential clients. I was told, quite frankly, that my being Latina was not the image the firm was interested in presenting to clients. When I pushed the issue further, it was apparent that although my skills were top notch, I was never going to be able to move up or gain the experience I thought I needed to get to the next level. Instead, I left the firm and started my own practice with a fellow MIT- and UH-grad patent attorney, where I would have to gain those skills. I started with a single start-up client and ended up representing small- to medium-sized corporations, as well as a university and some individuals. My initial client went on to become an industry leader in networking technology based on our initial work. Although I ended up eventually giving up my firm to join another law firm, and eventually Blank Rome where I am now, the business skills I learned when I was my own were invaluable, and have helped me to become a successful senior associate at an Am Law 100 firm, where I manage patent portfolios for multiple Fortune 500 companies.

– Katherine Franco, associate, Blank Rome LLP