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Meet the lawyer

Sam Harvey

Sam Harvey

University: University of Manchester
Degree: Physics (MPhys)
Year of qualification: 2020
Position: Associate
Department: Patent litigation
Pronouns: He/him

What attracted you to a career in law?

When I was studying physics at university, I realised early on that I didn’t want to do academic physics forever. It took a couple of years to come across the field of intellectual property, in fact, somebody suggested it to me at a careers event at university. I did some research and then gained some work experience both in law firms and patent attorney firms, which was my entry point into law. I think the nature of the work really appealed to me and coming into law from a technical space was seen as an advantage, rather than a barrier into the profession.

Why solicitor not barrister?

I did most of my work experience in solicitors’ firms, so that’s the area of the profession I got to know first. I think it also appealed to me because of the ability to work as part of a team, as opposed to the more solitary work style of a barrister.

How much work experience had you had? Why is it so important?

I did one week’s worth of experience at a patent attorney firm and another at a local solicitor’s firm working on small commercial matters. Neither of my parents worked in an office, so that whole environment was completely alien to me. It’s easy to underestimate the power of feeling comfortable in that environment, especially when it comes to applications and interviews.

Equally, work experience is more than just a CV exercise. I’d encourage people to look beyond work experience as a ‘means to an end’ and use it to figure out whether this path is really for them. Talk to people and ask questions about the day-to-day reality of their job. Before that experience, it’s hard to gauge the reality of the profession and of the job outside of what’s written about it on paper. First-hand experience is essential.

What do you think made your application successful?

My own ignorance and preconceptions meant that I was convinced it would be difficult to persuade somebody I wanted to do law coming from a science background. However, I realised that it actually made me stand out and that I could champion that academic diversity and uniqueness. Your character, interests and achievements make your application stand out and interviewers love to talk about that stuff! In my application I wrote about being involved with athletics and ended up talking about that at length in interview.

Which departments did you train in?

I started with a three-month seat in our real estate department, then I sat in the commercial IP, IT and data team, followed by a stint where I am now in patent litigation. I then went on client secondment to a global consultancy firm, followed by a commercial dispute seat before finishing my training contract in our regulatory team.

What do you wish you’d known about being a trainee before you started that you now do?

Concentrate on getting the simple things right. Although things may feel tedious, an eye for detail is essential. Completing those tasks to a high standard shows you’re dependable, trustworthy and accurate. That’s the first step to getting the best quality work as a trainee.

Another thing I was guilty of was thinking that the established way was always the best way. That’s not always true — there’s often scope to improve on processes and if you’ve got ideas on how to do so, it’s absolutely worth speaking up! I felt, as a trainee, that there was so much I didn’t know, but a trainee has a unique perspective within the team and can add a huge amount of value, so I wish I’d had more confidence to point out when things like that are happening.

Finally, and this may be a cliché, but don’t be afraid to be yourself. It took me a while to come out of my shell when I first joined Bristows, but everything from the firm’s culture to interactions with colleagues improves when people feel enabled to be themselves.

Please outline your area of expertise. What might you do in a typical day?

I’m an associate in Bristows’ patent litigation team and my background is in physics, which has meant that I pick up work broadly within the technology sector. That stretches from mobile phones to fibre optic cables and from wind turbines to oil drilling machines, it’s a real broad church.

Today, I’m reading a patent and trying to understand the technology underpinning it. That could involve reading a textbook on the general background to the technical field at a particular point of time or watching a YouTube video on a particularly tricky technical concept. The role also requires looking for experts, discussing their background and collaborating with them to describe the technical background to a patent and their opinions on patent infringement and validity.

We’ll spend time matching up infringing products and processes to patent claims and also look at the validity of a patent and what came before it, with that same process of comparison. The technologies can be quite niche and today I’ve been looking at lots of materials analysis graphs while armed with a scientific calculator. I can end up working on a new case every six months or so, so I get to do this exercise of figuring out how new technologies work over and over again.

Please discuss a current/recent specific deal/case, outlining your role in the matter.

I’ve just finished my first case, from start to finish, as an associate. It was about offshore wind turbines and particularly the bearing technology used. The case had a trial in the High Court last month – it was a really enriching experience to see a case from its inception to trial. You see how the case theory and your technical understanding develops, from inception (just the patent) to completion, it’s a brilliant experience. When you get to trial, you hand over your case to the barristers and it’s almost like watching a performance. It's a huge intellectual payoff to see the arguments that arise. I’ve learnt lots from it.

What do you most/least enjoy about your career and why?

I most enjoy the intellectual rigour and figuring out how things work. Working in patent litigation is such an intellectually rewarding career as you can really get into the nuts and bolts of how the technology works and come up with arguments about the technology and the law. Plus, I get to work with clever and interesting people, from my colleagues at Bristows to experts and IP barristers.

The lead-up to trial and hearings can be time-intensive and quite wearing. You have to accept that it can intrude on other areas of your life a little, but there’s a time limit on that intensity.

What's the work/life balance like at your firm?

Bristows’ unique selling point is that you do high-quality work for amazing clients while retaining a relatively good work/life balance. Litigation isn’t a profession where you work consistent hours all the time, but you generally know where the pinch points are going to be. I don’t think there’s another way to do it and it balances over the course of the year. It’s a compromise I’m happy to live with for the sake of what I’m able to do.

What's the wider culture like at Bristows?

We’ve got an amazing variety of networks and committees. There’s a women’s network, the LGBTQ+ network, families and carers network, a charities committee, an environmental committee and the diversity and inclusion group, so a wide variety. There are lots of firm-wide social events and activities throughout the year – the Spring Ball is a particular highlight. On the sporting side, a few months ago we had a firm-wide six-a-side football game, with some of the partners as captains, followed by a meal and the pub! Plus, lots more.

Describe the firm in three words.

Innovative, intelligent and warm.

What’s your desert island disc?

Kind of Blue by Miles Davis, it’s a jazz record from the 1950s. I’ve listened to it more times than I can count, and I always hear something new.