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Meet the lawyer

James Holland

James Holland

University: University of Warwick            
Degree: History
Year of qualification: 2017
Position: Associate
Department: Intellectual Property

What attracted you to a career in law?

What attracted me most is the problem-solving nature of working in law, as well as the intellectual stimulation. Having studied history at university, I was always aware that law was an option for me and I did my first work experience at a law firm when I was 15. I knew that my non-law degree was far from prohibitive when it came to getting a career in law and that the skillset I had gained from studying history could lead me to becoming a lawyer.

Why solicitor not barrister?

I considered becoming a barrister and did some work experience at a chambers in London which I really enjoyed. I like the advocacy and litigation side of the law, but for me, going through the structured training contract route at a firm like Gowling was a lot more appealing than the wild west of becoming a barrister!

There is a team-orientated approach when working in a law firm, while I know that the barrister route can be much more of a lonely existence.

How did you decide which firms to apply to?

There were a couple of main factors that drew me to Gowling. Firstly, I had a strong idea of the kind of law I wanted to do – intellectual property (IP) – which is a slightly niche area and narrowed down the list of firms I could apply to. The second thing was looking at the culture and reputation of firms. It’s very hard to do that just by looking at a website because lots of firms do so much the same thing, so it’s very important to meet firms and trainees at law fairs. That’s the best way to get an idea of the type of people you will be working with and the type of people that the firm develops.

What do you think made your application successful?

A question that’s always asked on the application firm is “why this firm?” Unless you really know the answer to that, it’s very easy to put a generic answer based on the splash page of the firm’s website. In order to differentiate yourself, you need to do some research to find out what the firm is really like. You can do this by looking a little deeper at the website, using resources like LawCareers.Net, and talking to people who work at the firm. If you can put that on paper, it’s a really good way of showing that you’re serious about applying to the firm and that you’re not just adopting a scattergun approach.

Which departments did you train in?

My first seat was in non-contentious construction and my second seat was split between employment and pensions. We have a team called ‘combined human resources’ which brings these two departments together. I also did a seat in real estate – in commercial development and investment – and my final seat was in IP.

Please discuss a specific deal/case that you were involved with, outlining your role in the matter.

The best example is a confidential and ongoing litigation matter that I’m still involved with. When I joined the IP team in March 2017, the case was just getting off the ground and I was involved with it at the time. I gained experience in drafting the claim form and key litigation documents, organising the team, making sure that all correspondence got dealt with and writing the first drafts of letters to the other side. I also took notes at expert and barrister meetings. Since qualifying, I’ve seen my role in the same case greatly develop so that I am now running the disclosure exercise, drafting the expert and witness evidence, and altogether taking a proactive role in the strategy of the case and conversations with the client. For me it’s a good example of an experience that I got as a trainee, and the development in my role that has happened since then in a relatively short amount of time. 

How does the qualification process work at the firm?

My experience of qualifying was slightly different because IP is such a popular area. We had to apply to do a seat in IP, so it was clear that everybody who did a seat would want to qualify into the department. I had discussions with members of my team about my progression and what I would need to do to show my ability to qualify into the team. There was an interview with two partners, for which we had to do some reading in advance, as well as another exercise on the day. It was quite a formal process compared to other seats, but that’s because IP is such a sought-after department.

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

I work in IP and particularly in technology patent disputes. Recently, a typical day has been in the run-up to court, so that would involve firstly checking emails in the morning to see if anything urgent has come in overnight, as we have US clients and the other side of the litigation is a Chinese corporation. In litigation, it really does vary in comparison to a non-contentious seat where you might have a more typical day. Recently we’ve been in the evidence and pre-trial phase of the case, so it’s a lot of drafting evidence, phone calls with our experts to discuss their approach and the progression of the expert report, meeting with counsel and regular conversations with clients to keep them updated and get their feedback on how the case is developing.

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

The case I’m working on at the moment relates to DSL, which is an internet technology. Our client is an owner of a portfolio of patents that relate to that technology and they are suing a large multinational corporation for infringement of their patents. The litigation has been going on in the US for several years as well as the UK, so it’s really a global case worth tens of millions of dollars.

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

In terms of IP, I really enjoy learning about the technology and the different companies. It’s an area where you really need to delve into each individual company and find out about their inventions and the technology behind it. I enjoy that client interaction and learning about the client’s industry. I also enjoy the strategy of litigation – planning how best to approach any given topic in discussion with the client, barristers and experts. I like having to take a step back to see where you’re going, and working out how best to frame the argument.

The bit I like least is the admin side which comes with being a junior. Tasks like making sure that the billing is done, meetings are booked and schedules are free are necessary and incredibly important, but not the most exciting part of the job.

What makes your firm stand out from the rest?

The quality of training and level of responsibility here at Gowling as a trainee is really strong. The cohort is big enough so that you get top-level work, but there are few enough trainees that you’re not just a cog in the machine.

The firm really prides itself on being sector-led. It focuses on several key sector areas – technology being a big one, as well as real estate, energy and life sciences. As someone who is interested in the background to the clients, that’s really interesting because it allows you to develop expertise in a certain area. It’s great for the client and for your own knowledge.

I’d also say that everyone at the firm is extremely friendly and welcoming, and it is clear from the start that they are interested in your training and development.

What is the work-life balance like at your firm? How often do you have late nights/work at weekends?

You do have to work hard as a lawyer and there’s no hiding that if you want to do well at a good firm. But there’s absolutely no culture of staying late, or working at weekends just to show that you’re hard-working. I’ve been working relatively late nights in the run-up to trial but it’s really a team effort. If we’re working late it’s because we have a deadline coming up and it happens rarely enough that it’s actually quite enjoyable. There’s a real sense of camaraderie as you’re battling towards the deadline! You know that when it’s finished, it will ease up.

What is the wider culture like – eg, are there sports teams/trips out? Is there a LGBT group, women’s group etc?

There are sports teams in both offices and a daily email that goes around which always has details of social events. We have a social club, a choir, a band as well as a LGBT group and a More Women group that has regular meetings and involvement from people across the firm. There’s also a Women in IP group to show the pathway for women within the sector.

What advice do you have for budding solicitors who are contemplating a career in law?

The most important thing is making sure that you’ve got the right firm for you. That means getting a sense of the firm’s culture – whether that’s through an open day or vacation scheme.

It’s also crucial to know the type of work you want to do. I have many friends who went to magic circle or big US firms, but their work has been limited to the corporate sector which they might not have necessarily wanted. If you don’t know what you want to do, or you want to do something more specific, you need to make sure you’re applying to firms that have the ability to train in those departments, so that your career can progress in the way you want to.

What are you reading at the moment?

If These Walls Could Talk is about the San Jose Sharks ice hockey team. I played ice hockey at university and loved it, but haven’t had as much time to carry on with the late-night training sessions since becoming a solicitor.