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University: Brunel University London
Degree: Sports sciences BSc
Year of qualification: 2009
Department: Intellectual property
What attracted you to a career in law?
When I arrived at university I had a huge interest in sport, but no focus on where my career was going. I studied sports sciences at Brunel and loved the university experience on the whole – although I realised fairly early on that sports sciences as a career wasn’t quite for me. I first became attracted to the idea of a law career through the sports law element of my course. Then in my second year I shared a house with a law undergraduate and what she told me of her lectures really captured my imagination. So, I asked the law department if I could attend some lectures and they welcomed me to come along and contribute. I attended a few lectures on different areas of law and this was my eureka moment – I found it fascinating and I knew that this is what I wanted and what I must pursue. I sat down with university careers advisers about how best to pursue a law career. The big question was, do I do the GDL or change my course? I decided to finish my degree and I think I think I have benefited from the non-law route. I got great results and gave myself more opportunities – such as being published in leading sports journals – and was then able to take the GDL and LPC.
Why solicitor not barrister?
I decided to be a solicitor, having spent time talking to a variety of people. I attended events with barristers and solicitors and this gave me an insight into the skills and personal qualities that I needed. I chose to be a solicitor because it provided the opportunity to get involved in matters right from the off. At that time, I felt I didn’t have the skills to stand before a judge and articulate a case. As I’ve progressed through my career these skills have developed, but I still believe that the solicitor route was the best for me. At 20 I felt a sense of dread at the thought of speaking in front of people about a topic that I might not be 100% confident in and trying to present an argument which may or may not be plausible. But my confidence has grown and I am currently working with Irwin Mitchell to see how they can support me to become a solicitor advocate. At this stage of my career I feel that it is something I can do, while 10 or even five years ago I felt I didn’t have the skills for it.
How did you decide which firms to apply to?
It was about trying to find the correct firm fit for me. I looked at the size of the firm, the size of its teams and the practice areas that were doing well. My degree had given me an interest in sports law and work as a paralegal had given me experience in intellectual property and litigation, so I looked for firms to fit that.
I was a Thomas Eggar trainee before it merged with Irwin Mitchell. Initially I was attracted to Thomas Eggar because it was a smaller firm, which I was very excited about. After the merger was announced I asked myself if I wanted to be part of a larger national firm, but Irwin Mitchell and Thomas Eggar shared the same ideas and took the same approach. It was absolutely key for me not to be merely a small part of a very big team.
How much work experience had you had? Why is it so important?
While I was doing my GDL and LPC, there was not a huge amount of part-time work available for me to build up my experience. But once I had completed the LPC doors began to open for full-time opportunities and I began working as a paralegal doing document review disclosure work. I worked as a paralegal for about five years before I got a training contract and then for a further year before the training contract began.
Which departments did you train in?
I did my first seat in commercial contracts, my second in public law and my third in commercial dispute resolution. My final seat also covered commercial dispute resolution, but it was more bespoke and tailored to both contentious and non-contentions intellectual property (IP). This was where I qualified. Litigation and intellectual property were areas that I was interested in and contentious IP work ticked all the right boxes.
Please discuss a specific deal/case that you were involved with, outlining your role in the matter.
There is a case I began in my final seat which I am still working on, regarding a breach of confidential information and breach of fiduciary duties of a former director. The case has had a number of challenges, one being that both defendants are litigants in person, meaning that I must tailor my communication with the defendants because they do not have experience of court proceedings. Thanks to my paralegal experience, particularly the work that I have done on disclosure activities and document review, I was able to take a leading role at the disclosure stage of this case.
Taking this leading role as a trainee means that I had responsibility as junior team member – it’s been exhilarating as well as terrifying. As a trainee you feel that you have a safety net; as a newly qualified solicitor, sending that first email which hasn’t been checked by someone else… well, that’s nerve wracking. Thankfully, my experience gave me the confidence to run with matters and I see it as self-development. There are always people to turn to, both across the department and firm wide.
What do you wish you’d known about being a trainee before you started that you now do?
Knowing that it is okay to say no. If I am very busy and a partner asks for something urgent, it is okay to say “Sorry, I can’t right now, maybe I can come back to you in a couple of hours?”. Likewise, if I have theatre tickets for two weeks’ time and someone asks me to attend an event in two weeks, I now know that it is okay to say that I am unavailable. But it is hard because you want to please.
I signed up to lots of different groups, both at university and as a trainee, and I soon realised that I couldn’t do everything. I over committed and was too enthusiastic. Definitely get involved and meet people across the business, but don’t do everything because you’ll find yourself struggling to keep up.
Please outline your area of expertise. What might you do in a typical day?
I work in contentious and non-contentious IP matters. There is no such thing as a typical day, but work ranges from trademark filing and oppositions to brand protection and reputation management for both individuals and companies.
I am presently involved in about 30 to 40 matters for various clients, while active in about 10 to 15 on regular basis. The rest of the matters, such as liaising with clients and drafting documents, all feed into understanding how clients work and developing long-term client strategies.
Because of the nature of defamation and reputational management work, if something urgent comes in everything else must be dropped and that matter must be dealt with. It certainly skews the to-do list! A big concern of our clients is the impact of social media – businesses can suffer severe reputation damage in a matter of minutes or hours. This means that there is a lot of work where we must act quickly to prevent something from being posted on social media, or inform of a copyright breach or potential trademark infringement. The instantaneous element of social media is a modern problem, but the IP department endeavours to be very proactive with new technology to ensure that we understand what is coming and the potential risks it brings. It is our job to let clients know what may affect their businesses, so that if something does come along the clients will be ready.
What do you most/least enjoy about your career and why?
It’s a cliché, but I enjoy that every day is different. Although I always try to have a plan, something new inevitably comes along, bringing an opportunity to learn and develop each day.
What I enjoy the least? That’s a tough one, because I enjoy my job. It would have to be the same as what I enjoy the most. I like structure, it makes me feel productive when I can check things off my to-do list. The urgency of certain tasks throws your to-do list right out and makes things stressful, but it is all about managing your time.
How involved are you with business development and promoting the firm?
Yes, Irwin Mitchell does a lot of business development by sector. I am involved in international business development, particularly in North America, and our sports sector. It’s not mandatory but it makes sense, as many of my clients want to protect their intellectual property, particularly in the United States. My sports science experience means I can develop in this sector and bring in more clients. I enjoy this and it is encouraged. There are opportunities everywhere – just take a step back and look at your social groups, your friends and your family and there will be links to all sorts of legal areas that Irwin Mitchell can help with.
What makes your firm stand out from the rest?
It’s a combination of things, but the approachability of everyone, especially the senior staff, really stands out. Everyone will find the time to talk and help, even if they are busy.
What skills/strengths do you need to be a successful solicitor?
I’ll let you know when I am successful! But, until then, I think being able to listen to what your clients are saying is key. A client may have invested their life savings into their business, so to that client it is more than just a business. A lawyer must be able to recognise this while teasing out the heart of the issues.
Commercial awareness is also important. It doesn’t mean reading the Financial Times from end to end every day, but you do need to know what is going on and how this effects your clients. As a trainee you will learn that everything has an impact, whether it’s Brexit, Donald Trump or even something as obscure as yellow jackets being in fashion – the effects are felt in so many ways, on individuals as well as businesses, and its important to understand how and why.
What advice do you have for budding solicitors who are contemplating a career in law?
I would like to pass on some advice that I was given – be yourself! Whether that is in application, an interview or just in general. If you don’t have a genuine interest your interviewers will see through it. For example, if you are interviewing for a US firm, don’t say that you are happy to work long hours when you really want a small firm with structured hours and to know that at 7:00pm you can go home. Sometimes it is okay to want to be with a firm where you can also leave at a reasonable time to spend time with friends and family, not always chasing the higher salaries. Don’t try and sell yourself as a corporate lawyer when you really want to be a personal injury or public lawyer – be true to yourself and it will come across in your interviews.
I have worked as a paralegal and have other experience from time spent as a cricket coach and working in retail. My advice would be to appreciate all your experience and understand that it is all valuable. I got a couple of my paralegal jobs because of my retail experience – being able to deal with other (sometimes difficult!) people, prioritise work and lead and manage teams. Don’t think that not having legal experience is always a disadvantage. There is always something to be gained from everything that you do.
What is the work-life balance like at your firm? How often do you have late nights/work at weekends?
At Irwin Mitchell the hours are not terribly long compared to my contemporaries at other firms. As a firm we are making a big and conscious effort to embrace modern life and accept that some people work better in the mornings and some work better later at night. Yes, as a trainee there is a need to be in the office during core office hours, but if the plumber is coming on Wednesday then I can work from home that day so long as I am accessible and available – this has been easier as a newly qualified lawyer because I am less reliant on others. As long as you have the conversations with your supervisors and are open about it, there is flexibility.
On the flip side, you must be receptive to the needs of the business. If there is an urgent injunction in litigation or a major banking transaction, accept that you will need to come in early and finish late. There will always be the quieter days when you can leave at 5:00pm and no one will say anything.
Irwin Mitchell is keen to avoid presenteeism. The world and our clients are changing.
What is the wider culture like – are there sports teams/trips out? Is there a LGBT group and/or a women’s group, for example?
If you name it, we probably have it. And if we don’t have it, create it. Irwin Mitchell has all manner of diversity groups and teams for respecting other cultures, as well as sport teams. And if you want to set up a tiddlywinks club, what help do you need to do that?
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