University: The University of Manchester
Intellectual property (IP) is an umbrella term for a variety of different rights which protect intellectual creations, such as inventions, brands, designs, and literary and artistic works. The most commonly known rights are patents, trademarks and copyright but there are also a number of other IP rights that an IP lawyer may advise on, including designs rights, trade secrets, database rights and even plant variety rights. IP lawyers advise on a range of issues relating to the protection and enforcement of IP, from infringement disputes to commercial exploitation and agreements that deal either exclusively with IP or with IP rights in the wider context of larger commercial transactions. Many lawyers specialise in either contentious or non-contentious IP work. Choosing a career as an IP lawyer can therefore mean the opportunity to do a wide variety of types of work with innovative and creative clients across different industry sectors.
There’s a stereotype among lawyers that coming into law from a scientific background can only mean one thing – “When I first moved into law everyone said, ‘You’re definitely going to end up as an IP lawyer’”, explains Ellen Lambrix, senior associate at Bristows. “Initially I didn’t believe them but ultimately, they were right!”
Now working in Bristows’ commercial IP team, Ellen outlines her job and the various areas an IP lawyer might work in: “I describe myself as a commercial IP lawyer, or a transactional IP lawyer. There are different types of IP rights such as patents, trademarks, copyright and design rights, but I tend to specialise in patents and commercial agreements that relate to patent licensing, collaboration agreements and any contract that has to do with IP.”
From studying chemistry at The University of Manchester, Ellen found it a natural transition into the law. “I considered both the solicitor and barrister routes,” she says. “But ultimately decided that I was more suited to becoming solicitor. I thought it’d be better working in a team as opposed to independently.”
The financial aspect of becoming a solicitor also appealed: “City law firms can help you pay your way through law school – that was valuable to me.”
"As you become more senior, you take on more responsibility for the matters that you’re working on"
Training at Slaughter and May before making the move to Bristows, Ellen explains how the transactional work at the specialist law firm meant that Bristows was the obvious place to go a couple of years after qualifying.
Now 10 years qualified, Ellen reflects on how the work she does now differs from the work she did as a trainee. “As a trainee I played a supporting role where I was drafting smaller bits of documents, doing due diligence and proofreading,” she explains. “Now as a senior associate I have more of a managing role in the transactions I’m working on, so I’m often the day-to-day contact for clients if they have questions or need advice. I also work closely with the partners in my team.”
One thing’s for sure when it comes to progressing up the career ladder: “As you become more senior, you take on more responsibility for the matters that you’re working on.”
Why does Ellen love working as an IP lawyer? It’s all about getting to know the clients and the innovations they’re working on. “I really enjoy playing a part in bringing these innovations to market,” she describes, explaining that on a daily basis this involves talking to clients, drafting and negotiating agreements and doing anything to progress transactions and deals.
“I’m working with clients who are at the cutting edge of their fields,” Ellen continues. “I do a lot of work in the life sciences space for clients who are developing new therapies and products to treat disease. I get to talk to people who are doing incredible work – it’s important to understand your client’s business to appreciate the work they do.”
Speaking of incredible work, over the past couple of years Bristows has been involved in a lot of matters to do with the covid-19 pandemic. Ellen discusses a high-profile licence agreement she worked on for one of the covid vaccines: “It was a lot of work over a short period of time, but we got the deal done. It was announced on national TV by the prime minister, which was exciting!”
There’s a lot going on in IP law at the moment. Ellen references the Unified Patent Court – a single patent court covering most EU countries – which she says “will be the biggest shake-up in the world of patent law”. There are also plenty of deals being done in the field of life sciences, with Bristows working with clients using AI to develop new technology.
With so much going on, Ellen explains that the work can be “high pressure and demanding with tight deadlines to turn things around”. Of course, it’s these challenges that “make the job more exciting!”. As well as this exciting environment, Ellen is also keen to highlight the importance of being surrounded by good people: “We have a great team of skilled lawyers at Bristows. Everyone is friendly and willing to give their time to teach you.”
In IP there can be a lot of complicated concepts to understand. Ellen explains that to succeed, “you must be able to communicate well to your client. For example, you could be dealing with clients who don’t necessarily understand all the nuances of patent law.”
"You need to be able to communicate well to your client"
Another key proficiency that Ellen had undoubtedly brought across from her chemistry background is good analytical skills. As she says, “Lawyers are essentially problem solvers who need to analyse and problem-solve quite methodically.” An undergraduate degree in science, although not mandatory, can stand you in good stead.
"Lawyers are essentially problem solvers who need to be able to analyse and problem solve"
If you’re thinking of going into the legal profession, or even IP, Ellen has some advice on the importance of research. “Talk to as many people as you can,” she recommends. “Look at as many different firms as you can, the type of work they do and whether you think that would fit with you. There’s so much variety within IP law, so doing your research when starting out is key.”
In addition to research, Ellen suggests that keeping an open mind during your legal training means you’ll be able to try a variety of areas of law. “There are so many different types of law you can practise,” she concludes. “So go in with an open mind and treat it all as a learning experience.”