When you’re first starting out as a lawyer, it can feel daunting to pick (and stick to) a particular practice area. How do you know if it is the right one for you? Will you fit in with the members of the Bar? How will you find clients and build a book of business? Can you distinguish yourself from your peers – and when do you start trying to do that?
To answer some of these questions, I turned to some of the top female intellectual property lawyers in Canada, to ask them how they figured out intellectual property law was for them, and how they have built successful careers. They very graciously provided not only their perspectives, but tips on what junior lawyers can do and should consider as they strike out in the Intellectual Property Bar.
Sana Halwani is a partner at Lenczner Slaght and Head of the Intellectual Property Group. She is recognized by Chambers Canada and Lexpert as a leading IP litigator. She is the co-creator of ReferToHer™, an online referral site positioning female lawyers as equal and available resources. Sana is on the Intellectual Property Institute of Canada’s Council, is Chair of its Litigation Committee, and Co-chair of its Women in IP Networking Group. She is active with her alma mater the University of Toronto, currently acting as President Elect on the Board. Prior to her Call to the Bar, Sana clerked for Supreme Court of Canada Justice Rosalie Abella.
I asked Sana, “How did and do you distinguish yourself from your peers?”
Sana: Many lawyers feel like they have to project a particular image or act a particular way. They feel they have to play the part of aggressive lawyer or tough litigator. I’ve never been able to play a part like that. I bring my full self to my interactions with colleagues and clients – I joke, I talk about my family, I show emotion, I occasionally utter profanities, and I say when I don’t know the answer – and that allows me to form real, authentic connections. It’s good for business and good for the self.
Amrita: So what advice would you give a young lawyer looking to stand out from the crowd?
Sana: Be you. It’s the only person you can be well. Law is a referral business that relies on building strong connections, and those are hard to make if you’re not being yourself.
Karen MacDonald is a litigator with a strong trademark prosecution practice, and a partner at Norton Rose Fulbright in Vancouver. She was recently shortlisted by Managing IP for Practitioner of the Year (Trademarks), and is involved with the Federal Court Users Committee, and anti-counterfeiting enforcement programs in Canada. Karen is also the Canadian head of Norton Rose Fulbright’s consumer markets business group.
I asked Karen, “How has your practice changed over time?”
Karen: When I first started as an articling student, I was at an IP boutique, so I got a pretty full exposure to everything IP - from patent and trademark prosecution to all types of IP litigation, licensing and transactional work. I went into IP expecting that I would use my science degree in genetics on the patent side, finding the prospect of jumping from innovation to innovation in my daily life an exciting one.
Amrita: So, is that what happened?
Karen: As a student and junior associate, I realized that I particularly enjoyed IP litigation. While training for the patent agency exam, I also realized my time was better spent getting my hands on simple mechanical files, so I never did use my genetics background on the patent side. I always wanted to do patent litigation, and have managed to keep it a part of my practice; but my practice is more trademark heavy than I ever anticipated in my junior years, and I am able to find particular satisfaction in cases that allow me to push the boundaries of the law. Embrace the unexpected and be adaptable as a junior lawyer – you never know how your practice may evolve!
Yael Bienenstock is a partner at Torys LLP in Toronto. She was recently named by Managing IP in its IP Stars as a “notable practitioner”, and by Who’s Who Legal as a “Leading lawyer in patent litigation”. Yael has extensive experience in patent litigation under the Patented Medicines (Notice of Compliance) Regulations, and is a member of IPIC’s Forums and Seminars Committee, and the Federal Court Users Committee.
I asked Yael, “How did/do you know that practicing intellectual property law is right for you?”
Yael: I have a chemistry background, so IP was an obvious area for me. But in starting my legal career, I never expected that it would become – not only a career – but a passion. I love the process of turning complex scientific issues into stories for the court. I love all of the strategy that goes into putting a complex case together. And the ever-changing landscape in IP means that as lawyers we don’t simply apply the law; we can be part of its evolution by advocating for changes. As an IP lawyer, I get to do all of this with fun, thoughtful and supportive colleagues, both at my firm and more broadly within the IP Bar.
Amrita: What would you tell a junior lawyer considering intellectual property law?
Yael: When you’re picking your area of practice, aim to feel lucky every day (or at least almost every day) to have a rewarding career. If IP does that for you, you’re in the right place.
Catherine (Cat) Lovrics is a partner at Marks & Clerk Canada. She is the Head of the firm’s Copyright and Digital Groups, and focuses on copyright, trademarks, marketing and advertising law, as well as data and privacy law. Cat has been a Lexpert Leading Lawyers Rising Star, is IPIC’s Vice-Chair of the Copyright Committee, is a Board member of Artists and Lawyers for the Advancement of Creativity, and a Trustee of the Copyright Society of the USA. She also serves on AdStandards Council.
I asked Cat, “What was the biggest challenge in building your practice?”
Cat: I would say the biggest challenge is having enough confidence to be positive, patient and persevere – and not give up! There is no one-size-fits all approach, blueprint, magic or tricks – and no guarantee.
Amrita: What would you tell yourself as a 3-year Call, with the benefit of hindsight?
Cat: There is so much I would tell myself, but my top five points would be:
- Time is a commodity in our industry, but don’t lose sight of being a well rounded human with other interests.
- Deliver an excellent work product and find good mentors. In early years, the best way to market yourself is to accept new assignments happily and willingly, and do good work. And find good mentors both inside and outside your firm or company.
- Be responsive, but without haste. If you are known for being responsive, when you need space for a thoughtful opinion or to reflect on something, your clients will typically understand the importance of accommodating that.
- Make your clients look good to their clients. When working with in-house counsel, be mindful that your work can make them look great… or not.
- I agree with Sana, be yourself. Aim to build your practice in a way that reflects who you are. Doing that will (generally) result in more collaborative and open relationships with your clients.
- And lastly, pursue the area of law that you find interesting, exciting, and that makes you happy. A happy lawyer is a better lawyer, and a better lawyer attracts and keeps their clients.
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