#IPInclusiveWeek: The Colourful Future of IP Law
This week marks #IPinclusiveweek (www.ipinclusive.org.uk/ip-inclusive-week) and all IP professionals are encouraged improve diversity and inclusion. We at Virtuoso Legal thought the best way to do so is to lead by example and have Philip Partington, our Director, Head of IP litigation and the London Office, write about his story in the IP legal profession from his early days as a paralegal to date.
I started my legal career over ten years ago as a paralegal at the “best IP firm in the North”, based in Newcastle Upon Tyne. At this time, I had a large number of friends who were also gay lawyers in Newcastle (and beyond) who were not open about who they loved. Indeed, many of those lawyers were at very large firms and perhaps were worried about their professional prospects if they “came out”.
In contrast, at the outset, I decided that if the legal profession did not like me because of my sexuality, I would take my (at that time) rough talents elsewhere and do something else; to a profession that did. Thankfully, that was not necessary. Since my training firm was small but boutique, I do not recall there being any formal “inclusivity” policy, but the partners and staff were good people who encouraged me to be myself and not fear discrimination. They always had my back and this early inclusive experience coloured my career and perception to date.
Following the completion of my training, like many young lawyers, I was determined to relocate London. For me, not only did I think it made sense professionally, but also personally. London is possibly the most inclusive and exciting cities in the world. As such, In 2012 I packed my bags and accepted a job with a IP/IT boutique based in London. This firm had been set up and grown by a leading female IP/IT lawyer and I was very much taken by her inspirational approach. My experience at this firm illustrated to me that smaller boutique firms are also more than able to provide an inclusive environment for their staff.
A Forward Thinking Firm
In around 2015, I spoke with Liz Ward, another woman who had set up Virtuoso Legal as an IP law firm and who, at the time, was on the other side of an IP case. During that first call, I was struck with how down to earth and astute Liz came across, without the usual pompous attitude of many a partner in the industry! The case concluded, and Liz asked me to join her team and set up the London office of Virtuoso Legal. Since Virtuoso Legal was also a boutique IP firm, their inclusivity very much depended upon the individuals, rather than formal policy. As such, I recall meeting all of the staff before I joined to make sure that the rest of the team followed in Liz’s inclusive style and nature. Of course, they did and remain.
Since joining Virtuoso Legal in 2015, we have doubled in size and have been responsible for some leading IP decisions in IPEC, the High Court and Court of Appeal; next year we are even off to the Supreme Court! I genuinely do not think that we could have achieved all of this if we at Virtuoso Legal had not been an inclusive and friendly place to work. After all, people who can go to work and live as they are, are happier and more productive. In addition, especially in the IP world, clients and suppliers are often diverse and are delighted to instruct firms that reflect their values. In my view, an inclusive culture and thought in the workplace is simply better suited to addressing the myriad of problems businesses solve in the wider world.
In my view, inclusivity in the IP profession has moved at a rapid pace, even in the last 10 years. The good news is that the field of law has become one of the most diverse of the institutional professions. This is something that I have been very happy to see at Virtuoso Legal and we continue to be as diverse as the world around us and the clients we serve. Indeed, if you look at our team on our website, I don’t think you could find a more diverse bunch of IP lawyers; that is a huge strength!
All that being said, there’s always more than can be done and I implore all those reading this in the legal profession to take inclusivity seriously and translate it into their hiring and workplace practices, and not just policy. This will enable others not unlike myself, who in their early career might be apprehensive, to thrive in the field and achieve incredible things for the benefit of everyone.
Ultimately, whilst the law is an objective system which protects the rights of all in this country – it will do so much better as it continues to seek to reflect the diversity of the citizenry it serves. #IPInclusiveWeek reminds us every year, just how important this is.
#IPInclusiveWeek The Colourful Future of IP Law was written by Philip Partington