For this edition of the Women in IP Interview, Lucy Songi speaks to Imogen Fowler (Hogan Lovells), Mireille Buydens (Janson Baugniet) and Ellen Shankman (Ellen B Shankman & Associates) about their experiences and what advice they would offer to up-and-coming IP practitioners

The legal industry is going through big changes affecting how firms think and operate. Aside from keeping up with technological innovation, many firms are also increasing their efforts towards understanding diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Managing IP’s Women in IP Global Network highlights the work of some of the world’s leading female IP practitioners and their views on certain thought-provoking issues. We asked our interviewees about their experiences and what advice they would offer to up-and-coming IP practitioners.

Be bold

Imogen Fowler is a partner in Hogan Lovells’ Alicante office. Alongside law she studied French and Italian languages and philosophy. Fowler was previously a general litigator before she started working with an IP practitioner, an experience that convinced her to specialise in IP. She says her IP practice, which primarily focuses on trade mark and design, is “fun and challenging”.

Going straight into the issues, I asked Fowler about her personal experiences and whether she thought there are particular barriers for women seeking to enter the IP industry. She responded: “No. I think that IP is a legal practice area which has a lot of women. Everyone has been very supportive, and when I joined the founding partner of the office was a woman. I work in a firm where diversity is incredibly important.”

Fowler advises students thinking about a career in IP law to “get exposed to as many types of law and people as possible”, explaining that it is a decision one has to make by “trial and error”. To those already in IP she says: “Do not be afraid to ask for what you want.” She picks out flexible working as one example. “Men tend to ask for the things that they want more than women. Women tend to be more reluctant.” She explains that no matter the reason for wanting flexibility, especially part-time working, some partners would prefer a trainee or employee speak up rather than struggle at work without saying anything.

She implores all up-and-coming practitioners to “find a really good mentor”. Fowler continued: “If you’re not getting what you want from your mentor, then go and find others.” Based on her own personal experience, she emphasised that the mentor does not need to be someone in IP.

No perfect formula

Mireille Buydens, head of IP at Janson Baugniet, was always certain of her ambition to be “one of the best IP lawyers in Belgium”. After completing two PhDs, the first in philosophy and the second in IP, she started practising IP.

I asked her about what it is like to be an IP lawyer and whether there was anything she disliked about the job. “No dislikes,” Buydens said, adding: “I love that I am in touch with the most recent developments in technology and law.” During our conversation about work highlights and career, it became clear why Buydens found IP so fulfilling.

She says that gender is not a barrier to legal career development in Belgium, though perceptions still exist. Buydens recalled two occasions (outside Belgium) where she was presumed to be a secretary or personal assistant. She also recognises that there can be indirect pressure on female lawyers who would like to have children to postpone doing so for the sake of their career. She went on to explain that these issues are not specific to IP and they “concern women in society as a whole”.

When asked for her advice to those considering a career in IP or law in general, she said: “There is no perfect formula. It is a mix of chance and meeting the right people.” She added that aspiring lawyers should also consider how technological innovation will affect the industry in years to come: “I’m not sure I would advise my daughter to study law. I am pretty sure they will develop AI [artificial intelligence] to do some of the work. The average lawyer will have a tough time and only a few super lawyers will survive. But if she still wanted to, I would advise going into IP because it is fun.”

Do what you love

Ellen Shankman, founder of the brand protection boutique Ellen B Shankman & Associates, originally practised law in the US before relocating to Israel. It was a requirement that Shankman qualified for the bar to practise in Israel, during which time she worked on a “fascinating” trade mark case and has been practising in the area ever since. 

She gave me an insight into why she decided to set up her own firm and her motivation to persevere: “If I could do more of what I love and less of what I don’t love, and still put food on the table then that is being damn successful.” Shankman said that the trade mark business is a fantastic place for women because it offers more flexibility and creativity. 

Some aspects of business in the IP industry have become more difficult in the digital age. Shankman said that, as information and technology have become readily available, some services have become commoditised and IP practitioners can be replaced in some areas of business where they used to be crucial. However, according to Shankman, most clients still see the value in having a ‘trusted advisor’ and maintaining this reputation is important.

When I asked about how she deals with the pressures of juggling business and private life, Shankman said that it is important to have a support network, often of other women, to speak to.  “If you ask a female lawyer how she makes it through the day, she may mention her calendar, her to-do lists, and so on. But if you push her on how she really makes it through her day, she is likely to mention her girlfriends.” Although she never had a mentor, Shankman believes it is useful to have one because a women-owned law firm in the legal industry can be a “lonely place”. She concluded: “What’s really important to me is to try and be the mentor I wish I had.”

Imogen Fowler, Mireille Buydens and Ellen Shankman were featured in Managing IP’s Top 250 Women in IP (2018). This article was first published in Managing Intellectual Property.