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an English grad in the legal/science space

14 sept 2017

ALEXANDER CALVER

Having studied English, law was always in my mind as a good route to go down. Along with many other humanities students, I attended various recruitment events by large London law firms held at my university (Exeter). Whilst these big firms often put on an impressive spread of food and drink, I was not particularly inspired by the types of work they offered. 

Still unclear as to what I wanted to do, I managed to do some work experience in the legal sector. Generally this was more helpful in helping me decide what I did not want to do, rather than what I did, but it was a useful narrowing-down process nevertheless.

Intellectual property was always something I found interesting – it probably stemmed from watching too much Dragon’s Den, and seeing hopeful entrepreneurs get grilled on if and how they had protected their inventions. However, for me, it was more a general interest than a genuine career prospect. When I came across Bristows, I was hit with a wave of enthusiasm when I saw the sectors that the firm operated in, and its practice areas. It was the first time I was genuinely excited about the work that a law firm did.

I got reading: tech… science… pharmaceuticals… engineering… biochemistry. It’s true to say that I felt a little out of my depth – there are not many law firms that actively hunt graduates with technical backgrounds as much as Bristows does. However, I followed my instincts and belief that this was the area of law I was most interested in and, after a workshop and a couple of interviews, I was offered a training contract. It’s important to remember that a firm looks to hire a diverse range of trainees, not just scientists with PhDs. Humanities grads – keep the faith!

Fast forward a couple of years, after I had completed the GDL and LPC, to my first seat of the training contract: 6 months in patent litigation. Arguably the most technical seat in the firm, it felt like I had been thrown into the deep end (there was 1 other non-scientist first year with me, and 1 scientist). However, I quickly realised that going into such a technical area of law was by no means an impossible task. Yes, it was difficult, but it was a challenge I loved. 

Something that struck me was that the patents and the technology that we deal with here are often so technical that even those with relevant undergrad degrees have to grapple extremely hard to understand them. As a non-scientist, yes, you will have to work harder, but that is to be expected and it is what you signed up for. A lot of the difficulties at first are simple comprehension issues, like the jargon that might exist in a particular field; or words that are simply unfamiliar to you because you have never studied the molecular structure of compounds, for example. But these are things that you pick up as you become more and more familiar with a subject, and as a trainee you are given time to understand. At Bristows the associates and partners are incredibly good at taking the time to explain things to you. You would never be expected to completely understand a technical patent on first reading (or second, or third reading for that matter). Not only this, but 6 months is an incredibly short amount of time – it flies by, and so it is totally normal to only begin to get comfortable with a topic just when you have to move on.

I was put on a patent case that went to trial in the final two weeks of my seat. It was deeply technical with lots of physics, and it is a battle to understand as much as you can in a short space of time. But it was exciting and it was a case of just throwing yourself into a case and having an appetite to learn. The areas of law that we work in at Bristows are such that they are generally so innovative and cutting-edge, that you can’t help but want to learn. It is not as if it is a boring subject that you have to learn about just because it’s your job – these technologies are genuinely exciting. 

In conclusion, being a humanities graduate in a firm like Bristows is not a problem. Indeed, there are associates and partners who act as proof that you can be a leading patent lawyer in the tech/pharma fields without a science background. A willingness to learn is far more important.

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