Last week, IP Draughts attended his last meeting as chair of the IP Law Committee of the Law Society of England and Wales (the national bar association for English and Welsh solicitors). The appointment was for 3 years; he is now time-expired and ineligible for re-appointment as chair.
After last week’s meeting, we held our annual dinner. It was a pleasant affair, made more special for IP Draughts by the kind words he received from other members about his time as chair. Some of these words had been recorded in a framed poster – a kind of Wordle of quotes – that was presented to IP Draughts and now sits on his office wall. He is very grateful for the sentiments and for the poster.
He is also grateful for the support that he has received during the last 3 years, from both members of the committee and Law Society officials. Particular mention should be made of Lauren Rabaiotti, now our policy officer, but once our committee secretary. Her enthusiasm, diligence and aptitude have helped to make the chairing role a smooth one. She is increasingly taking the initiative in guiding the committee to actions – not an easy task in such a specialised area of practice.
He would also like to thank James Love and Michelle Blunt, who are retiring from the committee, for their expert and helpful contributions over several years.
Here are some brief thoughts on what works, in IP Draughts experience, when chairing a body of this kind.
- Enthusiasm. Leading by example, with enthusiasm and commitment helps to encourage everyone to give up their time to the cause.
- Tone. Left to their own devices, some IP lawyers can be rather critical. Setting the right tone, particularly at meetings, helps people to be relaxed and engaged, and willing to speak up. In IP Draughts’ view, a little irreverent humour is a positive contribution. Avoid having meetings that are like an appearance before a hostile judge.
- Balance speaking and listening. It is legitimate for the chair to start off debates by stating his or her views, but then he or she should actively listen to the other members, and encourage contributions, particularly from quieter members.
- Respect. The committee has some national, or even international, expert in their subjects. You don’t have to be the best at everything – let them take the lead, but within a framework that you help to set. Be respectful of their expertise and that of support staff, and patient but politely insistent in urging them to meet deadlines and deliver work product.
- Personal initiatives. While you don’t have to lead every initiative, leading on some where you have expertise helps to demonstrate commitment and set tone. You have an opportunity as chair to develop your own agenda; within reason, this is a good thing rather than an abuse of power.
IP Draughts stated, when he became chair, that he wanted to bring IP closer to the centre of the Law Society’s thinking. He believes he has had some success with this aim. The presence of the incoming President of the Law Society, Christina Blacklaws, at last week’s dinner, was an illustration of this success. He also thinks he has had some success in increasing cooperation among the various IP professional bodies in the UK, including those representing IP barristers, patent attorneys and trade mark attorneys. Our joint note on Brexit and IP, delivered to government last December, was an example of this cooperation.
An issue that he has noticed, but not yet found a complete solution to, is how to encourage new and younger members of the committee to speak up more and give their views. Law is still a hierarchical profession, and we have some very experienced and talented members on the committee. It can be a little daunting for younger members to give their views in such company, despite IP Draughts’ best efforts. Sometimes, members only really “come on stream” in their second 3-year term of office. This may be a symptom of a wider issue in the legal profession, rather than something that can easily be fixed within one committee, though this does not excuse us from trying to mitigate it where we can.
IP Draughts wishes the best of luck (not that she needs it) to his capable successor, Carolyn Pepper, and he looks forward to continuing on the committee, as a co-opted member, for a further (but final), and hopefully not too arduous, 12 months.