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Technical skills, the foundation of success

skillathonThis article argues that strong technical skills are essential for a successful career as an IP lawyer. They provide a secure foundation. Other qualities, such as ambition, user-friendliness, temperamental compatibility with your working environment, market knowledge and commercial awareness, are useful but more ephemeral.

Technical skills come in different forms. For transactional IP lawyers, they include:

  • knowledge and understanding of different areas of law, including IP, contracts, competition, and tax, and applying that knowledge to transactions
  • contract drafting skills
  • communication skills, including negotiation and client management
  • organisational skills

Some of these skills are learnt through formal training; others are learnt on the job. In IP Draughts’ firm we give a high priority to helping juniors to learn through supervision and mentoring, and by encouraging people to read around their subject and attend post-graduate courses, such the one-week UCL IP Transactions course (running again this November) and the Oxford IP diploma course.

If you are a transactional IP lawyer, give as high a priority to technical skills as we do, and want to build your career in a pleasant, supportive working environment, we would be pleased to hear from you. Please contact IP Draughts or one of his partners for an initial chat.

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Brave new world for English solicitors

braveThe Law Society of England and Wales collects data on the make-up of the solicitors’ profession. Its report for 2021 has just been published. The profession has changed dramatically since IP Draughts started in practice, mostly for the better.

Among the eye-catching statistics:

  • There are now over 150,000 solicitors with practising certificates (compared with 57,000 in 1991)
  • 53% of them are women (and the vast majority of women have been admitted less than 20 years)
  • 18% are from Asian, Black or other ethnic minority backgrounds
  • 22% work in the City of London; over 50% work in Greater London (including the City) and the South East
  • 31% of solicitors in private practice work in firms with over 80 partners
  • Over 25% work in-house (including 14% in commerce and industry)

The charts that accompany the report provide a visual representation. There is a population bulge of women in the junior ranks, who seem likely to dominate the profession over the next decade or so.

Just as with national politics, there seem to be two nations in the solicitors’ profession. There is a metropolitan elite – commercial, thriving, internationally focused, working mostly in London and the South East; and there are the less fortunate – provincial, struggling financially (particularly if they are dependent on public funding), working in smaller, high-street firms, and in some cases serving the “left behind” in society.

This split will present challenges to the profession in future: values, responsibility and power.

  • Values. Is it possible to have a single profession with a single set of values and priorities, when different areas of practice diverge so dramatically?
  • Responsibility. Should City firms support and subsidise the work of their colleagues in less fashionable areas of law, particularly if the public funding for these activities dries up?
  • Power. Who should speak for the profession as a whole? What is the correct balance of power between commercial lawyers and others in the (elected) Law Society Council? At present power is still firmly in the hands of non-commercial lawyers, despite recent changes to the Law Society constitution. The Society retains a governance structure that reflects the make-up of the profession in earlier generations.

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igNobel prize for paper on contract drafting

ignobelContract drafting hit the news this week. Well, something needs to distract us from repetitive national mourning. It was reported that an academic paper, written by researchers at MIT, had won an igNobel prize. These prizes are a satirical alternative to the well-known Nobel prizes. We should keep remembering that the latter are funded by the profits from the invention of dynamite.

The paper reported on research into why contracts are difficult to understand. IP Draughts doesn’t offer any prizes for guessing the conclusion: because they are badly drafted! More specifically, because of poor word choice and bad sentence construction, rather than because of their legal content. This is an over-simplification, but you get the idea.

Does the paper and its conclusion deserve to be ridiculed with an igNobel?

Is it ridiculous to do research on this subject? Or was the methodology a bit ridiculous? IP Draughts’ reaction on reading the paper is that it is a typical, hermetically-sealed academic paper – citing other academic papers (rather than practical work such as that of Ken Adams), and focused on the authors’ discipline with no reaching across to other disciplines such as law. The authors worked hard to reach conclusions that might be regarded as a statement of the bleedin’ obvious.

If the paper and its prize encourage greater public focus on why contracts are often drafted badly, they have done a good service. IP Draughts applauds the authors for collecting their prize in person.

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Royal Charters in the modern world

charterThis seems an appropriate time to revisit the subject of Royal Charters.

This old blog post discussed IP Draughts’ excitement at discovering that the Privy Council – a body that has advised the King since medieval times – has a website that includes an Excel spreadsheet listing all bodies incorporated by Royal Charter – it now lists several hundred bodies, from the Weavers Company in 1155 to the UK Cyber Security Council in 2022.

Nowadays, most UK corporations are incorporated under companies legislation – most recently the Companies Act 2006, but earlier laws date back to the mid-nineteenth century. Before then, two main ways of incorporating were to secure an Act of Parliament, or a Royal Charter.

In the modern era, the Royal Charter route tends to be reserved for non-commercial organisations, such as professional associations and public bodies.

IP Draughts encounters bodies incorporated by Royal Charter on a daily basis. Several of his clients are universities that are so incorporated. And for the last year he has been a Council member of the Law Society of England and Wales, which represents over 200,000 solicitors, and received its first Royal Charter in 1845.

A couple of practice points:

  1. Royal Charter bodies are now included on the UK Companies Register, where they are identified by the letters “RC” in their company number. Unlike the position in many countries, it is possible to conduct free searches of the information held on the register. For example, here is the entry for University College London. But the register for Royal Charter bodies doesn’t include the detailed information that Companies Act companies are required to provide, such as annual accounts and lists of directors.
  2. UK company law was modernised in the 1980s to allow a Companies-Act company to execute a deed without applying a company seal to the document. But the law was not changed for non-Companies-Act companies, such as Royal Charter bodies, which still need to apply their seal to a deed.

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