It is hard to know if you have the requisite traits to be an
IP lawyer or whether the career path is right for you. Managing
IP spoke to four leading female IP practitioners about their
professional trajectories and the advice they would give to
those who are considering a career in IP.
Don’t be afraid to try again
Hanna-Maija Elo is partner and co-founder of the Finnish
firm Properta Attorneys, but speaking to Elo it is clear that
the road to success is not always straightforward.
recommend practising in the IPRs field as the
significance of IPRs is always growing, and it is a
very interesting area of law"
"I didn’t get into law school the first time
round," she says. "I didn’t pass the entrance
exam, but I had also done an exam for technical university that
year and accepted a place to study chemistry. The whole time I
was there I knew I wanted to be at law school, so the next year
I tried again, studied harder and was finally accepted."
After graduating from the Law Faculty of Helsinki
University, Elo worked as a trainee judge in the Tuusula
District Court. She then found a position at a trade mark
agency and continued her work in the field from there. Now Elo
is one of the founders of Properta Attorneys and has protected
brands for companies such as adidas.
Speaking about barriers for women in law in Finland, she
says that there were no hurdles that were particular to women:
"In Finland the majority of students in law schools for many
years have been women. Of course as partners in law firms women
are still in a small minority."
She explains this disparity is probably due to the
responsibility of childcare, which can be difficult to balance
with the workload of a partner. However, she also explains that
in Finland, in order to be a partner, a practitioner must be a
member of the Finnish Bar Association. Only about 30% of the
members in this association are women, and she therefore
suggests that women are choosing to avoid this type of work
altogether. Instead, many are working as counsel for companies
or following other paths in law.
When asked about advice for students thinking of a career in
IP, Elo says: "Legal studies and graduating from law school
provide an excellent grounding for many different kinds of
work, and it is therefore something I would strongly
recommended." She continued: "I would recommend practising in
the IPRs field as the significance of IPRs is always growing,
and it is a very interesting area of law."
Challenges make you a stronger lawyer
Few know from a young age that their destiny will be in IP.
But Julianna Tabastajewa, partner at Gowling WLG in Russia, was
one of them: "My father was a Minister of Arts and Science in
the Republic of Khakassia (Siberia) and supported theatres,
museums, painters, publishing houses in their activities. For
this support, he needed a good IP lawyer. He found it difficult
to find anyone, but I was more than willing to help him. I
always had a strong sense of wanting to protect
be open to new knowledge and not be afraid of
challenges as they make you stronger. To be successful,
qualifications are what matter, not your
She went on to study law and completed a PhD focused on
intellectual property aspects in unfair competition. During her
career, Tabastajewa has worked on high-profile cases for car
manufacturers in Germany and has been involved in
ground-breaking cases in the Russian courts.
Tabastajewa speaks positively about gender in the workplace
in Russia: "I don’t think there are any real
obstacles in the legal profession for women in Russia. In fact,
most of the judges in Russian courts are women. If you are
professional you can achieve anything." She adds that during an
internship in Germany, she noticed a slight difference. She
enjoyed her time just as much and was never discriminated
against, but there were noticeably fewer women than men.
"To succeed in IP, you definitely need a certain mindset,"
she says. "You should be open to new knowledge and not be
afraid of challenges as they make you stronger. To be
successful, qualifications are what matter, not your gender."
She also suggests that "having a mentor is a great tool in your
Ann De Clercq is the owner and founder of De Clercq &
Partners. She has a PhD in plant molecular biology and spent
time working in Munich before building her firm in Belgium.
successful in IP you need to be sociable, outgoing and
able to express yourself both orally and in
De Clercq explains how she decided IP was the right choice
for her: "I didn’t know what IP was when I started
university. I was doing a PhD in collaboration with a company
that had a patent department and found the combination of legal
and technical matters interesting." She realised this could be
an interesting avenue to pursue and so after finishing her PhD,
De Clercq became an examiner at the European Patent Office
(EPO) in Munich. She recommends this to others thinking of a
career in IP: "It helped me a lot to be in the EPO first.
Knowing how the office works makes an understanding of IP very
When asked about being a woman in IP and any advice she had
for students thinking about a career in this area, she says:
"In general I would not say that women face particular
barriers. It is a business with a lot of female professionals."
She advises students to "take some extra courses in IP during
their degree" and adds: "To be successful in IP you need to be
sociable, outgoing and able to express yourself both orally and
To those uncertain about IP she says: "Talk to a patent
attorney and get a hands-on sense of what they do." She also
suggests that studying law is not the only path, reminding
students that "we need a lot of students from multiple
disciplines in IP".
Have a good support structure
"There is an
imbalance and though there are certain areas that are
more open to women, generally it does remain a
Louise Myburgh is a partner at Spoor & Fisher in Cape
Town, South Africa. She did not consider IP law before
university. She did a business degree and a degree in
industrial psychology. It was while studying that she had her
first taste of law working as a judge’s registrar.
"From the outset I found the work really interesting," she
says. "When I began doing law I found it enjoyably challenging
and IP gave me a tremendous amount of satisfaction as you can
see what you’ve been working on in the marketing
on the shelves."
Talking about inclusivity in the legal profession and IP,
Myburgh says: "I do not think the legal profession, broadly
speaking, is inclusive. There is an imbalance and though there
are certain areas that are more open to women, generally it
does remain a man’s world." She added: "Men are
traditionally seen as more successful, but that is
Myburgh comments on the challenges of the job: "One of the
things is the pace at which you have to perform. You are
expected to be available 24/7 and it is very difficult to
switch off. This makes it hard to find a balance and make time
for other things you may be interested in." However, she
continues to emphasise that despite this, she loves her work
because you can "see how things develop and work with very
She leaves some parting advice to future lawyers: "It is
very important to have a strong support structure but you must
also believe in yourself. Be sure it is what you want to do. If
you are uncertain, it is very difficult to be successful."