Paralegal potential: building fulfilling careers in IP

Paralegal potential: building fulfilling careers in IP

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We might be biased, but we think pursuing a role as an IP paralegal can lead to some of the most interesting and fulfilling careers around. Working in a fast-paced environment and being involved with brands that we see in the world around us is exciting. Also, it’s a growing area – as virtual worlds emerge and innovation continues at pace our economy has become ideas-led, meaning awareness of the importance of protecting the expression of those ideas has rocketed.

There’s no telling where an IP paralegal career can lead. It involves a host of skills that can be transferred into a variety of environments. As the profile of paralegal work continues to rise, this increasingly means you can shape the career you want.

In September we are sponsoring the first CITMA Paralegal conference and, ahead of this, we’ve talked to two of our friends and colleagues about the different paths their careers have taken, the skills they’ve learned, and their tips for aspiring paralegals.

Samantha Crellin is Business Development Manager at WebTMS, responsible for introducing our trade mark portfolio software to prospective clients.

Erin Meakin is a newly qualified Trade Mark Attorney at Wiggin.

Routes into IP vary

IP paralegals come from a wide range of backgrounds and Sam and Erin are no different. Sam studied Law at university, planning to become a solicitor, but after completing her degree she vowed “never to have anything to do with law ever again!” A role in trade mark licensing administration followed, which sparked her interest in trade marks in general. After a short time in a non-related contracting role, Sam spotted an opening for a trade mark administrator in a private practice and her career as a paralegal proper began.

Erin has a master’s degree in Shakespeare and her early career was in property management until a temporary family relocation saw her take on a short-term PA/Admin role in a law firm. When the temporary move became permanent and the practice launched a trade mark portfolio services offering, Erin was offered a role assisting with the administration. She says: “I think I just about knew what a trade mark was. The first few months in the job was mostly just manually adding records to WebTMS!”

The small team meant Erin got a lot of experience across the board at an early stage and her career in trade marks began to take off.

Getting qualified – taking a lifelong approach to learning

Sam and Erin have both invested academically in their careers over time and agree that an eagerness to learn and develop are key attributes for paralegal roles. Both hold the CITMA Paralegal qualification and feel it is an important part of their career development. As Sam says: “Studying for and becoming a CITMA Paralegal was really important to me and a real proud moment when I got my certificate. It felt like a real line in the sand to prove to myself I had what it takes!”

Erin qualified as a CITMA Paralegal in 2015 and credits both the course and her time spent in the paralegal role as the best training that helps her lead the active management and administration of her clients’ global trade mark portfolios now. In 2019 she embarked on the Queen Mary PGCert in Trade Mark Law and Practice, followed by Nottingham Law School’s Professional Certificate in Trade Mark Practice. After a pause for the birth of her second child, Erin completed the exams and is now proud to be a registered and Chartered Trade Mark Attorney.

Sam is building her skills in broader IP and commercial areas, having undertaken WIPO’s General Course on Intellectual Property last year alongside a course on negotiating and drafting IT contracts.

Key skills: communication, accuracy, and healthy curiosity

Alongside a willingness to keep learning, Sam and Erin have honed other skills in the course of their careers to date.

Erin emphasises that communication skills are very important, saying: “I used to have dreadful imposter syndrome that I didn’t have a law degree or any sort of legal background, but I’ve come to appreciate how useful my “soft skills” really are. Sometimes we have to communicate quite tricky messaging to our clients, and we need to do it clearly, quickly […] in a way that assists the client to make the best decision.”

She also notes that strong attention to detail and the ability to spot errors is a must for paralegals: “Time and again it comes up as one of the most important skills in the job, at every level […] One typo in a deadline date, or registration number, and things can go sideways very quickly.”

Sharp eyes have served Sam well on the commercial side too: “One of my favourite parts of my role is managing contract negotiations – I do the first review of all the redlines across the team – and the ability to be accurate and fast, developed earlier in my career, has proved invaluable.”

Problem-solving is a regular part of paralegal life, too, Sam and Erin agree, and devising solutions can be very satisfying: “I really enjoy how creative you can get (within the boundaries of reasonableness!) when you problem-solve,” says Erin.

Sam also points to what she learned in research, customer service and project planning and prioritising as key skills she leans on in her current role.

Shaping the career you want and enjoy

The profile of trade mark paralegals is rising and there is now greater recognition of the immense contribution they make to successful trade mark practices. There are also more opportunities to use paralegal experience in adjacent roles and shape your career closely to your skills and interests, as Sam has found.

“When I first found trade marks, I quickly wanted to work towards becoming a Trade Mark Attorney,” she says, “but when you start getting good at what you do you can get pigeonholed and find it hard to step out of your box to progress. There are some paralegals who are really happy with administrative tasks and others who like to get their hands dirty. I was a hands-dirty paralegal forced to be administrative, which I found stressful. That encouraged me to look more widely and find a role that suits my strengths. Now I get to do lots of problem-solving and every day is different. I love the freedom, but know I have structure to fall back on if I need it. It’s let me learn how I work best, and under what circumstances. If I’m busy now, I don’t feel the stress like I did as a paralegal. The WebTMS team is great fun, close-knit and hardworking, and recognises hard work too.” 

Sam is taking her experience as a paralegal and using it to guide clients towards the right software or way of working to streamline managing their portfolio and get the most out of WebTMS. She says: “IP service providers really value paralegals because you have lived the life of the target customer. You talk the same language.”

Tips for paralegals looking to diversify

Erin advises anyone looking to grow their role to be bold about putting themselves out there and not be intimidated, saying: “If you’re interested in getting involved in something, just ask! Yes, you might be more of a hindrance than a help while you’re learning, but so was everyone more senior than you once!”

Sam adds: “Don’t be afraid to try new things and get as much variety of exposure as possible, work out what you enjoy. Don’t like the rigidity of private practice? Try in-house. Don’t like the level of variety in-house? Try private practice. Or, take a sidestep like I did and join a service provider. Worst case, if it doesn’t work out, you could go back to being a trade mark paralegal again. I’m very pleased to say that it worked for me!”

Thank you Sam and Erin for sharing your experience with us!

Sam will be presenting at the inaugural CITMA Paralegal conference on 27th September.