Bristows IP Workshop Review:

*Please note that this article is not a sponsored post. All views presented are the writer’s own.

Bristows: A Fact File:

Bristows in a nutshell: Bristows LLP is a full-service commercial firm, particularly known for its IP practice and work in the technology sector.

Offices: London and Brussels.

Vacation Scheme: While Bristows does not offer a formal vacation scheme, the firm instead offers a range of (remote) IP-related workshops for candidates interested in pursuing a career at Bristows. Candidates are not required to participate in an IP Workshop to apply for the training contract.

Training contract places: 10 available places per cohort. The firm receives roughly 800 applications per cycle.

The IP Workshop:

The schedule for the day was as follows:

  • Welcome Talk with Graduate Recruitment
  • Introductory Partner Talk and Q&A
  • Associate Presentation: What is IP?
  • Trainee Panel
  • E-Tray Exercise
  • Case Study Exercise
  • Application Workshop with Graduate Recruitment

Partner Q&A:

Once the Graduate Recruitment team breezed through the basics, we were shortly joined by Adrian Sim. Adrian is a Partner in the firm’s IP/Commercial team, and his practice largely consists of transactional work in the technology and life sciences sectors. Adrian also assists clients in buying, selling, developing, and licensing new technologies.

Unlike most Partner presentations I have previously attended, Adrian spent 5-10 minutes discussing his personal journey and involvement within the firm, leaving the rest of the time for questions. I found this to be quite a refreshing way of conducting a presentation as all participants were given an equal chance to ask questions, rather than a few questions being cherry-picked at the last minute. This format of presenting was repeated in the Trainee Panel later on in the Workshop.

As a member in the firm’s Trainee Committee, Adrian first gave an insight into the firm’s training process.

  • Are trainees assigned mentors within the firm? Each trainee is assigned to a Training Partner who stays with them for the duration of their entire training contract, regardless of which seats they sit in. Each training partner is allocated 3 trainees. The allocation is completely random.
  • Is there an option to complete a transactional competition seat at Bristows? While the firm does have its own competition team, the seat is a mixture of transactional and litigation work so trainees are likely to find themselves handling both sides (unlike the IP team, where trainees either work on transactional or commercial litigation matters). 

Adrian then moved on to discuss his personal experience at Bristows.

  • Why did you choose to become a transactional lawyer? What did you dislike about litigation? The benefit of commercial transactions is that you can control the pace of negotiations – it is much less formulistic and process-driven than litigation. Litigators can also be quite sassy when writing letters, whereas Adrian prefers a direct approach!

Lastly, we had a brief discussion about the firm’s office in Brussels:

  • Can you please tell us more about the firm’s office in Brussels? The international office was set up during Brexit to enable teams that practice within EU Law to carry out their work. This applies mostly to the competition and trade mark lawyers at Bristows. Previously, the lawyers would travel to Brussels and use it as a base to see their clients. However, the firm recently hired a competition lawyer to be based in Brussels permanently.

Associate Presentation: What is IP?

This presentation was hosted by Sam Harvey and Rebekka Thomas, both of whom are Associates in the Patent Litigation team. The presentation provided a whistle-stop tour through the major IP rights, including an explanation of why they exist. To find out more about the basic IP rights, click here.

Trade Marks:

First, Sam and Rebekka covered trade marks. In short, a trade mark is a sign or symbol which conveys the origin of a brand, and allows consumers to differentiate the business, product, or service from other traders. Trade marks can come in a number of different forms including words, logos, slogans, letters, numbers, and colours.

Of all the trade mark categories, however, colour trade marks are undoubtedly the most difficult to register. This is because the applicant must satisfy an exceptionally high standard to prove that they have acquired distinctive character through use in the course of trade. Here are a few examples:

All image rights belong to According To A Law Student (ATALS).

Patents:

Moving on, Sam and Rebekka then began to discuss the key principles behind patent law. Patents are used to protect either a novel invention or process. The patent litigation team is amongst one of the largest teams at Bristows, and all trainees are expected to complete a compulsory seat in patent litigation.

During the presentation, Sam and Rebekka raised an interesting point in regard to the relationship between patents and competition law. In the UK, patents grant a monopoly over the invention or process lasting 20 years from the date of application. This can go one of two ways:

  • If the patent application is refused, the monopoly immediately ceases to exist. 
  • If the patent application is granted, then the patent owner can continue to enjoy the monopoly until the limitation period runs out.

One of the key aims of competition law is to prevent monopolies. This is when a single business controls an entire market for a particular product or service, making it extremely difficult for new competitors to break into the market. Therefore, it initially appears that the two concepts contradict each other as patents aim to provide a monopoly, whereas competition law aims to eradicate them. How can these two areas of law co-exist?  

The answer is simple: the patent bargain. In exchange for a registered monopoly lasting a limited period of time, inventors must disclose all information about the invention to the public. It is believed that sharing this knowledge will encourage further innovation, thus contributing to society. More importantly, once the patent expires, it also cannot be renewed. Do you think this is a fair bargain?

  • Are some jurisdictions more difficult to successfully register a patent in than others? Different jurisdictions follow different criteria when granting patents – this is particularly prevalent when it comes to the invention’s novelty and inventive step. While there are various international treaties in place providing a level of consistency in how claimants get the patent, each country ultimately must make the decision as to whether they grant the patent or not. However, some jurisdictions process patent applications faster than others.
  • The UK recently withdrew from Unified Patent Court (UPC) – is this a detrimental decision? It is indisputable that the decision will definitely have an impact. However, the UK remains a major commercial centre and UK judges are widely respected for their consistency of judgments and body of case law. As such, there is still a big patent market in the UK, despite the decision to withdraw from the UPC.

Design Rights:

Arguably one of the most complicated areas of IP since Brexit (there are currently 8 different design rights!), design rights protect the shape and configuration of a product – unlike copyright which protects the actual work itself.

Design rights can either be:

  • Registered: require entry into the Design Register and offer a slightly longer scope of protection.
  • Unregistered: arise automatically but generally last a shorter period of time.

Sam and Rebekka emphasised the importance of tailoring their advice to the sector, product, and industry of their clients when advising on their available IP rights. For example, if a client designs a product with a short shelf-life (which is often seen in the fashion industry), the firm would usually advise them not to go ahead with the registration process if the item is likely to go out of fashion soon. 

At the end of the presentation, Sam and Rebekka answered the following questions.

  • The pandemic has become a big focus point for Commercial IP – this has presumably resulted in a busy time for Bristows. Does the firm attract more IP-related work in a point of economic downturn? Generally, the workload in IP litigation is quite consistent and resilient – unlike private equity where the market is affected by economic change.
  • The Coca Cola recipe is famously protected by a trade secret. In a situation where another party coincidentally makes a similar product in the same way, however, could Coca Cola exercise their rights against them? The answer to this question ultimately depends on whether there was a breach of confidentiality. If the competitor had access to the secret recipe, then yes, there is a breach. However, if they coincidentally stumble upon the same recipe then there is no recourse. At the end of the day, you cannot infringe a trade secret…unless it is no longer a secret!

Trainee Panel:

The fourth session of the Workshop consisted of a Q&A session with a panel of six trainees:

  • Naina: currently sitting her first seat in patent litigation. Naina participated in the IP Workshop before applying for the training contract.
  • Iva: 1st year trainee currently sitting in the competition team.
  • Ewan: 2nd year trainee currently sitting in the regulatory team. Ewan applied to Bristows through a direct training contract application.
  • Dhara: 1st year trainee currently sitting in commercial real estate.
  • Sean: currently sitting in his first seat in the corporate department. Sean applied to Bristows through a direct training contract application.
  • Seb: arrived at Bristows with a science background and participated in the firm’s Workshop in 2017.

To those trainees with a STEM background, how did you find the transition into law, and did you feel that this came at a disadvantage?

  • Ewan: transitioning into law certainly required a different skillset – especially the ability to come across new concepts. However, he didn’t feel disadvantaged because no one else had completed a Law degree on the GDL. Further, the LPC doesn’t bear that much resemblance to an undergraduate Law degree. When Ewan began his training contract, he didn’t feel at a disadvantage either because a training contract is very different to anything he had done before. 
  • Dhara: a science degree was definitely useful when it came to problem-solving exercises.

How would you describe the culture and social life at Bristows?

  • Seb: everyone at the firm is genuinely very nice and approachable – there are no Partners running down the corridor shouting at trainees! Rather, the Partners are interested in the value that trainees can add to the team. The social life at Bristows is also picking up – Seb is in office more than half of the week (he comes in 3-4 times a week). Bristows also hosts drinks every Thursday.
  • Ewan: because the firm is relatively small and the rotation around departments is different, people will remember you and often ask you “how are you doing these days?”. Senior colleagues are interested in you as a person, not as a source of grunt work.

How approachable are your senior colleagues?

  • Iva: everyone at Bristows is super interested in you and open to hearing from you, even if you are a trainee. The trainee cohort is small, so you get much more attention as an individual than you might at other firms. Bristows definitely enjoys a tight-knit culture. 
  • Naina: each trainee is assigned a Partner in each seat, as well as a Senior Associate. Other than Real Estate and Corporate, all the other departments are open plan, meaning that you share an office with your supervisor. Your colleagues make you feel like your contributions are of value – they genuinely ask for your opinion sometimes.

In large City firms, no feedback is good feedback. That’s clearly not the case at Bristows. What is one piece of feedback that you have received that has been instrumental in your personal development at Bristows?

  • Dhara: she was once told by a Partner that it is not too early to begin thinking about her pathway to becoming a Senior Associate or Partner, and that the best way to do so is by figuring out her Unique Selling Point (USP). Ask yourself, what will people recognise in you as Partner? For one Partner it may be strong client interaction, whereas for another, it could be real attention to detail. 

What have you disliked the most about your experience at Bristows so far?

  • Ewan: there can occasionally be a mismatch with how busy other trainees within the firm are. As we are not all in the office every day, it is quite challenging for senior colleagues to accurately assess which trainees the workload should be distributed to. 
  • Sean: while this is not necessarily specific to Bristows, being given tasks where you have no idea what you’re doing can be quite frustrating and stressful in the beginning.

What are the working hours for trainees at Bristows?

  • Ewan: While this depends on the department, the rough hours are 9:30am-5:45pm – it is very unusual for trainees to stay in the office past 8:30pm unless they are sitting in patent litigation. For example, the regulatory team handles a lot of matters which tend to run over weeks – if Ewan needs to go home before 6pm, he can do that. In contrast, the Commercial/IP team handles a large volume of short-term work, so trainees can occasionally lose weekends. However, deadlines are often known weeks in advance.

E-Tray Exercise:

While Bristows does not carry out any formal assessment centres during the training contract application process, the E-Tray exercise was a useful exercise assessing how well potential trainees handle conflicting priorities and deadlines.

We were first given a quick briefing:

You are a second year trainee at Bristows. It is 9.15am on Wednesday 24th of November and you have just arrived at the office for another busy day at work to find the following emails in your inbox. You have 5 minutes to read the emails, then I will put you in small breakout rooms to discuss them as a group. In your group discussion try and put the emails in the order in which you would respond to them and think about what your response to each would be.

We then read 7 emails touching upon a range of matters including urgent clerking tasks, preparing bundles, researching issues for VIP clients, and proofreading documents. In order to decide which emails must be prioritised, my group assessed each email using the following criteria:

  • Subject matter;
  • Recipient (whether the email was sent directly to us or to all the trainees);
  • Importance (some emails were marked as high importance);
  • The time that the email was sent;
  • The duration of time that the requested task will take; and
  • Sender (although this was rarely the first factor to be considered).

The firm emphasised that there is no right or wrong answer, rather, encouraging us to collaborate and actively springboard ideas amongst each other. Further, we were able to freely discuss our ideas in separate groups without being monitored. I felt that both factors heavily contributed towards setting a relaxed and collaborative atmosphere, rather than a tense and competitive environment which is often the case at assessment centres.

After a short discussion in our breakout rooms, we were all invited back into the main room to discuss our ideas with the Graduate Recruitment team. As well as individually discussing how each group handled each email, we were also invited to explore alternative ways of tackling the issues raised. For example, could the matter be solved quicker by directly speaking to a colleague in the office, or checking whether a particular trainee has availability to complete the required task?

Overall, the E-Tray exercise was an enjoyable experience which placed a genuine emphasis on collaboration, rather than a struggle of making one’s voice heard in a midst of competition. The Graduate Recruitment team also gave a few tips on email etiquette which was extremely useful!

Case Study Exercise:

The second interactive task of the Bristows IP Workshop was the Case Study, which was led by Florence Plisner and Milly Wickson (both Associates in the Patent Litigation team). This task was created to give us a better idea of the work that we may expect to encounter as an Associate in the IP team at Bristows.

The IssueThe client has notified Bristows that a competitor is ready to launch a similar product to ours, and wishes to know whether we can stop the launch.
The Client’s ObjectivesProtect existing market for the lifetime of the patent;
Protect brand; and
Minimise legal costs.
The Legal QuestionsHas the competitor infringed our client’s IP rights?
If there has been any infringement, does the liability extend to any third parties (e.g. manufacturers)?
How can we settle any disputes that may arise from the potential infringement?

Did You Know? When a trade mark application is submitted, the applicant must specify which ‘Class’ they wish to register the trade mark in. Each Class is related to a particular group of goods or services. For example, Class 25 is related to clothing, footwear, and headgear.

During the Case Study, we tackled the following questions:

Which IP rights are available to our client?

  • Registrable?
  • Non registrable?

Have our client’s IP rights been infringed? If so:

  • Which legal tests would we use the determine infringement?
  • How do these tests differ in light of the respective IP right?
  • Aside from the legal implications, are there any commercial/business concerns that may arise from this potential infringement (e.g. damage to brand reputation)? Can these issues be circumvented?

How can we settle this dispute?

  • Long-term vs short-term solutions?
  • Given our client’s budget, which options would be the most suitable?
  • Should we make a dispute resolution plan (e.g. begin with friendly negotiations and escalate if there is a need)?
  • Litigation vs Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)?

Although the Case Study was significantly more challenging than the E-tray exercise, it was equally enjoyable and required us to use a different skill set. Unlike the E-tray exercise, which challenged our soft skills and ability to handle conflicting obligations, the Case Study tested our logical thinking and practical knowledge. I would argue that this session was the most intense part of the Workshop, but was intellectually rigorous and painted an accurate and realistic picture of the matters that trainees at Bristows may work on in the patent litigation team. 

Application Workshop with Graduate Recruitment:

The Training Contract Application Process is as follows:

  1. Written application: a small number of questions touching upon your motivations for applying, extracurricular activities, competencies, and a personal statement.
  2. Stage 1: Interview with a Senior Associate and a Partner.
  3. Stage 2: Written exercise (completed online).
  4. Stage 3: Final Interview with two Partners and a problem exercise (including a discussion with the interviewers).

Bristows does not require candidates to undergo psychometric testing or an assessment centre for the IP Workshop or Training Contract.

Please note that the interviews are based on the following factors:

  • Application form;
  • Problem-solving and situational judgement skills; and
  • Commercial awareness and current affairs.

Let’s break down the individual steps!

Interview 1: Senior Associate and Partner:

This interview is largely competency-based, and aims to explore your career aspirations and what you can offer to Bristows. Although this ultimately depends on the Government guidelines at the time, candidates are offered the option to complete this interview online or in-person (the firm will cover travel expenses) if possible. 

Written Exercise:

The written exercise is based on a typical task that a trainee at Bristows may encounter (so it’s best to brush up on this beforehand!). It could be drafting a memo or completing a piece of research for a client. In previous years, this task was timed for 1 hour. However, this year, the firm has decided to remove the time constraint in order for applicants to submit the best possible piece of work.

Problem Exercise and Final Interview with Two Partners:

The problem exercise will be similar to the Case Study we went through in the Workshop. It will be based on one of the firm’s key practice areas, and candidates will be given all the information they need to complete the task, which will largely be based on decoding a client query. Unlike the written exercise, no written answer is needed. Instead, candidates will discuss their findings in the Partner interview. The interview will also test candidates on their situational judgement skills, commercial awareness and career aspirations.

The day also includes an office tour and an opportunity to network with trainees.

Final Thoughts:

Overall, the Bristows IP Workshop was a very well-planned and engaging event. The range of tasks allowed participants to collaborate in a number of ways. For example, the E-Tray exercise required us to work in small groups, whereas the Case Study encouraged all participants to work together as one large group.

As one of the firm’s highest revenue-earning teams, I can understand why the Workshop placed a strong emphasis on the patent litigation team. Further, considering that patent litigation is a compulsory seat for the Bristows training contract, the Workshop did a fantastic job of acquainting the participants with the intellectual challenges that may arise in this seat. The only constructive point that I would raise about the Workshop is that I would have loved to have the chance to speak with a member of the Brands team as this is another key fee-earning area for the firm, and one that is of particular interest to me. However, the Workshop did touch upon other areas of IP such as copyright and trade marks on a number of occasions, and was not entirely patent-focussed.

Aside from the Workshop itself, I found all the speakers to be extremely friendly, relatable, and engaging (and this applies to all levels of the firm, from trainees to Partners!). Unlike most online legal events which I have attended, no question was left unanswered and the Graduate Recruitment team stayed behind once the Workshop concluded to answer any remaining questions – this was done from their own initiative. With commercial law being such a saturated market, it really is the small things that help differentiate law firms from each other. Aside from the firm’s reputation in IP-related work, this Workshop highlighted many other ‘soft’ factors which make Bristows stand out, namely the culture, alternative application process, and the overall friendliness of the Graduate Recruitment team.

This article was written by April (Founder of According To A Law Student (ATALS)). April is a recent Law graduate and her main blogging interests consist of Intellectual Property, M&A and technology.

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