If you’ve ever wondered if the practice of Intellectual Property Law could be for you, you’re reading the right post.
If you’re fresh out of Law School (or you’ve recently been called to the Bar) and you’re wondering what options exist for you to practise in, Intellectual Property Law might offer you something other areas don’t.
But you need to read to the end to find out for sure.
Because we caught up with Rachel Sikwane who’s been practising Intellectual Property Law throughout her career (15+ years) to ask her about it.
Why Intellectual Property Law & what do you actually do from day to day?
Intellectual Property Law actually chose me. I did not know about this area of Law until it was introduced to me during a vacation programme that I attended. I have been intrigued by it since.
My typical day in the office is no different to any other attorney’s day – responding to emails, drafting letters, meetings with clients and engaging in some business development activity.
Please give a brief rundown of your education and career
I studied Law at university, then I took the route of qualifying as an attorney by completing my two years of articles (apprenticeship) at a law firm. After qualifying as an attorney, I worked at one law firm, then another, before starting my own law firm in 2020.
I have practised Intellectual Property Law throughout my entire career. So, for more than fifteen years, now.
What do you look for in a client?
Well, a client is a human being or a company represented by a human being and it is always great to work with human beings that are kind.
What do you see in a potential client or their legal situation, that’s a red flag for you?
There are many things that could be a red flag, but the easiest one to name would be dishonesty.
“I try not to promise my clients miracles.”
I feel like Africans treat lawyers like doctors in that “I’ll only go to them when I’m already in trouble.” What IP situation has been the worst that someone has come to you when they’re already in it, that made you think, “What miracle is this person expecting me to perform?”
I try not to promise clients “miracles”. If a client comes to me and they are already in trouble, but there is no way of getting out of the trouble, I will explain the situation and the law to them, then provide them with options for possibly mitigating their liability.
Once, a client launched a new product using a particular name that was very similar to an existing registered trade mark (meaning it belonged to someone else). When the client received a letter of demand, they came to me for help.
Bear in mind that clients don’t have to take their lawyers’ advice – but they do so at their own risk.
One of the worst things, I think, that can happen is a client that doesn’t listen. What’s a serious thing a client can do after you’ve taken them on as a client, to make you go, “Oh god, if you get me out of this, I promise I’ll never have anything to do with this client again.” Something that you would specifically tell them not to do or you’d expect them to know better, but they do it anyway and that complicates matters unnecessarily?
It’s important to look after your reputation and maintain your integrity and ethics as a lawyer. Your name is really the only thing that you have. So, if a client does something that could potentially jeopardise that, I would terminate the mandate.
Can you give an example of something you’ve seen on social media that made you go, “It’s obvious that a) so-and-so isn’t taking Intellectual Property Law advice or b) they’re a lawsuit waiting to happen?”
I recently read about a production company that put on a performance they titled, The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical. It was a sold-out concert at the Kennedy Center featuring music, dialogue and dramatic portrayals from the Netflix show.
The posters used at the event even claimed that the BRIDGERTON trademark was used with permission from Netflix. That was always a lawsuit waiting to happen – and it did!
How does something like a pandemic-induced lockdown affect Intellectual Property Law practice & service delivery? Do you go completely virtual? Do clients respect that?
The lockdown resulted in a lot of processes moving online, including court processes and Intellectual Property office registry processes – all of which was beneficial to my practice and firm. We had to go virtual and yes, clients respected and loved it.
To this day, most of my meetings are virtual.
When the existing Intellectual Property Law doesn’t suffice, how do you ensure a good outcome for a client?
If the matter relates to protecting a client’s IP rights, then there may be ways to do so via agreements.
But if the matter relates to a dispute, I’ll usually consider if there are other causes of action that the client can rely on.
If you were starting over in Intellectual Property Law and you had no money or clients, how would you go about it?
When I started out in Intellectual Property Law, I had no money or clients.
Fortunately, a law firm gave me an opportunity to work for them and trained me in the practice of Intellectual Property Law. Over time, I gained experience, built relationships, and delivered good work, which resulted in money and clients.
So I probably would not go about it any differently.