From the print room to NQ: interview with newly qualified solicitor Paul Sweeden

sweeden_paul_webPaul Sweeden is among our most recent cohort of Newly Qualified solicitors (NQs) in London. He first joined Bird & Bird in 1996 and has taken a fascinating path to becoming a lawyer. We spoke to him about his route to qualification, favourite experiences at Bird & Bird and ambitions for the future.

Tell us about your path to becoming a Bird & Bird trainee.

I decided to leave school at the age of 16 back in 1995. My exam results were not as good as I had hoped them to be, so I went in search of work and landed my first job in the print room at Bird & Bird. At the time I think we had less than 20 partners at the firm and had just opened our first office outside the UK, in Brussels. How things have moved on since then! During that time I took an interest in reading some of the papers that I was photocopying and was keen to progress and learn more about the law.

In 1999 the senior IP paralegal offered me a job as a paralegal assistant, doing the archiving, delivering documents to chambers and so on which gave me the opportunity to get more involved. I was delighted if not a little scared to be working on one of the legal floors in close proximity to all these highly skilled lawyers who I’d come to admire from my time working in the print room.

Over the following few years I took on more challenging work, and I received the backing from some amazing members of the IP department, giving me the confidence to study part-time for eight years to qualify as a Chartered Legal Executive. As I progressed through this qualification I started to realise I did actually have the ability to achieve academically if I put my mind to it…  as my confidence increased and I was being given more challenging work I wanted to achieve more.

After qualifying as a legal executive and achieving top of the year grades in my IP exam, I was offered the chance to study the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and the Legal Practice Course (LPC).  I studied the GDL part time for two years and then left for six months to study the fast track LPC.  At every stage I was always questioning whether I would stand up to the next exam, the next position, the next challenge.  It may be a cliché but what I have learnt is if you want to achieve something and you put everything into it you can eventually reach your goals.

The support, not just to allow me to take the exams, but to provide the practical working elements for me to develop as a lawyer, was really important. I gained so much support from Katharine Stephens, Lynne Walters, Lorna Brazell, Helen Conlan and Nick Vanson during this time and since then from so many others within the department.

After completing my IP exam, the team actively looked at ways for me to use the knowledge I had gained, whilst not interrupting my paralegal commitments.  I was permitted to produce a double page case review for the Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys (“ITMA”) magazine, ITMA Review, as well as providing regular copyright advice to a University. The highlight was when I was permitted to work on a pro-bono case for South Westminster Legal Advice Centre, preparing all the evidence and representing the individual in court in Exeter against a claimant who had a full legal team, a case which we won.

What was your favourite moment during your three seats?

Walking back into the firm as a trainee after being away for six months (although maybe that was the scariest moment!). Various moments during my first big trial in the patents court have to rank as some of the best. It was an intense three months preparing for and attending trial, and it was an extremely important case for one of our biggest clients in IP, so to get the right result and to be part of that team, felt amazing.

What did you learn during your other seats?

During my first seat in DR I gained experience in a variety of different working dynamics. A lot of my seat involved reviewing disclosure in large teams. The scale of these tasks was challenging, but knowing you could uncover a key bit of evidence amongst the tens of thousands of documents you are reviewing, kept you motivated and taught me the importance of large disclosure reviews and the need to manage large amounts of statistical evidence. By contrast I worked on a case in the small claims court. As this was a small claim we wanted to make sure the client’s costs were minimal, so I had day to day control with limited supervision. It was valuable experience to work on big scale cases in large teams and then turn to small matters where you get to engage with clients and have more control over the next steps that are taken.

What attracted you to IP as a practice area?

The fact IP can play a very important and sometimes decisive role in the success of a business, whether that be protecting the branding of a product which is key to attracting its customers or protecting or attacking patents which enables the business to cash in on its inventions. A big attraction also is the fact that you’re dealing with clients who have the most innovative ideas and products in the market as well as advising some of the world’s leading brands in different sectors, make it an exciting area of law to work in, especially so at Bird & Bird.

What are your main objectives for your NQ year?

I’m looking forward to learning more about the strategy used to advise on complex IP issues. With that in mind I’m hoping to provide more input on matters and increase my value to clients in the advice we are providing as a team.