Episode 7: Intellectual Property Lawyer Lachlan Sadler

INTRO

Leah Alysandratos (FAME Careers and Sponsorship Coordinator): Hello and welcome to the FAME Law Students’ Association’s podcast: The Brief. For the uninitiated, FAME sands for the Film, Art, Media, and Entertainment. The FAME LSA is a group of students from Melbourne Law School who are passionate about the arts and culture.

In this podcast series, we chat with lawyers and artists working in the creative industries, learning about their daily work, career development, and topical issues facing the industry.

In today’s episode, we chat to Lachlan Sadler from Davies Collison Cave, a Melbourne Law School alumnus. Lachlan has significant experience in the world of trademark and patent litigation, and is highly knowledgeable in intellectual property law. Lachlan tells us the story of how he went from music reviews and journalism, into the law, and along the way, provided invaluable insight and advice into how to navigate law school, tips and tricks to feel confident in your work and career trajectory, and why the skills you learn now will translate into the workforce. As we go into the assessment-heavy part of the semester, we hope you enjoy this incredibly helpful and warming episode.

Leah: To begin with I wanted to first ask you, can you tell us what drew you into practising commercial law and specifically law in the arts, marketing, and media sectors?

Lachlan: So towards the end of high school and during my undergraduate degree I was obsessed with music and ran my own music websites. I fancied myself becoming a music journalist sometime down the line and that’s what caused me to do my undergrad as a media communications degree at Melbourne, with one eye on doing that. I was interested in the media law aspects of it as well and studied that as a part of that undergrad. 

Towards the end of my undergrad degree I started developing quite severe tinnitus caused by going to so many music gigs, so that closed the door to the music journalism group that I’ve been eyeing.

I had also been keeping an eye on law as a possible future as something that I’ve been interested in and studied during high school and then as I said, that subject during the undergrad degree, and I saw this area of law in particular as a way of kind of combining those interests that I had in in music, in the arts, in those type of industries, and applying that to the legal context. So as a result of that I ended up going through the JD at Melbourne and then ended up with the current role in intellectual property law. 

Leah: Fantastic, it’s really interesting to hear because a lot of the people involved in FAME do come from similar creatively rooted backgrounds – even myself, I come from the VCA, I did the Bachelor of Music, so I can definitely relate when it comes to wanting to pursue that kind of line of music journalism and then realising maybe the world hasn’t got me destined for that at the moment, it’s really fascinating. 

As a Melbourne JD graduate would you be able to share with us some of the experiences and opportunities you engaged in while studying that helps direct this career path, for example, competitions you engaged in or anything else?

Lachlan:  To be honest I didn’t do a huge amount of those extracurricular activities throughout the postgrad degree. I really did focus on things outside of uni, things like the music website that I kept up and when I wasn’t able to do that, my transition into writing reviews of movies often and things like that, personal hobbies that are tangentially relevant to the career but certainly not the competition law and mooting and all those things. 

I found that it gave me some interesting things to put on my resume when it came time to do those clerkship applications and I think I really benefited from that. And I think it does show that there’s not that one size fits all approach, not everyone is going to want to be doing all these opportunities that are thrown at you throughout uni, it can be a bit overwhelming at times. So for the people who do that, it’s fantastic, but for some they aren’t necessarily interesting, and there’s certainly other routes you can take. For me, they are doing those more personal hobbies, and I actually found it really beneficial having that opening discussion when I got to the stage of interviews and having something interesting to talk about within the industry really helped. 

I will say that I did the clerkship programme in my penultimate year and that was very helpful so I definitely would recommend for people that are interested in pursuing the commercial law avenue for their career that that is a really good way of getting some practical experience. I went for a few different clerkships and ended up at a few different firms and it gives you a really good idea of how the day-to-day life of being a lawyer works, so not only is it a useful way of getting your foot in the door for an employer, but also in terms of determining whether you want to do this for rest of your professional career. I think it’s very helpful.

Leah: That is really comforting advice for someone like me who has not yet (because I’m in first year) been able to engage in many of those competitions or scholarship opportunities, but as someone who has a lot of personal creative hobbies and things that they like to do, knowing that that can still really help that process of getting a job or experience in the application is really nice to know, because you wouldn’t think of it.

Lachlan: That’s obviously not to say that some firms aren’t going to be interested in someone that doesn’t have that type of experience and doesn’t have the top grades, everyone is going to be looking for something different but certainly there are those different routes open for people. 

I certainly felt throughout my uni sometimes that it’s represented as this one pathway for you, which is doing all this extra curricular activity, volunteering, doing the clerkships, becoming a paralegal, doing all this work and that’s the only way to be successful and the only way to get a job in this highly competitive environment. I mean that definitely works for some people but won’t work for other people and it certainly isn’t that one size fits all approach it’s sometimes made out to be.

Leah: That makes me feel so much better, that really helps. 

Moving on to a different topic now, you do have experience in trademark and patent litigation before the federal court in Melbourne and Sydney, that’s really exciting. Many of our student listeners do think about going down litigation advocacy routes as they engage in these competitions at law school, as I’m sure you remember. Are there practical aspects of this work that you’ve picked up on in the job and is there something that you don’t learn in law school that might be important to be conscious of when working litigation?

Lachlan: I personally haven’t done any advocacy work. I’ve appeared as instructing solicitor in a few trials in Sydney and Melbourne. The thing you really don’t realise when you’re studying this case law right now is just how much work that goes into these things. My first trial was a half-day hearing – so nothing really and certainly nothing compared to some of these patent disputes that can be weeks and weeks and weeks in court – and even just that half-day was a monumental amount of work, both in terms of legal work and just organisational work. So I think the faster you come to terms with just how much is involved in getting these cases running, the better it is for you in terms of practical skills that you don’t really think about uni.

I think the biggest thing for me is a junior solicitor a lot of your work is shadow writing material that gets sent out by a partner or that gets sent out to barristers to be settled, so you’re not ultimately the person signing off on it as the junior, and I think there’s a real skill there in developing your writing style to match the expectations and the style of the person who is going to be ultimately sending that advice or that correspondence. We didn’t really cover that during my university work at all but it’s a very important skill that you need to pick up on quite quickly. Particularly in bigger firms doing work for multiple partners you really do need to compartmentalise your work for each partner and think ‘this person likes it worked on this way so I need to adapt my style for that’, but then you’ll get some work from someone else and it needs to shift a bit, and that’s quite a difficult skill that took me a while to get my head around. So I think if there’s any way that people can work on that and come to terms with that quickly, it will definitely help in those early days as a junior lawyer. 

Leah: I had no idea that was part of the job, that’s really interesting, so you really have to be working on your time management skills as well and that adaptability aspect comes in there.  

Lachlan: Time management skills are another really big thing and in that regard just communicating effectively as well, every junior lawyer has been in the position of just having too much work and knowing that they’re going to be delivering something later than they would like to.

I think the important thing there is just learning early on that you it can be a difficult conversation to have with a partner, particularly if you’re new and just starting somewhere, it can be a bit intimidating, but it’s always better better to communicate that clearly and as soon as possible that you won’t be able to meet those expectations. Explain why, put in an alternate timeline or suggest someone else who might be able to help in your absence.

I learned very quickly that you don’t do anyone favours by trying to rush through all this work and get it done quickly, you really want to be doing a careful job with everything and a big part of that is communicating effectively to the people doing that work. 

Leah: It’s one thing to be punctual and on the ball all the time but it’s another, an arguably slightly more important thing, to be transparent about being able to make those time frames and those obligations and making sure they know where your capacity is at, but still doing your best to spider. It’s interesting that there’s a weird balance there, you don’t want to be burning the candle at both ends if you don’t have to be.

Lachlan: That’s right, during the first clerkship I did, my mentor there described it quite well to me, they said that it takes a little bit of bravery now to avoid a lot of uncomfortable situations later. It’s just picking up the phone or making that quick call and any partner is going to be completely understanding in that position, so it’s just having the confidence to do that early on and avoiding the problems that can be caused by rushing the job.

Leah: That’s a great piece of advice actually, I’ll have to save that quote you just said, it’s really helpful. 

On the topic of these sort of skills, with your current work in intellectual property, what would you consider to be the essential skills and qualities of an IP lawyer and any more advice you have for law students interested in intellectual property, trademark, and commercial law, other than some of that time management and transparency with seniors – what else would you say are some essential qualities and skills?

Lachlan: It’s quite interesting that the science undergrad degree is seen as a prerequisite. I know some firms advertise it as a necessary prerequisite, other firms advertise it as a want to have but not necessary attribute in people they are looking to hire. I don’t have a science background obviously, I mentioned I did that journalism undergrad degree which hasn’t been that helpful, it touches on some similar areas but certainly hasn’t been as helpful as a science degree, for example, would be when you’re staring down at a complicated pharmaceutical patent or chemical patent or something like that. 

That was certainly one of my concerns going into into IP without that science background but the good thing I’ve discovered anyway is that the benefit of working there is that if there’s ever anything you don’t understand, which is bound to happen, there’s going to be an expert in that area who is either working on the matter or works for the same firm or someone you can get in touch with who will be able to explain to you quite clearly. It’s also beneficial in some regards to have no science background because often part of the case will be needing to explain these concepts to someone without a science background so you can be a useful sounding board there. But certainly to people who are looking to get into IP a science degree is very very helpful, particularly when you are faced with one of the biggest areas for IP which is  pharmaceutical patents (because that’s where a lot of the litigation work is, because that’s where a lot of the money is), a science degree is enormously helpful there. But I don’t have a science degree and have worked on some pharmaceutical cases. Some of the senior principals at my firm don’t have science degrees but are some of the most well respected pharmaceutical patent practitioners in Australia, so there really isn’t that limitation there as it might appear when you’re looking to apply for clerkships and see a lot of forms asking whether you have that science degree or not. So there’s that aspect of it in terms of useful legal skills.

I think now the most important things are just a good grasp of the fundamentals because it is a relatively complex area of law. I’d say you have not only the technical aspects of, for example, dealing with pharmaceutical products or these complicated patents, but then you have relatively complex law and pretty fast developing law as well. There have been some major changes that come through even since I started and I’m always amazed at the number of times we’ve run a case involving a section of legislation that just hasn’t been litigated before and no one seems to really know what it means, so having that solid foundation of interpretation of statutes. One of my other cases involved a lot of admin law, there’s a lot of property law involved, although a different type of property, and certainly a lot of contracts. A lot of cases are run on a dual basis of breach of contract and some type of IP action so all these subjects that are studied during uni that I didn’t think I would have any need for whatsoever have proven really helpful.  So certainly, the stronger your grasp with that can be you’ll be in good stead throughout a career in IP Law. 

Leah: Interesting, so definitely don’t underestimate the core subjects you have to undertake because there’s a reason why they’re core subjects, they just come up everywhere.

Lachlan: That’s exactly right, I didn’t expect that. Some of those subjects that I didn’t think would be any use have been some of the most useful ones. I did trademarks as an elective at Melbourne Uni and that kind of cemented my real interest in this area, it was a really fascinating subject and very well taught there as well, but I actually didn’t end up doing the patent subject – it’s just the way my course structure ended up. I was planning on doing it in semester one and it was offered in semester two instead. Obviously if you’re interested in Victorian IP law do these elective subjects but if, for whatever reason, you miss out on it it’s also not the end of the world, and you pick up on that law very very quickly once you end up in the field just out of necessity. 

Leah: And like you said, you seem to have a lot of support and guidance from seniors in your experience, so don’t be afraid to go to them if you want that help, you’re not going to look dumb, they’re there for you, that’s really nice to know as well. 

Lachlan: These people have so much experience and often are very very willing to share that experience with you. It doesn’t have to be senior partners but even other relatively junior lawyers who have been in the field for three or four years will have a lot of interesting experience as well. We work with a lot of patent attorneys and trademark attorneys and they’re people who specialise just in this area obviously so they have a huge amount of knowledge, so it’s very helpful having those resources to draw on. Although one of my first purchases was a patents law textbook because I felt I needed to catch up a bit 

Leah: I love that, I love the humility behind that. That’s very fair though, it’s not as if you’re going to retain every single piece of specific knowledge from every single subject you did that might be relative to what you’re doing one day at work, so I think it’s very fair to buy a few textbooks. You do often seen in the background of some teachers zooms that they’ve got all these textbooks on bookshelves 

Lachlan: It’s a very well worn textbook now. 

Leah: My next question I had for you was if you had any more suggestions for students trying to balance their studies, especially when trying to build their experience to enter the workplace? I know a lot of students and myself that are searching for positions where you volunteer in legal community centres, a lot of students are looking for legal assistants and paralegal jobs, there are others going for clerkships. For those that will be working at the same time as studying, do you have any particular words of wisdom for that time management and that life work balance?

Lachlan: It’s really tricky and as I said, I wasn’t someone who jumped head first into some of those opportunities and I think it really is just a case of finding what works for you. Don’t get caught up in needing to do every single thing, people are going to get burned out doing that before they have even started their career. Find a balance that works for you. Find a combination of focusing on your lectures and on your classes because good grades are still an important aspect of the job application in this industry, so find time to focus on that. Enjoy the social aspects of uni, which I kind of took for granted at the time. If you’re someone who enjoys the moots and the mock interviews and all that, that stuff looks great on the resume, any legal experience whatsoever looks great, but it really is just about knowing that there isn’t that one size fits all approach and it really is finding something that works for you and that you’re going to enjoy doing it and going to be able to live with doing it throughout the course of your career. 

Then when it comes time to apply for clerkships or job interviews, the benefit of doing that as well is that you’re likely more likely to end up at a firm that values what you value as well and how you want to be spending your time, rather than if you try to put up this false pretence throughout uni, doing all these things that don’t interest you. You won’t end up doing a great job with them and the type of firm that’s going to be attracted to you is probably somewhere where you might not necessarily want to work. So as cliche as it sounds, find a balance of doing what you enjoy combined with the things that you just have to do in order to get a leg up in the industry, and then be honest with your clerkship applications or whatever it comes to. I think if you’ve done a good job of that, there will be firms out there that absolutely value things like running this organisation or, in my case, reviewing movies or running a music website, those things that aren’t traditional legal pulls in the resume. Employers out there really do value that.

Leah: As you just said, there’s never a need to feel guilty or upset if you’re setting a bit of time aside to do something related to your hobby and related to you as a person and your interests, because you’re doing that for yourself but coincidentally it can become an asset to your applications as they see a bit of personality behind the grades and the competitions and the extra experience. It’s almost a leg up in a different way, like you said before, which is really nice to know. It’s comforting to know that you don’t have to fit this perfect mould that you feel a constant pressure to be inside perfectly. 

Lachlan: Any way you can find the line combining the things that you know you’re really passionate about and interested in with the legal industry, and drawing some links between that, is a really great way of going about making resumes stand out. 

I think if you’re interested in helping out the community there’s a huge range of pro bono opportunities out there you can do whilst you’re still in law school. 

For me it was things like you know writing articles about music law issues, for example. Combine those interests and just any way you can pull those strings together in a way that makes you desirable  to an employer, while still keeping yourself interested in doing the things you love and things you really enjoy, I think is a great approach to university.

Leah: Do you see yourself pursuing, later on down the track of your career, jobs that are rooted more in music law and all those interests that you have, or you quite enjoying where you’ve come to now, that has sort of collected them together?

Lachlan: Very, very happy with where I am now. I don’t do a huge amount of that type of music and movie law but there are matters here and there. I’ve done some advice that involves those aspects of law and certainly have had the opportunity to speak on those types of areas and explore those areas more, like trying to grow business in those areas, and I’m very grateful for that. 

But the areas like the trademark law and patent law, which have some overlap with media law but aren’t necessarily the same thing, I’ve proven to really enjoy even if that wasn’t what pulled me towards this industry and this career in the first place. I find that in these types of areas, once you get kind of a hold on the basics, some of the complexities are really fascinating and the way all those laws are developing to take into account what we’re seeing now with streaming and online developments, piracy, and things like that are really fascinating. I find the area as a whole very interesting and I do a wide range of work across the area, including some transactional behind-the-scenes stuff and a bit of litigation work as well. So for the foreseeable future I’m very happy keeping that balance.

Leah: So even if it isn’t the original motivational pull from the very beginning, it’s still uncovered all these areas that you really enjoy working on, that’s really nice. It’s not just adapting, it’s just ‘I purely enjoy this and everything it’s opened me up too’.

Lachlan: And then as I said, the trademarks subject I studied at university was quite big in that regard, and that was probably my favourite subject I did throughout uni and certainly a big factor in leading to that career path. I had no experience whatsoever with patents, haven’t read a patent before I started the job but it is one of those really interesting areas of law, where you’re working with cutting edge inventions and interesting inventors and everything. I’m grateful for the fact that I can walk through the office and see these bizarre contraptions and inventions sitting on everyone’s desks, it’s a very interesting area to be working in, very much enjoying it.

Leah: Now I’m just imagining these big, weird looking inventions on peoples desks.

Lachlan: It’s a combination of that and dodgy trade goods that have been trademarked or something like that just lying around the office, so pretty interesting walking through in the morning. 

Leah: I think you’ve convinced me to take Trademarks now, I think I’m going to pop it in my study plan.

I only had one more question for you and this is a fun one that we ask everyone, but can you tell us what your favourite legal movie or TV show is?

Lachlan: I feel like criminal law gets all the cool movies. Some of my favourite movies are the classic criminal law movies – Judgement at Nuremberg, Witness for the Prosecution, Anatomy of a Murder, 12 Angry Men, absolute favourites. In terms of civil law, there was a recent movie, Dark Waters, about several lawsuits in America where the lawyers are the good guys which is always nice to see. I grew up on a healthy diet of Boston Legal

Leah: Every single lawyer has mentioned Boston Legal, every single one. 

Lachlan: Our first university class they had everyone go around the room and mention their favourite lawyer, either fictional or non-fictional, there’s an even split between James Spader’s character from Boston Legal, Alan Shaw, and characters from Suits. 

Leah: Of course, it’s either Boston Legal or Suits, it depends on which generation you come from or which generation you’re influenced by, I love it. 

Thank you so much for joining us today Lachlan, this has been a great interview and you really comforted me with a lot of your advice. As a first year student from a non conventional legal background it’s really great to hear I don’t have to fit a mould so thank you. 

Lachlan: No worries at all, my pleasure, thanks for having me.

OUTRO

Leah: You’ve been listening to The Brief with FAME LSA. This episode was hosted by Leah Alysandratos. The theme song and sound was produced by Leah Alysandratos. A very big thank you to Delwyn Everard for chatting with us and please check out her podcast, Running the Show, for more. Special thanks to Matthew Healy, Caiti Galwey, and Catherine Chincarini for producing the transcript available on our website. Thanks also to all past and present FAME LSA committee members and ambassadors for their support. And thanks to you for listening! 

If you want to hear or learn more about FAME LSA, like us on Facebook and Instagram, or visit our website at famelsa.com. If you’re a lawyer working in the film, art, media, publishing or entertainment space and want to get involved with FAME, we’d love to hear from you. Send us an email at general.famelsa@gmail.com.

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