Mallesons Stephen Jaques' partner Natalie Hickey speaks to Kate Gibbs about IP and the GFC
You are a partner in the dispute resolution practice in the Melbourne office of Mallesons. What does your average work day look like?
There are usually one or two large disputes on the go with a range of smaller matters that underpin that. I help lead our trademarks practice. In my usual day there is also the important opportunity to mentor my team members. At the moment the hours have been long. I'm working on a large piece of litigation at the moment so we're working on our evidence preparation. So the hours at the moment probably don't bear thinking about, at least 10 to 12 hours a day.
How has dispute resolution work fared in the global economic downturn?
Dispute resolution work, and IP work, continues to be strong. I have been a practitioner who has gone through a few cycles. Dispute resolution bears up well in an unpredictable climate. Dispute work doesn't involve as much prior planning by a business. In fact it really involves contentious issues which arise from business relationships that are rarely planned for.
So in some respects dispute resolution work can be more unpredictable, you don't know when it's coming in. But on the other hand it's less affected by the downturn. In relation to smaller matters, my observation is that more of that work is being handled in-house at the moment. I have observed a growing will to try and settle long-running disputes at the moment. We're not really focusing on the downturn at the moment, just because we've integrated the IP work into the dispute resolution and the M&A group within Mallesons. The move has been in the pipeline for a while. Our clients frequently restructure to refresh the business and that is what we've done here.
Do you see a shift in the way lawyers are working as a result of the GFC?
It's not a question of observing much change in terms of our behaviour. Our clients are more cost sensitive, so there is more pressure to come up with innovative initiatives. It's about being more aware of what's happening and being sensitive to that. I don't see anything more fundamental than that.
What are the biggest challenges facing lawyers in your practice area?
My practice area is IP and speaking personally it's important not to become too niche. We love pigeonholing people and their expertise. While it should be recognised, we must maintain our broader focus on the law. Often issues arise that are totally unrelated to IP law, so it's important to maintain a broad interest in the law.
Are law firms demanding this more than they used to?
I don't know. When I was at university I was reluctant to pigeonhole myself. Law firms will always try and have specialist areas, but I don't know to what extent that may have increased. It's important that we keep a broad outlook in the law no matter what it is we decide to do.
What is the most interesting deal you've worked on?
Definitely Cadbury Purple has been a great case. Another great case was a patent matter against Wrigley's regarding chewing gum.
How has your relationship with in-house counsel changed over the past year, if at all?
It really helps having honest conversations about business conditions with in-house counsel. I have found this year it's really important to demonstrate flexibility and help the business work through tough times. If I were in-house counsel I would be concerned to see firms back away as work drops off, only to see they come back when work improves.
Did you always plan to work in a top tier firm? Did you expect to work at Mallesons?
Never. At university I studied things like human rights law, feminist legal theory and international law. So I always thought I would go to the Bar. When I finished my uni degree I did my articles at Arnold Bloch Leibler. I am glad they gave me that opportunity because I am not sure whether I wouldn't have been employed by a large law firm. After a couple of years at ABL I transferred to Mallesons and I have been there since 1995. Why be at Mallesons for so long? I do have a passion for the law and the quality of the work you get at Mallesons is second to none. It's great having matters that do end up in the newspapers. I get great support and ultimately it always comes down to the people.