Dr Charles Brabin – Barrister working in Intellectual Property Law

What led you to your career as an intellectual property lawyer?

People are often surprised to hear about a career transition from science to law.  There certainly are differences but, particularly when it comes to intellectual property, there is also significant overlap and science graduates are often well-suited to the work.

After my PhD working on stem cell genetics in C. elegans, I spent a year studying for the law conversion course.  Then followed a further year on the Bar course (the name of which changes on a regular basis: as at the time of writing, it is the ‘Bar Practice Course’).  The Bar course is specific to students (whether they studied law for undergrad or took the conversion course) who want to practise as barristers.  For students who want to practise as solicitors, there is the Legal Practice Course, or LPC.  For those who want to become barristers, there is then the challenge of finding pupillage; for solicitors, finding a training contract. For patent attorneys, the route is different again.

Do you think people with postgraduate degrees in Biological Sciences have an ‘edge’ that means they are particularly employable and/or sought after in your profession?

For every case, the rigorous approach you developed during your time in research will be invaluable and this is reflected in the value that is placed on a scientific background during the recruitment process.  For completeness, it is also worth pointing out that a science background is not always a requirement; what is important is being able to show you can apply your mind to complex problems, and a science background is a good way of demonstrating this.

Do you feel as though your postgraduate degree has provided you with skills and expertise you now use in your current profession that you otherwise would not have developed?  If so, what are they? 

Perhaps the most important asset from spending several years in research is the ‘scientific approach’ – the ability to deal with complex sets of facts, to apply a logical, analytical approach, to pay attention to detail and to be able to communicate effectively.  Whilst it may be that you end up working on a case very closely aligned with your area of research, this is likely to be the exception rather than the rule.  There is also a real emphasis on advocacy – written as well as oral – and so on communication skills.

Additionally, anything else you care to mention about your work…

It is often hard to know how much you would like a job without having done it, or without having much information about what is involved on a day-to-day basis.  Actually doing every job you might be interested in obviously presents some practical issues, so how to get the experience?  Mini-pupillages are one option whereby it is possible to shadow a barrister (or a few) for a couple of days.  These are really useful for getting a feel for the work and for the lifestyle associated with it, as well as the general atmosphere of chambers.  Another option is to spend some time at court.  For IP, for example, London is the ‘hub’, with IP cases taking place every day in the Courts, such as the High Court in the Rolls Building.  Generally members of the public can sit at the back of the court and watch what is going on and how things work.  Even the local Crown Court or Magistrates’ Court, though, are worth visiting.  They won’t be dealing with patent cases, of course, and the work practised at the criminal bar is very different to that practised at the IP bar, but you will still get a feel for, for example, the differences between barristers and solicitors and whether the advocacy role appeals.