Relocation: What are your thoughts?
Phillipa Field spoke to four attorneys in the IP profession about their experience of relocation, and found that the motivations behind the initial move and the experiences since can be dramatically different.
David Hufton is a senior patent attorney working in the Sheffield office of HGF Ltd. He started his career in-house as a research scientist and engineer before training as a UK and European patent attorney with a London based firm of patent and trade mark attorneys.
I had always assumed I would be an engineer, however after around 5 years in the profession I was beginning to become bored. At the time, my girlfriend was training as a patent attorney in London and as I got to know some of her colleagues and more about what the job involved I decided it sounded a more interesting and challenging choice of career. I regarded London as the best place to be as a trainee simply down to the immediate access to Informals events and the support available from such a critical mass of fellow trainees. However I was never really taken with it as a city. We lived in Chelmsford and I commuted every day and even once my (by then) wife got a new role and we moved to Bedford I still commuted into the city. House prices in London were (and still are) expensive and we didn’t want to be in London for the long term so the options were always going to be to rent or commute.
I felt that the firm I was with at the time couldn’t offer me a definite long term career plan and so we began looking at the regions, Birmingham and York in particular. I moved to York to join HGF mainly because of the firm and the fact that it is a lovely city. We found out we were expecting our first child around the same time and complications meant we decided to temporarily relocate back to London. Regretfully I was unable to move with HGF to their London office and so I left to join another large private practice. I consequently re-joined HGF and moved up to Sheffield.
My client base is not significantly different from my time in London, as the majority of my clients have always been internationally based. It doesn’t matter where you are in the UK, as the majority of contact is remote or travelling to them rather than the other way around. There are perhaps more local clients available to me in Sheffield as we are more visible to them as a firm. My work life balance has changed dramatically. My average commute when I was working in London was around an hour each way on a train, often more and usually stood up, whereas now I can cycle to work in ten minutes. Our house is right on the edge of the Peak District and much nicer than we would have been able to afford in London, even on two patent attorney salaries.
I think the option of relocation is really down to the individual’s circumstances. There are definite advantages for trainees to be in London but I don’t think you need to stay there throughout your career. I do miss some of the CIPA events, for example the monthly drinks in order to catch up with old colleagues. I make an effort to travel down a few times a year, although a lot of people I trained and worked with have now also drifted away from the capital.
Laura West works in Manchester as a Trade Mark Assistant for Mathys & Squire. She relocated to the North in 2013 after working for a large firm of patent and trade mark attorneys in Gloucestershire
I am originally from the Midlands and so when I was applying for my first role in IP, I targeted firms that were fairly local to me. I understood that the industry was very competitive and that I therefore needed to have some level of flexibility in terms of location
The main reason for considering the move to Manchester was the closure of the Cheltenham Office I had worked in since joining the profession. All members of staff were given the option of relocating to Birmingham but the office was a different set up to what I used to, with a bigger team in situ and a different management style. This, along with the fact that living in Birmingham had never appealed to me, encouraged me to make some enquiries to see what else was available. I had no real ties to anywhere in the UK, other than my home town, and so based my decision on the best offer I was given rather than where the role was located. I considered London, as it is the obvious choice and a number of my friends live there; they did what most university graduates do and migrated to the capital once they had gained their degrees. However, I was less inclined to move there as I had heard that expectations of a strict work ethic were common, the cost of living was extremely high and as a result of both of these things, I believed there to be a possibility that I would lose elements of my lifestyle in order to accommodate work commitments. Of course the social life available in London can be fantastic but you need to be able to afford it, something that can be quite difficult on a trainee salary when taking into account the cost of living. I’m confident most of my friends will relocate back out of London in a few years once the pull of the fast paced working lifestyle wears off. In my case, I was looking for a role where I can stay and develop over a longer period of time and I felt a position in the regions would be a better fit. in order to secure a role. As it turned out I was offered two roles around the same time, one in Cheltenham and the other based in Oxford. I chose the role in Cheltenham for a number of reasons, including location and development opportunities.
I was drawn to Manchester by the idea of working for Mathys & Squire, as well as the vibrancy of the city itself. It is perfect for young professionals with huge opportunities to meet new people; in fact I met my boyfriend once I moved here. I joined a house share and instantly had no regrets, I was fairly lonely when I first moved to Cheltenham and this was the complete opposite. I’m in a similar working environment but my lifestyle has vastly improved. Around 50% of our client base is local to Manchester, which is something we’re looking to build upon, and I’m extremely busy with a great deal of responsibility and autonomy entrusted to me.
I would encourage anyone to relocate, if they have the flexibility to do so, as it greatly increases your chances at finding the best fit for you in terms of working environment, mix of clients and support structure. Most people in this industry will have already lived away from home at university which makes the leap a little easier, plus it gives you the opportunity to see new places and meet new people.
It was arguably the biggest decision I had made in my career to date but I have not looked back once.
Dewdney Drew is a Director of Trade Marks for Murgitroyd & Company. He began his IP career with South African law firm, Adams & Adams, before moving to Glasgow in 2001 to train with Murgitroyd & Co. He has been based in their Croydon Office since 2006 and the London City office since 2012.
My passion for the law goes way back but it was only during vacation work at South African law firm Adams & Adams, that my interest in the trade mark profession started to develop. In South Africa, all IP lawyers must first qualify as attorneys (solicitors) and then further specialise. I joined Adams & Adams to serve my articles of clerkship and worked in various departments, including trade marks before deciding to move on. It is common for South African professionals to seek international experience and as an English South African, the UK was a natural choice. I was fortunate to secure a position with Murgitroyd & Company, a then up and coming boutique IP practice on the cusp of listing on the London Stock Exchange. Unlike the bulk of South Africans arriving in the UK, my first port of call was not London but Glasgow … in February! It was in Scotland, under the rigorous tutelage of one of the founding partners of the firm, that I was to learn the tricks of the British trade and requalify as a UK trade mark attorney.
The acquisition by Murgitroyd of the Castles practice afforded me the opportunity to move to sunnier climes and the move to London during the heatwave of 2006 was a happy coincidence! Unlike in Glasgow, where I had been the first trade marks only recruit in a firm of patent attorneys, Castles was a predominantly trade marks practice and the opportunities for experience were great. I was also keen to move to London, a city I had visited many times in my childhood.
The move to London started paying off immediately in terms of experience and in no time I found myself in amongst the music and entertainment industry, amongst others, doing very interesting work. I have found my client base to reflect the cities that I have worked in. I have built up extensive experience in the whisky business and in financial services, due to my time in Scotland. London has afforded me the opportunity to work in the music and entertainment industry, as well as serving some of the large companies headquartered here. I would not expect to have been able to gain this experience as easily, had I not been in these locations.
I have found that UK practice allows a much better work life balance. The South African profession appears to be closer to US practice, where weekends at the office for example, are common. British trade mark practice seems to follow a more balanced approach. As my client base increases and I gain more seniority within the firm, I do however find the balance tipping ever more towards work, especially following the establishment of our City of London office. Broadly speaking, a regional office is probably better for a work life balance, if only due to being able to avoid the London commute, which will easily add at least a couple hours to your working day, usually more. In terms of experience, it is certainly true that one can work with London clients from other parts of the UK and I did so for many years in Glasgow. The difference, I suppose, is that by being in London, one is better placed to spend more time with your clients face to face and get to understand their way of thinking and their needs. This also makes for better rapport.
I would most definitely recommend relocation to IP professionals working in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, as there is a very different approach to IP in Europe and the US. The experience would be immensely beneficial and allow you to gain an international perspective on the industry in which you work. Being on the ground in a place like London should allow you to work with very interesting clients and to do so on a closer basis. If work life balance is the main priority, locations such as Glasgow or York may be better suited, as they tend not to have such demanding commutes and still provide the opportunity to work with a range of clients.
Our next contributor is a UK and European qualified patent attorney currently working in the Sheffield office of a growing firm. His IP career to date has involved working overseas in Japan and in London before settling down in Yorkshire in 2010.
I first got into patents after seeing a role based in Japan. The idea of visiting had always appealed to me as I found the country fascinating and so I decided to apply and was consequently offered the job. I was there for a just under four years; however it was becoming increasingly more difficult to make the journey home to see family and friends due to strict holiday allocations and so I decided it was time to move on. I had heard positive things about working in London from some UK patent attorneys I had met whilst in Japan and I assumed at the time that in order to stay in IP I would have to find a role based in the city.
Unfortunately I was made redundant during the economic downturn of 2009 and the other options available to me at that time were extremely limited, resulting in me having to widen my search to include those a little further afield. I was rather reluctant to move too far north as I had no connections or an established support network, however in the end I ended up moving to Sheffield to work for my current employer on the advice of my friends and family.
I don’t feel that my work life balance has changed dramatically since relocating as I have a working style reminiscent of my time in Japan and tend to work later than my colleagues, although other people do tend to leave earlier than what is probably considered the norm in London. I still have an internationally focused client base, but it is mostly US work now rather than Japanese, and I do have more locally based clients - but this could be down to how the new work is distributed across the practice rather than me being based in the regions.
Sheffield has a huge student population with a great deal going on. Of course there was plenty to do in London, but the cost of living did warrant some restrictions on how much you could do and how often. It is fantastic to have the Peak District on your doorstop and an abundance of parks available to you. Our house is much nicer than what we would have been able to afford if we had stayed in London and I have a number of colleagues who moved up here specifically for the lower cost of living and in order to settle down to start (or spend more time with) their family.
I think the merits of relocation can depend on the firm you are joining, or moving offices with. I find it difficult to get to CIPA events and can imagine it may be difficult for some trainees early in their career as there is less of a pool of fellow trainees to learn and develop with. My firm is extremely flexible and accommodates as many of my CPD activities as they can, but jumping on a train for two hours is a little different than a quick walk or tube stop.
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