Kirsteen completed an undergraduate Chemistry degree at the University of Aberdeen, and a PhD in Organic Synthesis at the University of Cambridge before joining the patent profession in 2001. She now works as a Managing Partner at Marks & Clerk's Cambridge office.
I would never have imagined that I would be a Managing Partner in one of the UK’s largest Intellectual Property firms.
I grew up in a tiny village in rural Scotland and wanted to be a PE teacher. I don’t think I’d heard the term “Intellectual Property”, and I thought the word “patent” only described a type of leather, until I was at University. I did, however, always enjoy both scientific and literary subjects, which I think was the first clue that the Patent Attorney profession would suit me well.
I started work as a Trainee Patent Attorney in London in 2001 and qualified as both a European and UK Patent Attorney in 2004 (I was fortunate enough to pass my qualifying exams first time!). I moved to the Cambridge office of Marks & Clerk LLP in 2008 and became a Partner later that year. In 2016 I became Managing Partner of the Cambridge office. Along the way, I have been on maternity leave twice, and worked part-time for a number of years.
Why did you choose a career as a Patent Attorney?
During my undergraduate study, I really enjoyed the intellectual challenge of understanding chemistry and science in general, so I decided to do a PhD. However, I found research mundane and I spent the majority of my time repeating experiments, doing scale ups or running chromatography columns and very little time actually thinking. I did, however, enjoy writing about science. By chance, a friend was a Patent Attorney and when she told me what the job entailed, I knew I would enjoy it. The role appealed to me as I could:
• Read and think about science without having to do any “practical” science
• Learn something new, i.e. the law
• Have a structured career path
• Have a good work/life balance
What do you enjoy most about your job?
This has changed over the years. When I was a Trainee, I really enjoyed learning how to apply the law to real life situations and learning the various skills of a Patent Attorney. I can still clearly remember how pleased I was when I filed the first patent application that I had drafted. During this period, I also liked the collegiality of being part of a large group of Trainee Patent Attorneys, enjoying many sociable evenings in London. Once I qualified, I loved learning how to run my own portfolio of clients and gained a lot of satisfaction from being able to provide a great service to them.
When I became a Partner, I started doing a significant amount of very complicated due diligence work to support clients with the launch of commercial products, which was an exciting challenge. I also started to build up my own team of Trainee Attorneys and became increasingly involved in the firm’s business development efforts. Over the years, my team has grown and my involvement in the firm as a whole has expanded. I now enjoy seeing Attorneys and Trainees whom I have trained doing great work and building client relationships of their own. Marks & Clerk has also allowed me to put into practice some of my own business development ideas, and I make regular visits to the US and have been involved in numerous tenders for the firm. I now have a formal management role and naturally gain satisfaction when our office, or any of our team, perform particularly well!
What would you like to achieve in the future?
Lots! Looking out towards our clients and prospective clients, I would like to continue to improve the service we offer and develop new and interesting offerings. Looking internally, I would love to gain a position on the Marks & Clerk Board of Management so I can have a greater influence on how we run our firm. This would be a great position from which to drive through new initiatives such as increasing the number of secondments between our international offices, and further improving flexible working arrangements for our employees and Partners. I’d particularly like to help encourage and motivate young women entering the profession today to strive to reach the top – it is achievable! At Marks & Clerk we already recruit a significantly higher proportion of female trainees than the percentage of women graduating with STEM degrees in the UK, but we are working to improve this further.
Advice for anyone wanting to get into the industry
We receive a large number of CVs for each trainee position we offer, and a large proportion of these CVs are from students with very strong academic track records. To stand out, it is important to write a well-structured and clear covering letter – make sure it is well organised and to the point, and free from spelling and grammatical errors (ask someone to proof read it for you!). When it comes to the interview, it is important to do all the basics right, i.e. be on time, do your research on the firm and interviewers, etc. Technical ability is crucial, but we are also looking for candidates who will work well within our teams and who will be able to communicate well with clients. It is therefore important to be yourself, be engaging, and try to connect with those interviewing you.