Peter English, a founding partner, interviewed with EaMMa about his role in Surry Partners. EaMMa is a national directory that collates the details of companies within the entertainment industries and media and communications industries.
He sat down with Daniel Roe in May 2015;
How did you begin your career in Media and Intellectual Property Law?
Working in a mid-size city law firm with a partner who a number of clients in the fashion industry. The work involved trade mark licensing, manufacturing and distribution agreement advice, joint venture and shareholder agreements, marketing and advertising advice, with a focus on relevant consumer law issues.
What does a typical day consist of in your role?
Advising clients entering into commercial arrangements – which includes drafting, reviewing and editing various forms of commercial agreements. This often involves looking at provisions that deal with IP licensing and IP creation. A typical day will also involve advising clients who are involved, or who fear they are about to become involved in, a dispute over their commercial arrangements. The earlier we are involved, the more successful we have been in resolving those disputes through a range of formal and informal alternate dispute resolution processes. It is an approach which often saves time and money.
What has been the biggest challenge in your career?
Building a professional services firm which balances the needs and expectations of clients, against the need and expectations of staff. The key to building a successful IP practice is to have quality staff to whom you can provide quality work. Keeping staff engaged and providing them with a career path in a smaller practice is a constant, but rewarding, challenge.
How often does your organisation offer clerkships or work experience for students?
Surry Partners regularly takes on students for short term work experience projects during school and university holidays.
What is the best part of your job?
Every day presents new challenges that can arise from random events. An urgent deal, a threat of legal proceedings, a production run lost, a publishing or licensing deal gone wrong. The work that so often comes up urgently and unexpectedly, and that we are able to drop everything, focus on and satisfactorily resolve, is the best part of the job.
If you could give an emerging media and communications or entertainment professional one piece of advice, what would it be?
Document your agreements and confirm your key discussions in writing. It will help keep everyone's interests aligned, prevent misunderstanding and may protect you in the event of a dispute.
What can we expect to see from your organisation in the next 12 months in the Media and Intellectual Property area?
In the second half of 2015 we will establish a specialist trade mark law practice that focuses on providing support to organisations that specialise in branding and communications. That practice (Surry Partners Trade Marks) will also offer focussed trade mark licensing and litigation services. We will also be collaborating closely with Digby Law (www.digbylaw.com) – a specialised entertainment law practice, to build on our complimentary expertise.
What qualifications do you have and how have you used your qualifications within your career?
I have a Bachelor of Laws and a Bachelor of Economics from Sydney University. The economics background has assisted me to develop the commercial base of Surry Partners, having studied accountancy and related subjects. Having some financial literacy and the experience of having established a number of businesses myself in the hospitality and digital media industries, give me practical insights into our clients businesses and their commercial dealings. Although I have provided trademarks advice to clients for over 20 years, in August 2013 I completed a Graduate Diploma in Trade Mark Law & Practice at the University of Technology in Sydney and in November 2013 became a Registered Trade Marks Attorney, recognised by IP Australia.
What additional skills do you think are necessary to succeed as a Media and Intellectual Property lawyer?
The skill to listen and ask the right questions is often undervalued (and rare) in professional services. To succeed as a media and IP lawyer, you must understand that nature of the industries your clients work in. It helps to understand the technical language they use and broader economic and regulatory issues which impact on their business. The more widely read you are on the players, the deals and issues which are relevant to their business, the more value you can offer the client. The challenge is to strike the right balance between providing "legal" advice and providing "commercial" advice. It can be a fine line and the area between the two overlaps, but clients want both. A quality commercial lawyer can do both and add significant value in doing so.