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Day in the life: David Stone, A&O


David Stone is a London-based partner and global head of intellectual property at Allen & Overy. He sits part time as a deputy High Court judge and juggles his busy career with teaching IP at various institutions. He tells Sanjana Kapila why he struggles with delayed trains and the advice he would give his younger self.

What does a typical working day involve? What time do you start and finish work?

Ah, 'typical' has acquired a whole new meaning since our COVID-19 lockdown. For the first time in a long time, my working days are very regular. I'm amazed at how quickly many areas of the law have adapted to home working. I'm usually at my desk (at home) by 8am to deal with emails that have come in overnight from the US, and to catch Asia at the end of their day. Then I do client meetings, court hearings, teaching, my INTA committee, webinars, and catch up with colleagues – just about everything I'd normally do, in fact, but without leaving the house. This would have been unthinkable 12 months ago. I hope some of the better aspects of it are here to stay. I make sure I take breaks during the day and then try to get in an hour of outdoor exercise in the afternoon, and usually finish up by 8pm.

What is the most exciting aspect of your role?

As a litigator, I expect I'm supposed to say 'winning'. And it has its charms! But I genuinely think the most exciting aspect of my role is watching people grow. As lawyers, work is such a huge part of our lives – so it's important to enjoy it, and humans tend to enjoy things more if we're developing. So seeing that – being part of that – I find really exciting, which is why I put a lot of time into diversity and mentoring. It's about being the best version of your real self.

What would you do if you weren't an IP lawyer?

I would have loved to be an opera singer! I did a lot of singing as a child and into university. The crunch came in my first year out of university, when I was working for a judge in Sydney by day, and singing in a Victorian music hall show by night. One morning, the judge noticed that I still had makeup on from the production the night before. I knew at that moment that I had to choose. I've recently taken up singing lessons again, but I'm not sure I'll be looking out over the footlights anytime soon.

How do you manage the balance between working at A&O, teaching and sitting as a judge?

It's not always easy, but I manage somehow, particularly because I'm surrounded by a lot of very talented people who help me juggle all that needs to be done. My diary can be something of a nightmare, but I've always found deadlines to be a strong motivator. If that half hour is the only time to get a task done, then it gets done. If there's not time to tackle a task during the week, I'll set aside time on the previous weekend in order to get ahead.

I know you've worked in-house as well. What are the different advantages/disadvantages of working in-house and in private practice?

I had a fantastic 12 months seconded in-house when I was a senior associate, and it taught me a great deal. I'd thoroughly recommend that everyone in private practice try it, and particularly when they are a bit more senior – in some ways, seconding trainees in-house is a little too early for them to get the most out of it. It's a chance to see how legal advice, both external and internal, functions within a client. It helps you to shape your advice so that it's practical and can be understood easily and adopted promptly by the relevant people. Certainly there's a difference in aspects of the way law is practised in-house and out-house, but fundamentally I learned that the basic principles of being a lawyer apply equally in both situations – thinking rigorously, problem solving, engaging with people and helping clients.

What key characteristics make a successful IP lawyer?

Thinking about IP lawyers around the world whom I admire – all successful, all brilliant at what they do – they are all very different. What they have in common is that they are deep thinkers and problem solvers. They're focussed on their clients (whether internal or external), active mentors, authentic to themselves, and present … They're doers. Engaged might be a better word. These are things, I think, that make successful lawyers in any field.

Trademarks or designs – which do you find more interesting?

Both! I'm conscious that that's a bit of a lawyer's answer – but they are different rights, with different purposes (trademarks protect consumers, designs protect designers) and, whilst each has its own joys, it's essential to work with them in tandem. Both are also fascinating to me because of the international angle – learning how other legal traditions deal with them, and, of course, the interplay of UK law with EU law.

What is the most stressful part of your role?

I struggle with cancelled flights or delayed trains, because I find being late very stressful. Of course, at the moment, I'm not travelling anywhere, so life's a bit easier in that respect.

Any advice you would give your younger self?

There was an Anthony Burrill poster in our local fishmonger's this morning: "Work hard and be nice to people". I think that just about sums it up. Oh, and, younger David, some companies will come along named after types of fruit: buy shares!

You seem like a busy man. What do you do to wind down?

When cinemas were open, I'd be in the queue for the opening Hollywood blockbuster weekends. My excuse (and I'm sticking to it) is that I need something distracting to switch off quickly – the more explosions the better. During lockdown, I'm really enjoying the remote access offered by many of the world's great cultural institutions. The streamed performances from the Met in New York and La Monnaie in Brussels are astounding.

David Stone is ranked in IP STARS

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