Five minutes with … Emily O’Neill, Deminor
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Five minutes with … Emily O’Neill, Deminor

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Each week Managing IP speaks to a different IP practitioner about their life and career

Welcome to the latest instalment of Managing IP’s ‘Five minutes with’ series, where we learn more about IP lawyers on a personal as well as a professional level. This time we have Emily O’Neill, general counsel at Deminor in the UK.

Someone asks you at a party what you do for a living. What do you say?

If you asked my daughter, she would say that my job is colouring in – I do love highlighters! On a more serious note, I say that I work in an investment company that provides access to justice by paying the fees and costs to resolve disputes in exchange for a share of the damages awarded.

Talk us through a typical working day.

I am a morning person, so I select a chunky task (in this case, a case review) and do this straight away – my “eat the frog” task.

At 6.30am I stop and switch to my parent role. If the traffic is good, I try to squeeze in a quick dog walk as well.

At 9am I host the first meeting of the day. This is an opportunity for the global company to look at the cases in due diligence and to update each other with developments in funded cases.

At 10am, I have my half-hour Avengers Time, a time that I keep each day so that if the team needs to ask me anything, they know they can reach me. It’s called Avengers Time as it helps to bring together into one team the extraordinary people within our UK team.

I then have calls with law firms and client companies.

At 5.30pm, I stop work and, if working from home, make and eat dinner with my family. It’s then on to the children’s evening activities. My eldest son swims for a club and so I am usually found at the side of a pool in the evening!

On returning home at around 9pm, my husband and I get everything organised for the next day. I then select my “eat the frog” task for the morning and am usually in bed around 10.30pm.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am working on several US patent litigation investments as well as some UK construction dispute investments and law firm investments for consumer claims.

Does one big piece of work usually take priority or are you juggling multiple things?

My world is a constant juggle. I wear two hats within Deminor’s business as well as my unpaid second job at home! At Deminor, the first hat is that I am the UK-based director and so do all the tasks involved in running a business.

My other hat is my operational hat which involves identifying, underwriting, and managing the investments that Deminor makes in cases.

What is the most exciting aspect of your role and what is the most stressful?

The most exciting and stressful part of my role has been and remains growing the Deminor UK business. I was the first employee of Deminor UK. This was a bit of a culture shock as I came from a role in a group legal function of a listed company. Although, in that company, we had a small central legal team, there was still support in terms of office setup, IT, and benefits. For example, before joining Deminor I had no idea that office chairs require assembly before use!

Tell us the key characteristics that make a successful IP lawyer.

Having practical experience across the range of IP rights is key. Often workstreams involve several different rights and the business won’t be thinking in terms of the IP rights but in terms of the product or service they are delivering. Being able to listen, analyse and draw out the key issues, translate them into legal questions, answer those questions, and then translate them back to operable business advice is essential.

The goal of a successful IP lawyer is to be integrated into the business and in a position to help them solve IP-related problems in real time rather than be consulted as an afterthought.

What is the most common misconception about IP?

Either everything you can access online is in the public domain or once a non disclosure agreement has been signed, it’s fine to share anything!

What or who inspires you?

Both of my parents.

My dad came to the UK from Antigua when he was 14, was the first black person in his school, and had to deal with the disappointment of coming to “the mother country” and finding endemic racism.

From being moved off his engineering apprenticeship by being told “You’d be better off doing upholstery or sheet metal work son” on his first day to sticking with British Airways for his entire career, finally retiring from a role where he was responsible for ensuring that the planes were operational. His determination to overcome repeated rejection but still advance is a massive inspiration.

My Mum was a teacher. She started teaching in deprived schools in Slough and retired as the head of sixth form at a prestigious school. She spent hours marking and preparing lessons at weekends and during the holidays. It paid off as I still see people reminiscing on social media about how inspirational my mum was 20 or 30 years later! Her determination, energy, and drive inspire me every day.

If you weren’t an IP lawyer, what would you be doing?

I would be a property developer. My guilty secret is that I love to buy, renovate, and sell houses. I moved house 8 times in 4 years at one point until my husband couldn’t take it anymore.

Any advice you would give your younger self?

When I was around 10 years qualified, Deborah Prince, who was general counsel of the British Heart Foundation at that time, told me that you can’t plan your career. Instead, understand what you enjoy about your roles and take opportunities to do more of those things. I wish I had that advice when I was first starting law.

I have given the same advice to juniors in my team.

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