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Sue Streatfield, Dickinson Dees - My First Job

PUBLISHED: 11:17 21 February 2013 | UPDATED: 22:20 26 February 2013

Sue Streatfield, once an unsatisfied shelf-stacker and now an intellectual property specialist with global experience

Sue Streatfield, once an unsatisfied shelf-stacker and now an intellectual property specialist with global experience

Dickinson Dees associate Sue Streatfield makes the case for specialising in intellectual property law

Dickinson Dees associate Sue Streatfield makes the case for specialising in intellectual property law

What was your first job?
I worked weekends for a national high street retailer whilst still at school, stacking shelves and on the tills, which felt like being on the front line. The queues were usually pretty long, the customers often impatient and keying in prices was quite a tedious experience for both the customers and me.

What lessons did it teach you?
It taught me how to interact with people, diplomacy and the importance of being properly informed if you want to put your point across effectively. I remember working with a student who was studying law at A-level. A customer renowned for swapping price stickers tried to buy a sweater at a ridiculously low price, arguing that the shop had an obligation to sell it to her. My colleague gave the woman a very thorough and assertive legal explanation about why she was wrong and l realised then that a career in law might suit me given my love of a good argument.

How has your career progressed?
I trained in London but missed the Yorkshire countryside too much so moved to a firm in Leeds as a commercial litigator. After four years, the partners gave me the opportunity to try intellectual property litigation. It was a steep learning curve but I immediately loved it and have never looked back.

Newly married and keen on a last travelling adventure before children, my husband and I then moved to Melbourne in Australia for three years. I worked for a large commercial firm doing global patent litigation for a pharmaceutical company, which gave me fantastic international experience and encouraged me to tailor my legal advice to the true commercial context. There is, after all, no point in winning a small battle if that reduces the chances of winning the war.

Having children meant we chose to return to England, where I joined a large commercial firm in Manchester before eventually settling on the right side of the Pennines again with Dickinson Dees, first in York and now in Leeds.

What do you enjoy most about your job?
Im constantly learning about peoples new, creative ideas, so life is never dull. I also have a varied caseload with, perhaps, litigation about who first used a trade mark one day and drafting a clinical cancer trial agreement the next.

Some of the most satisfying cases are those where Ive acted for a company in its early years against well established firms.
New innovations and creative ideas that benefit society should be allowed to flourish and not be blocked by the commercial interests of competitors. Thats what the law of intellectual property is trying to achieve.

Whats next for you?
As the Leeds office continues to grow and attract talented lawyers, I hope to continue developing the IP practice here.

What advice would you give?
Base your decisions on what youre most passionate about in life if you want to succeed in something you truly enjoy. If I could live my life again, Id study science at university rather than law and then do a conversion course. That way, I would learn more about a subject I really enjoy and still be able to specialise in IP law.

My concern for young people is they feel pressured into making a career decision too early, then tailor their education to that choice rather than to the subjects they enjoy. I often come across clients who have changed careers to follow their passions who say they feel a cloud has been lifted.


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