David Stone is a luminary in the world of IP litigation. As the Global Head of Intellectual Property at Allen & Overy, David protects the brands of the world’s leading companies. He has worked in-house for The Coca-Cola Company, is a Research Fellow at the Oxford IP Research Centre, and now sits part time as a Deputy High Court Judge.

Further to his work in the Legal and IP profession, David is a major supporter and proponent of LGBTQ+ and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) initiatives within the legal and business spheres, regularly contributing insights articles on the topic and driving the conversation locally within his firm.

Christopher Adamson, Managing Partner of Adamson & Partners, has worked with David across his career. Last week, Christopher sat down with David to discuss his thoughts on his DE&I journey, affinity groups and mentorship, and how firms can do more, as well as his illustrious career in IP litigation, working across both industry and private practice.

CA: What took your career into trademark and design litigation? What especially attracted you to IP having qualified as a Solicitor?

DS: After graduating, I spent a year as a judge’s associate, and the judge I worked for dealt with a lot of IP cases. I really enjoyed IP, with its blend of intellectual challenge, business significance, and impact on how everyone lives their daily lives, shaped by brands, creativity and technology. So when the opportunity came up to qualify into the IP group of the firm I’d trained at in Sydney, I grabbed it with both hands.

CA: You have worked in private practice for a number of high-profile firms, as well as in-house counsel for Coca-Cola during your career. What are the key differences you see between working in private practice and industry?

DS: It’s impossible to generalise, but perhaps the main differences are to do with breadth and depth of involvement in a business. In-house counsel are constantly at the coal-face, and have to attend to all aspects at once. In private practice, we generally have more targeted interaction, depending on what the client wants from us. We may be very deeply involved in a particular aspect for a time, such as during litigation or an acquisition. All lawyers, however, need to keep front of mind what makes the business tick, and how our legal skills can help it do what it needs to do and be proud of what it achieves, by thinking strategically, ethically, and practically. At A&O we’re always looking for opportunities such as secondments and informal seminars which ensure great flow of knowledge both ways.

CA: In addition to practising as an IP lawyer, you have been a strong advocate for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) initiatives in the workplace. Could you tell me a bit about what inspired you to get involved in this area?

DS: Like most people, I’m still on my DE&I journey – the more I learn, the more I see there is to learn. Growing up in the 70s and 80s was a very different world to what we see today – but as far back as I can remember my parents were keen for us kids to treat everyone with respect. We were taught to strive for whatever we wanted to achieve – and so any irrelevant bias that gets in the way of that is both irrational, and wrong. For example, there’s no reason why women shouldn’t fill half of partner roles in law firm, constitute half of each year’s crop of QCs, and fill half of judicial vacancies. But they don’t. So, the role for all of us, and not just DE&I advocates, is to try to move things in the right direction. There’s cause for some optimism – for example, since I first started out in the legal profession, I’ve seen huge change in attitudes to sexual orientation. This proves that DE&I isn’t some impossible quest – it really does make a difference if we all keep working on it.

CA: As an executive search firm, we are seeing an increasing focus among IP and legal clients for DE&I, from candidate shortlists, interview methodologies, and more. What do you think is triggering this greater emphasis on DE&I in our space?

DS: There are so many reasons to support equality! In no particular order (1) it’s the right things to do; (2) diverse groups make better decisions – so having a diverse group on a case or transaction is likely to lead to a better outcome; (3) clients are (quite rightly) demanding it; and (4) firms and chambers want to attract and keep the best talent, so leaving out any part of the population on the basis of bias is senseless and self-defeating. I think there’s a growing urgency to address the issue more quickly – to me, that’s a very good thing.

CA: How do you feel DE&I initiatives contribute to acquiring and retaining talent in the IP and legal space?

DS: Graduates today don’t expect to spend their entire career in one firm, so we need to bring in top talent in the first place and maintain an environment that makes them want to stay. This isn’t about bean-bags and free coffee. It’s about removing barriers to performance: those can be anything from frequent conference calls at unsociable hours, to an atmosphere where team-members feel wary of mentioning the gender of the person with whom they saw the latest blockbuster movie. So, DE&I initiatives – radical and more day-to-day – are an essential part of making the workplace fit for everyone. Some initiatives will involve dismantling ways of working that don’t fit who we need to be to thrive today, as businesses and as individuals.

CA: What do you feel IP/law firms and companies could do more to create a more inclusive environment?

DS: While, thanks to better hiring policies and procedures, many larger firms’ trainee intakes now reflect the local population in terms of gender, race and ethnicity, and LGBT+, they find that that level of diversity has evaporated by about 7 or 8 years qualified, so the cohort of potential partners is much less diverse than the trainee population. This has been true throughout my working life – so waiting for “trickle down” hasn’t got us there in the last 30 years. I’m as frustrated as anyone by the slow pace of change – and I’d love to see some more radical suggestions so that improvement is more than incremental. Of course, if this were a clear and easy fix, we wouldn’t be having this Q&A. Perhaps a first step is to get to grips with the data on that ‘diversity evaporation’ – exactly who is leaving, when, and crucially, why?

CA: Some have discussed the merits of mentorship and communities when it comes to cultivating and retaining a diverse and inclusive workplace. What are your thoughts on this and how could firms implement these types of communities?

DS: Life as a lawyer can be intellectually stimulating, rigorous, and hugely enjoyable – but I’m not sure I know anyone who would call it easy. This means great mentoring is essential – and I include in that reverse mentoring. It gives the space to ask all those awkward questions about things that might otherwise hold you back – and reverse mentoring reminds us more senior folk what it’s like now for those starting out. So mentoring is hugely important. But I think it’s time to step up a notch, and start talking about championing our diverse talent pool. To put it another way, mentoring is “There’s this conference on you really should attend”, whereas championing is “I’ve booked you a place at the conference, and I’ll introduce you to X & Y on the first day”. It’s a more active form of helping others to be their best. Mentoring, championing and allyship are also an opportunity for each of us to stretch ourselves – and to learn about others – it’s by no means a one-way street. You also mentioned communities – we’re very lucky at A&O to have a number of affinity groups, including a women’s network, A&Out and a race and ethnicity network. Affinity groups are also hugely important – a safe space, peer support, feedback to the firm – and A&Out hosts some of the best parties at the firm!

CA: Looking back to when you entered the profession, what advice would you now give yourself?

DS: Trust your gut; treat others as you’d like to be treated; learn from the crappy moments as well as the happy ones; try to make the legal profession one that good people will love to be part of. I recently heard Tom Fletcher, a former UK ambassador, talk about being kind, curious and brave – that seems to me to be a pretty good rubric for working life!

CA: If you had not become an IP lawyer, what would have been your alternative career?

DS: I did a lot of singing as a child, and some days wish I’d pursued something in the performing arts – but most of the time I’m VERY happy to be watching from the stalls!

CA: Thank you for your time, David. We greatly appreciate hearing your insights and I look forward to meeting up with you soon.

If you are looking to develop and grow your IP and Legal departments, we would be delighted to assist. Whether you are looking for your next career opportunity, help expanding your team, or assistance with mergers and acquisitions, contact us today for a confidential discussion.

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Chris Adamson

Managing Partner & Practice Head - IP Litigation