Intellectual Property Solicitor

Number of lawyers in team: 44

Legal directory rankings: 7

Q&A with intellectual property lawyer Karen Fong, who joined in 2018 from Collyer Bristow

When and how did you hear about Keystone and what were your initial thoughts?

I became aware of Keystone about 10 years ago when a former colleague joined the firm. I was aware that it was a new model of law firm with a flexible form of working. Several years later, over lunch, I met a Keystone lawyer professionally, who was enthused about his improved work-life balance, better remuneration and greater control over his work life. Being quite happy where I was, I did not give it further thought until later.

Since joining Keystone, is the firm what you expected or different? And how?

I joined Keystone with few solid expectations and with quite a relaxed “let’s see how it goes” attitude.

I have always enjoyed the office environment, so it was a surprise to me to have taken to this new rhythm of working. I love the fact that I can work at home (summer months mean working with veranda doors open, house boats and canoes sailing by). My day is not hijacked by unnecessary internal meetings, I choose who I want to deal with internally, and I have more control over my working day. It is very possible to choose your own rhythm at Keystone.

The freedom and independence Keystone provides suits me very well at this stage of my career.

How long did it take you to transition to the firm and how would you describe the first few weeks/months and the support available?

I would say that within three months I felt quite at home. I very quickly had a volume of varied and interesting work, both referred internally and from my own client base. This kept me busy and also gave me a sense I would survive and could thrive here.

The support was great, as was the reception for a new Keystone lawyer – the IT set-up, the stylish and comprehensive welcome pack, the intranet and the social networks. I had the occasional stressed moment switching to the new way of working but these were sorted out easily and quickly.

How would you describe the Intellectual Property team and your colleagues in this area?

It’s great to be part of a team that has such widespread expertise. There is always someone to call upon when I have to bounce off ideas or when I have to deal with something I have never dealt with before. I enjoy working with my IP Keystone colleagues.

The IP team has more than 30 people. We are very diverse in our experience and sector focus, advising in all aspects of IP and related work like data protection and IT in sectors ranging from FMCG, food and beverage, beauty, fashion publishing, fashion to the arts, tech, pharmaceuticals. As with conventional working in an office environment, there is always someone to brainstorm with – except we do this online or by phone. Depending on the nature of particular clients and cases, I work both independently as well as in teams on IP matters.

With the support team based in a different location to you, how have you found this and how does it compare to a traditional firm?

One thing I quickly learned at Keystone is that many practical issues are far simpler than we assume. Most things can be executed just as, if not more, efficiently without the need to be in the same location as your support team. This can take a little getting used to if you are set in your ways. The first time I had to put a bundle of documents together, I did have a moment of panic. But the Keystone systems are set up to deal with these logistical requirements and I was lucky to work with an amazing paralegal who was quick and efficient and reassuringly helpful.

On reflection, free of the distraction of an office environment, I think that working remotely makes us more focussed, clearer communicators and more task/target-oriented. In the pandemic and post-pandemic era, it is becoming more apparent that flexible working is here to stay and it seems that at Keystone we have a bit of a head start on this.

How did your clients feel about your move? Has the way you worked with them changed and where/how do you meet with them?

My clients have been very supportive. Some more than others are aware of the Keystone model. I think that for many, particularly long-standing clients, it is the individual they trust and consult. I have built relationships with my clients, so they have not had any issues with the change of letterhead. The fact the firm is a listed company and has won many awards gives clients the added assurance. Many of my clients are based abroad and there is no real change in frequency of face-to-face contact. I meet my clients as I always have, at conferences or when they visit London, at the Keystone offices or at a restaurant/club.

Do you ever refer work to colleagues and is there any benefit in doing so?

Yes, I do. The benefit – 15% of the invoice! Also, it means that I can provide my clients with a broader breadth of services. I have many grateful and happy clients whom I have referred to colleagues.

Have you needed to enlist support from other colleagues on matters and how did that work?

Early on I had to deal with a trade mark dispute involving legal proceedings in the UK as well as a cancellation action in the EUIPO. The action required simultaneous filings and as I was not yet comfortable with the IT system, I enlisted the help of one of our IP lawyers.

I have worked with colleagues in other departments as required:

  • When advising on IP and licensing aspects of an international franchising matter I sought input from one of our corporate lawyers on a complex issue.
  • Advising in relation to an MoD contract I consulted one of my colleagues who was familiar with MoD work.
  • As part-time in-house counsel of an MNC I have worked with my colleagues on competition and telecoms issues.

How do you keep up to date with changes in legislation?

We have regular Keystone updates at our CPD events and within the IP group we informally keep each other up to speed. I use numerous online resources and selectively attend training sessions organised by academic organisations and barrister chambers. Keeping up with the latest developments is ultimately up to the individual and each person has their own favourite sources. 

Do you personally pay for any membership or subscriptions that are not covered by the firm that are essential for your area of work? If you do, what are they?

I have a membership to a private woman’s club – The Allbright – but I don’t know if I would consider this essential to my area of work! The firm pays for our INTA (International Trade Mark Association) membership which is an organisation which I would say is essential to my area of work.

Is there anything else that you pay for which is not covered by the firm and which a new lawyer should budget for?

Medical insurance, computer, printer, screen and accessories, good work chair, travel expenses, cost of maintenance of computer and related equipment, fees for conference attendances, networking/marketing expenses – coffees, meals and other entertainment. These business expenses are all tax deductible. 

How would you describe the social life at Keystone? Are there any events or highlights from events that you are happy to share?

I had enormous fun with our rock band, the ‘Keystone Roses’, shortly after I joined Keystone. We had a couple of months to get our act together to perform in ‘Law Rocks’, a rock band competition at the 100 Club. Rehearsals at a “real” music studio were a highlight of my week and I came away with a souvenir black and white photograph by Danny Clifford, of me in lead singer, rock star mode which now hangs in my loo and I believe the Keystone kitchen.

Has your life changed since moving to Keystone and if so, how?

I think that many of us arriving at Keystone were looking also for a lifestyle change so yes, I am pleased to say that my life has changed positively since moving to Keystone. There is a feeling of greater control over one's life: it is very much up to me how I wish to work and there is little pressure to buy into the culture of an institution, while still having access to a supporting network and community which is a reassuring anchor. I feel much more integrated, whole and light about life.