Almost everybody’s career path makes sense when you look back at it – but rarely does it feel like a logical journey while you’re experiencing it. Take the opportunities that feel right for you, even if they seem unconventional to others

Blog post: In conversation with Ellenor Hayes

In this blog post, we speak to one of our favourites, the awe-inspiring Ellenor Hayes! Not only is she an accomplished IP lawyer who has worked in almost every corner of the globe, she is studying her masters in Intellectual Capital Management, working at a legal tech start up, about to start her dream job at Spotify – and is an accomplished singer and has her own wine club side hustle in Sweden (@TheGrandCru)! Elle speaks of her exciting career, travelling, talent shows (she’ll explain later!) and why it is not the end of the world if you don’t get a summer clerkship. 

TLC: What made you want to study law?

EH: Like a lot of people who find themselves in law school, I actually had no set ambition to study law.

In fact, when I was finishing high school, I thought I would study speech pathology. It was only after I got my UAI (now ATAR) that I realised that by studying speech pathology, I would most likely graduate to become a speech pathologist (crazy, huh?) This seemed a little too specific for 18-year-old me. So, having got the grade, I decided to go for something broader and enrolled in a combined Bachelor of Laws/Communications. Turns out, this was the right decision for me.

I strongly believe that, beyond teaching you in the ins and outs of contract law, torts and civil procedure, law school really teaches you a unique way of looking at the world, analysing and solving problems – which is highly valuable even if you don’t go on to become a lawyer. 

TLC: Tell us about your journey to how you got to where you are?

EH: When I finished law school, I first thought I might like to follow a career in diplomacy and international relations. So, my first gig after graduation was an internship at the Australian Consulate General in New York City. I learnt two important things from this experience. First, I actually didn’t want to become a career diplomat. But, second, I did want to find a reason to live and work in NYC again someday. (I’m still working on that one!)

After New York, I started my legal career in Sydney in the Graduate Program at Sparke Helmore – an Australian full-service corporate law firm. My first rotation was in the Intellectual Property (IP) team. I was immediately captivated by this area of law, so I never moved on to a second rotation. I became an Associate in that team and cut my teeth on a range of commercial and litigious IP matters.

I’m quite an adventurous person, who loves to travel. So, after a couple of years, I started to feel an itch to move overseas and get some international experience. I looked around at different options and places – London, Dubai, New Zealand, Shanghai and Hong Kong. To my surprise and delight, an opportunity arose to work in Vietnam with Rouse – a leading global IP law firm and consultancy focused on emerging markets. Having never been to Vietnam before, I made a leap of faith (some might say rash) decision to do it. Next thing I knew, I was moving my life to Ho Chi Minh City – one of the most frenetic cities in South East Asia. 

The three years I spent in Vietnam were rich in professional and personal growth.  I was exposed to legal challenges and leadership positions which I would never have had if I had stayed in my cultural comfort zone in Australia. One of the highlights of my time there was being invited to a dinner at the residence of the British Ambassador in Hanoi when he was hosting the Director of Copyright & IP Enforcement at UK IP Office. Being introduced by the Ambassador as a subject matter expert on IP enforcement in Vietnam was a very cool and surreal moment. 

As part of Rouse’s global network of IP professionals, I met a lot of brilliant, innovative and ambitious people. Through the consultancy work that my colleagues were doing, I was exposed to the notion of IP as more than just a legal right to be claimed and protected, but rather a dynamic business asset to be managed and leveraged. Through that, I identified that there is a huge opportunity for IP counsel to serve more than a purely legal function, but rather to act as business advisors at the core of the management function. I knew I wanted to be part of that shift so I started looking for how I could take my career in that direction.

One of the Rouse colleagues, whom I particularly admired, had told me about the Master's degree he had taken in Sweden focusing on Intellectual Capital Management (ICM). It seemed to be a perfect fit, so I did some research, applied and moved my life (again) – this time to Gothenburg on Sweden’s west coast. Right now, I am completing the first of a two-year, full-time Masters’ program in ICM at Chalmers School of Entrepreneurship. The interdisciplinary education is about developing tools and understanding frameworks to evaluate technology assets and design intellectual property-based business strategies in various contexts, including research institutes, technology SMEs, and MNCs.

Alongside my studies, I am working as a Business Developer for a cloud-based contract automation platform called Precisely. Technology is changing the legal profession rapidly and helping people operate more effectively and efficiently. The opportunity to work at the coalface of legal tech and support the development of a market leading platform is a privilege which I am enjoying wholeheartedly.

My next adventure will start this (European) summer when I will be working with Spotify (the world’s most popular music streaming service) on a project to review and make recommendations on their IP strategy. It’s hard for me to overstate how excited I am to “join the band” (their term, not mine!) It’s an opportunity to work at the intersection of law, business and technology. This role will be of ever-increasing importance as the knowledge economy develops over the coming decades and is a sweet spot that I think IP professionals are uniquely positioned to occupy. 

TLC: What is the funniest or weirdest moment you've had in your legal career?

EH: If you’ve ever worked in Asia, you’ll probably know that talent shows are a big part of team building in office culture. People go to great lengths to impress and amaze their colleagues with elaborate costumes, dance routines and other performances. 

Initially, I thought this was really weird! But as I learnt, stopping the timer every day for a month at 5pm to practice moves to a One Direction song is a great way to build lifelong friendships with colleagues with vastly different cultural backgrounds. I just hope the video footage of our performance never sees the light of day! 

TLC: What is your one piece of advice to law students of today?

EH: Don’t stress if you don’t get a summer clerkship at a top-tier firm. When I missed out, I was devastated, and I honestly thought that my legal career was over before it had begun. But instead, I spent a glorious summer working at a winery and developing what has become a lifelong passion and interest for me in wine and viticulture. (But, that’s a whole other story.)

Also, almost everybody’s career path makes sense when you look back at it – but rarely does it feel like a logical journey while you’re experiencing it. Take the opportunities that feel right for you, even if they seem unconventional to others.