Blog post: In conversation with Hannah Bierre
In this blog post, we speak to the lovely Hannah Bierre, Legal Counsel at the biggest men’s health charity in the world, Movember Foundation! So yes - she is partially responsible for all those guys walking around in November with an array of different moustaches, all with the aim of raising awareness and funds for prostate cancer, testicular cancer, men’s mental health and suicide prevention. Hannah has been all around the world, both studying and working (as an IP lawyer), and she speaks in this post about her journey, the importance of mentors and even about red bottom heels… (she’ll explain).
TLC: What made you want to study law?
HB: I struggled with the decision between Law and Medicine, I have always been a huge biology nerd. I loved English at high school, and I like the creative lateral thinking aspect of studying law - that not everything is exactly as it seems and interpretation is key. It created a really nice juxtaposition with my other major – biomedical science, where there is a firm answer for everything. My older sister was studying law and as often happens with siblings, a combination of admiration and competition played into the decision to apply for law school.
TLC: Tell us about your journey to how you got to where you are.
HB: There initially wasn’t a lot of planning involved, that has come with maturity. A pivotal moment in my education journey was the opportunity to study abroad in my last year of Law, with a US based Law School who took us to Belgium and Geneva for 3 months to learn about EU law, public policy and IP. Having discovered the crossover between law and science in patent law, after graduating in NZ I set my sights on the USA to learn more about IP. I finished my masters in international IP in 2013 at George Washington, in Washington DC. Many of my professors at GW had come from illustrious careers in the hallowed halls of US congress, the Federal Trade Commission and the US Patent and Trademark Office, a few of whom became really important mentors for me over the next couple of years.
I wasn’t ready to head back to NZ at this stage, so I moved to South America, where IP systems are less developed, and I thought I could really make a difference. I started out in private practice in Ecuador, doing a mix of trademark law and foreign investment, largely in the oil and gas sector, which didn’t really inspire me. In some ways, it was limiting having found my passion really early in my career, because everything else seemed a bit dull in comparison. When I was given the opportunity to help draft new legislation to incentivize tertiary education and STEM research and development, I realised that innovative public policy and positive social change was a big driver for me. I was able to maintain a consulting relationship with a local medium sized law firm, so I kept in touch with more general transactions for skill building. From there I moved into the public sector at the Ministry of Health, where I was managing an international relations portfolio, as well as advising on IP policy in medical technology procurement. I was incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to implement my thesis project in Ecuador, where we passed a new piece of legislation to include an important mechanism for importing patented medicines in public health crises. From healthcare to hotels – I took a job in strategic consulting which led me to work on hotel franchising deals – a very steep learning curve in a new industry but one that I really enjoyed.
I had been planning a move back to this side of the world for some time by then, and come March 2018 I was on the ground in Melbourne. I was job hunting in a market where I had zero network and no experience – this was a huge hit to my confidence. The job at Movember came about as a short term contract role, one that I took without really knowing all that much about the organisation, other than it was a charity for men’s health. Fast forward 1 year, and several contract extensions later, I absolutely love it. I get to work on a huge range of matters, all of which are challenging but incredibly interesting – I’ve learnt so much about areas of law that previously I had written off as being boring, or not for me – privacy and data protection being one of those. Movember is the biggest men’s health charity in the world, with fundraising campaigns running in 22+ countries, with offices in LA, London and Toronto - the multijurisdictional issues always keep us on our toes. I have had the great fortune of having wonderful mentors, both at Movember and externally through ACC’s future leaders program.
TLC: What is the funniest or weirdest moment you've had in your legal career / law degree?
HB: Weirdest/funniest - Probably the time when my trademarks professor at George Washington paraded into class having painted the soles of his shoes red to make a point about the Trademark suit involving the shoe designer Louboutin and his famous red soled heels, which was before the courts in the EU at that stage. Most surreal – lining up in the snow outside the US Supreme Court at 5am on a Monday morning to get one of the coveted public tickets to a USSC hearing – Justice Ginsberg is even smaller in person!
TLC: What is your one piece of advice to law students of today?
HB: Find great mentors! Reach out to people who have graduated a few years ahead of you and talk to them about their career path, how they navigated challenges and what they would do differently. Most people are really happy to help if you ask nicely. And don’t take job rejections too personally – just because you are not right for a specific position doesn’t mean you aren’t employable or you won’t get another great opportunity. Be open to everything, take failure as a learning experience, and enjoy the ride.