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University of Melbourne
Belinda Sigismundi obtained a BA, LLB at Melbourne University.
What's your name and job title?
Belinda Sigismundi, principal lawyer.
What did you study? When did you graduate?
BA, LLB at Melbourne University, [graduating in] 2003.
Where did you grow up?
Tell us a bit about your education.
I was always very academic through my school years and was privileged to have some exceptional teachers in years 11 and 12, who helped push me to my limits and achieve the score I needed to do law. There was no other option for me. I knew from a young age that I wanted to dedicate my life to the law.
How did you get to your current job position?
I developed a real passion for intellectual property law at university. Once I graduated, my main focus was to build up my practical experience in the IP sphere. I managed to secure articles of clerkship at a boutique trade mark and patent attorney firm and was involved in some really interesting patent and trade mark infringement cases. [However] after 10 months, I wanted to explore other opportunities to further my career. So I applied for a role at Macpherson Kelley Lawyers. Despite the advertisement wanting a candidate with at least two years post admission experience, I still had a good feeling about the company, so gave it a shot and the rest is history! Submitting my CV to Macpherson Kelley turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. I have been at Macpherson Kelley Lawyers for 13 years. While my role has changed substantially over this time, my drive and passion and love for the work I do continues.
How did you choose your specialisation?
I was really interested in the intellectual property subjects offered during my law degree and secured some volunteer research work for a prominent IP barrister. He inspired me to learn as much as I could and make some valuable contacts in the IP space.
Were you weighing up any other alternatives before choosing this specialisation?
IP really did it for me and made my choice a simple one.
What was your interview process like?
The interview process was fairly informal and relaxed, which allowed me to be myself. I had an initial interview with the HR manager and a second interview with two principals.
What kind of questions were you asked?
My knowledge of IP law was certainly tested, particularly in the second interview. I was also asked why Macpherson Kelley appealed to me and what attributes I could bring to the firm.
Suppose a student was considering your career. What would you advise them to study? Should they pursue any sort of work experience?
Do what you love, and you will have a long, happy and fulfilling career. Don’t accept a job or get cornered into an area of law that doesn’t interest you, because you won’t stay in the legal profession for very long. Get as much work experience as you can in the area of law you enjoy. There are many barristers, for instance, that would welcome some voluntary research, so put your hand up and get your hands dirty. It is never too early to start growing your professional and personal networks. Good contacts can open up doors for you later in life, so nurture those relationships and continue building your networks throughout your career.
What does your employer do?
Macpherson Kelley is a national commercial law firm with offices in Melbourne, Dandenong, Sydney and Brisbane. We understand industry. Our focus is on providing specialised legal advice in the accountants, motor dealers, manufacturing, foreign owned subsidiaries, property development, insolvency and technology industries. We pride ourselves on being actively involved in their industries meaning we are well attuned to the issues clients are faced with and how best to resolve them.
What are your areas of responsibility?
I am a principal lawyer in the Intellectual Property and Trade team. I work across our Dandenong and Melbourne offices.
Can you describe a typical work day?
The beauty about practising in IP law is that every day is so different. This is what yesterday looked like:
- I provided a client with trade mark infringement advice and prepared an urgent letter of demand.
- I then met some visitors from a Chinese law firm that we work closely with who were in Melbourne for business.
- I led a team meeting to discuss client targets and our team strategy for the coming 12 months.
- I advised a client on its brand protection strategy and conducted trade mark clearance searches in Australia and the United States.
- I finished the day presenting an IP seminar to a group of prominent artists in Mornington.
What sort of person succeeds in your career?
A lawyer who is driven and passionate about the area of law they practice in will succeed. Successful lawyers are also team players and have solid professional and personal networks. Good management skills are also essential as a lawyer progresses in their career.
Where could you or others in your position go from here?
A law degree can lead to a realm of different opportunities and career prospects including private practice, in-house counsel roles, a career at the Bar as well as advisory, consultancy and management roles.
Could someone with a different background do your job?
They certainly could. They would need a law degree, but I have worked with many colleagues who have had a different career before working in the law. For instance, engineering, local government and business management.
What do you love the most about your job?
I work for so many different clients, from book publishers and manufacturers of cosmetics and food products, to brand developers and designers.
Which kind of task do you enjoy the most?
I love going out to visit clients and tour their premises. Learning about and truly understanding a client’s business makes you more than just their lawyer – you become their trusted advisor. Helping a client grow their own business and maximise the value in their intellectual property is the best and most rewarding part of my job.
What’s the biggest limitation of your job? Do you bear a lot of responsibility?
Yes, I need to manage clients’ expectations, ensure my team does the same, continue to build and strengthen client relationships, make sure my team has enough work to meet their personal budgets, and work tirelessly to grow the practice and build our profile within and outside the firm.
Do you have to work on weekends?
After a hectic week, the weekend is a time for me to de-stress and spend quality time with my family. So I try to avoid working on weekends if and when I can.
Are the stress levels high?
Sometimes. Managing stress levels is an important part of my job. If things go wrong, the focus should be on fixing the problem and moving forward, rather than stressing about things you have no control over.
What advice would you give to a current university student?
- Don’t waste time and energy stressing over the small stuff.
- You can’t do it all on your own, get a good team around you.
- Love what you do.
- Network, network, network!