Steve Kuncewicz, Principal Lawyer, Business Advisory (IP & Media)
08 January 2017
Interlink Recruitment meets Steve Kuncewicz, Principal Lawyer, Business Advisory (IP & Media) at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in Manchester, to talk about the niche area of IP law, the creative boom in Manchester and to get some social media advice, from a legal perspective, of course.
Q: Thank you Steve for talking with us today, it’s really appreciated. Could you tell us some more about your own career journey and what it was that attracted you to IP & Media law?
A: It’s fair to say that my career path is something of a “road less travelled”. I’ve always valued creativity and been a huge geek, so I wanted to practice in an area that would let me earn a living by being one professionally. That said, I was always very much aware that IP & media legal work was traditionally mostly done out of London, at the time. I went to Sheffield University to study law and on graduation just wasn’t sure it was right for me. To scratch my creative itch, I wrote a couple of awful novels (and a screenplay that was even worse) and tried to get into advertising at one point too, but gave up on those ideas when I realised you needed actual talent to make it.
It was through a chance encounter, via some friends of friends, that I eventually broke (poor choice of words) into criminal law. I studied for a Police Station Adviser’s accreditation at Cardiff University Law School whilst running around the Magistrates’ Courts and Prisons of Manchester (and further afield). Once you’ve worked in criminal law, you can pretty much go on to tackle anything and it was the best apprenticeship I could have asked for.
Following an interview with Cobbetts and being lucky enough to secure a training contract in their Leeds Office, I finally made my way into the world of commercial law. After stints in property and commercial, I ended up qualifying in the Litigation team, with the idea that I’d specialise in IP litigation and try to develop that kind business from existing and new clients, eventually moving over to the Manchester Office to work with the firm’s Head of IP.
Helping to develop a book of IP (and increasingly, media) matters out of a northern office was always going to be a challenge (despite Cobbetts having some excellent IP clients and, in Susan Hall and Robert Roper, some outstanding lawyers) and forced me to scrap around a little more to develop clients of my own. It was mostly small to medium sized client business coming through. In London, firms with IP and media teams seemed to have no problem in winning new business; my focus was first and foremost upon ‘where to get clients’. The whole experience, gave me a different and very valuable perspective, compared to the traditional LPC route. As I didn’t simply walk into a job straight out of law school (studying the LPC part-time on day release during my training contract), I only appreciated the opportunity all the more.
Q: Alongside your day job, you are involved in lots of other activities, from being a Council Member of the Law Society, to a Board Member for ProManchester, an Ambassador for the charity Forever Manchester and more. How do you find the time? And do you think it’s important for lawyers to do similar?
A: If there’s a secret (and there isn’t), I find the time because I don’t sleep much. In all seriousness, I would encourage lawyers to get experience of sitting on boards and working with other professional bodies and charities as early as possible. Again, if you’re looking for a different perspective then that’s a great place to start.
I’ve always believed that nobody owes lawyers a living, I think that the last few years have seen the industry (it’s not, in my view, a profession any more) start to agree with that way of thinking. I sit on the board of ProManchester, which is all about liaising developing links and networks from a cross section of businesses across the financial and professional sector, where the lawyer is rarely if ever the most important person in the room. Getting involved in projects with other professionals across the private and public sector has very much enriched my working life.
Lawyers will probably always be paid well for what they do, but going on to do more than just the day job is in my experience a great way to round yourself out as an individual. Anything that takes us outside of the ‘bubble’ of being a lawyer, is in my view pretty much invaluable, although maintaining those extracurricular responsibilities involves a hard balancing act when you take into account the fact that your “day job” has to come first.
Q: Working with the creative industry, as you do, there appears to be an immediate element of ‘appeal’. Would you agree? And what do you enjoy most about working in this practice area?
A: The clients I’m lucky enough to work with are always on the leading edge, which is always exciting. They need a commercial solution, not just to technical legal problems but to enable ground-breaking projects. It’s rare that any two days are the same.
One of the most important aspects of this or any area of law is to build trust with your clients and contacts and really get to know them and their businesses. The creative and digital sector is responsible for a huge part of the North-West’s economy, but it has long had suspicion of lawyers and other professional advisers as standing in the way of what they’re trying to achieve commercially, being used to “moving fast and breaking things”. We need to work hard on building client relationships and have a real passion for the disruptive work they do, especially as legal services are facing their own challenges based on disruption.
I’m very lucky to have a great relationship with many of my clients, some that span the best part of a decade. Having a passion and genuine interest in what they do (mainly because I wish I could do it) certainly helps!
And times have changed –this kind of work is no longer only done in London. The North offers huge opportunities. It may take a little while longer to build contacts and relationships, but having the patience to do so will always pay off, as clients in this sector tend to be very loyal. If you have a creative mind and want to branch into IP or Media law, you don’t necessarily need to settle for doing small pieces of work, and can increasingly win bigger instructions on high-profile projects and disputes; northshoring is the new black and offers some amazing opportunities.
Q: Social media is your key area of specialism and you are allegedly the most followed lawyer in Manchester, on Twitter. How did you become an expert in this field?
A: Time, persistence and obsession. Back in 2008, I was working at a firm which (as was the case with many others, both then and now) had a limited business development budget, but was expected to build get a client following and department from scratch. At that time, Facebook and LinkedIn were certainly prevalent, but Twitter was not being used quite so enthusiastically to engage with potential clients. I had time and enthusiasm on my side, and nothing to lose.
I started looking at conversations people were having with each other, and began to join in. Conversation on social media platforms always produces better results than simply “broadcasting” a message, so I made sure to work to build meaningful engagement with my audience and build credibility around a niche.
Over time, I began to build a reputation through social media, which led to a book deal (the UK’s first specific textbook on social media and the law). I also met my wife through social media; the profile picture of Brad Pitt may have helped….
Lawyers simply must embrace the opportunities and meet the challenge of social media, in the safest way possible. It’s not (as many think) the Wild West, but it is an evolving technological environment that the legal world is struggling to catch up with. Young lawyers “get it” much more easily because they use it on a daily basis. Richard Susskind is still right when he says that “Lawyers tend to dismiss Twitter as yet another plaything for their children”.
For me, it was an exercise in trial and error with Twitter at first, and has taken years to really get to grips with, but perseverance can pay off in any number of ways. The world doesn’t owe anyone relevance in the same way it doesn’t owe anyone a career - you need a track record. More clients than ever are using social media as part of a PR “mix”, and being able to comment authoritatively and succinctly both online and offline can make a difference with clients as well as careers.
Q: What advice would you give individuals and lawyers in terms of best practice, using social media?
A: My biggest piece of advice would be to consider their ‘personal brand’, and to realise that there’s always something new to learn. The whole point of social media is to engage with people, so it’s important to think about tone of voice, your audience and how you can stay relevant to them. You need a plan; knowing what you want to say; how it will be said, what that achieves and where your audience actually is (in terms of the platforms they use and value).
Projecting the right image and values is vital – if people know what kind of lawyer (and businessperson) they want to be, then that should be reflected in everything they say on social media. An online profile is your shop window; but it’s essential to remember that there is a certain permanence to anything posted online, so being careful and thinking what to say before you say it is crucial.
Q: You have spent some time in your career working in-house, and said in a Manchester Evening News interview that was invaluable. Do you think enough is being done to give aspiring and junior lawyers the experience needed to gain skills such as embracing new technologies and gaining commercial acumen, to help them flourish?
A: You can probably measure innovation in most law firms at the pace of a snail – it’s not seen as important as it should be. There has been plenty of talk about the impact of technology and even artificial intelligence on the delivery of legal services, with some Magic Circle firms making significant investments in “robot lawyers” already. Technology moves very quickly without you; as the quote says, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”, and the pace of development will only increase. Having an eye on the horizon, is only a good thing for any lawyer.
Even more than ever before we live in an age of disruption where there is simply no such thing as ‘normal’. It’s true to say that while lawyers don’t cope well with change, especially technological change, clients on the other hand tend to be more agile. Lawyers of the future need to be able to embrace disruption, not be afraid of it, and be confident to provide services in line with it.
In terms of commercial awareness, more probably does need to be done to help younger lawyers understand why business works the way it does. It’s not enough to just get your head around legislation; you need to understand what clients need in terms of the drivers for their business. Lawyers can’t get involved in an exercise in fascinating legal theory at a client’s expense for the sake of it; they need to know how agreements and disputes work, and what drives them in the first place.
The traditional training contract needs to change. Junior lawyers should be guided towards key influencers and be given a list of useful information and updates to sign up to receive, so they can cast as wide a net for useful information as possible.
Q: You have spent your career working in Manchester. The city and its surrounds are booming, especially with the news of Media City set to double in size. What would you say to any aspiring lawyer looking to study in Manchester or lawyer looking to relocate to the North West?
A: Manchester is an amazing place to be, the UK’s true “second city” and a genuine alternative to London. You only have to see all the cranes on the horizon to know that business is booming. There is a vibrant legal sector here and across the North West, and increasingly many magic circle firms are building a presence here too.
For lawyers looking to live and work in the North West, there is in my view a much better work/life balance to be had than elsewhere in the country. There is also a massive pool of clients to take advantage of, and Media City has increased the depth of that pool. Media City (amongst other hubs) has enabled the transformation of the area, and the buzz around. There are ample opportunities for both clients and lawyers, especially where the BBC has begun to develop a more northern accent. It’s an exciting time and through embracing media, there is very little end to the opportunities lawyers can make for themselves.
Thank you once again Steve for your time, you have shared some interesting points with us. We always enjoy your tweets and look forward to learning more about the advancement of new technologies, alongside the law.
'Interlink meets' is an opportunity for us to share career insights with like-minded legal professionals. We are fortunate enough to get to talk to many faces in the world of law, through 'Interlink meets' we hope to inspire others with their legal future.
 Professor Richard Susskind in the 2010 Introduction to the End of Lawyers.
 Arthur C. Clarke