Dr. Julia Schönbohm, LL.M. (Fordham) became a partner after only 6 years of practice. She specialises in cross-border patent infringement proceedings and is now a partner at Linklaters in Frankfurt am Main.
I asked her about her recipe for success.
Dr Schönbohm, on 27 November 2015 the first PANDA University competition for the law faculty took place at the European Business School in Wiesbaden. I had the pleasure of hearing you talk about your way "from graduate to partner" on this day - by the way: very pregnant with her second child.
1. A field in which you are interested and which suits you is a privilege and an important prerequisite for success.
Yes, my path "from graduate to partner" began in Hamburg and led via New York to Frankfurt. After completing my doctorate in Hamburg, I had the opportunity to specialize in intellectual property law in the USA as part of an LL.M. course. When I began my studies in 1992, this did not yet exist as a main area of specialization. My fellow students specialized in corporate law and my female students in labour law. European law was one of the most unusual areas of specialization at that time. It was a great privilege for me to study a subject area that fascinated me and in which I wanted to work. When you put your heart and soul into your work, clients, colleagues and superiors feel it. You are then always better than someone who lacks fascination for the subject.
2. In addition to specialist knowledge and a good command of English, a sensitivity to cultural differences does not hurt.
Good English is a must for the daily work in a large international law firm. My studies in New York have enabled me to brush up on my rusty school English. You not only learn the language, but also get to know the people and cultural characteristics. This "cultural awareness" makes working together much easier.
3. You have to recognize and seize opportunities.
At the beginning of 2008 I had the opportunity to build up the field of intellectual property as a partner in an international law firm. I found that exciting and seized the opportunity. It was a leap into cold water. Whether such a decision is right or not is not known in advance. So it is all the easier to be relieved afterwards when it turns out to be right. A little bit of luck is always part of it. Since December 2014, I have been developing this area at Linklaters. The focus of my work is on cross-border patent infringement proceedings. That was also a great opportunity. I'm glad that I took it.
4. Career and family.
I have now been working as a lawyer for 15 years. A lot has changed during this time. This especially concerns the career opportunities for women.In 1915 there were less than 5000 female students in Germany. In the meantime, the relationship between men and women at the beginning of their studies and also when starting their careers in large law firms is quite balanced. This changes in the years after. At partner level, the proportion of women is then significantly lower. That is something that people want to change, and I can only encourage all women to change that. It is a good time for women to get into management positions. However, not all women want a leadership position. There are many reasons for this. One important reason is doubts about the compatibility of such a position with a family. Many excellent female colleagues take a different career path after a few years in a large law firm and do not even try it. That is a pity. Which career path is right is a very personal decision. There is no generally valid "right" or "wrong", but only the right or wrong decision for you personally. For me the content of the job was decisive. If you enjoy the task, you are usually successful. For an exciting job it is also easier to spend less time with the family. All in all, it is an exciting time full of opportunities, especially for women. The doors are wide open. That invites you to walk through and take the opportunities.
5. In the end, it's the people who make the difference.
When I had to choose my first law firm, the immediate team was crucial. I have never regretted my decision. I enjoyed going into the office every day. And I still enjoy going to the office every day.
When you look for and find the following, nothing can really "go wrong":
- The team. The people you work with are important. They make the difference every day. You often spend more time with your colleagues than with your family. You have to be able to be authentic, feel safe and be on the same wavelength.
- The content. You should find a field of law that you enjoy and that suits you. Someone who doesn't enjoy their work will never be as good and convincing as someone who puts their heart and soul into it. Clients, colleagues and superiors feel this.
- Role models. You should always seek contact with people who are better at certain things and learn from them.
- A mentor. You need someone who recognizes and promotes your strengths, who gives you responsibility and leaves you the space you need to develop and who supports you with advice and action.
- Courage. You need courage to recognize and follow the right path for yourself, no matter where it leads you. This also means that you dare to take the consequences if you realize that the path you have chosen is not the right one.
Thank you very much.
Dr. Schönbohm lives with her husband and two small children in Frankfurt am Main and, in addition to her work, is committed to promoting young female lawyers.
Her personal motto in life is: See how it works and not why it couldn't work.
(Originally published on 24.02.2016 on the former CLP blog JurCoach.)