James & Wells associate talks imposter syndrome and practising law as a mother of two

Getting into law was a long, hard road for Kathryn McLardy, but she is reaping the fruits of her labour

James & Wells associate talks imposter syndrome and practising law as a mother of two

Kathryn McLardy was in the midst of her legal studies when her mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. McLardy hit pause on her pursuit of a career in law, until working another job drew her back.

As an IP-focused litigator, McLardy loves the process of constantly learning. And learned she has – recently, she was promoted to associate at James & Wells in a move praised by the firm’s managing partner.

In this April interview, McLardy talks about struggling with self-doubt, finishing her law degree while mothering two sons, and the need for a supportive environment for lawyers who want to start families.

What made you choose a career in law?

My older sister might say it’s an “A-type” personality; my mother [might say it’s] a teenage preoccupation with justice/fairness and arguing. After cutting my legal studies short when my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer, it was working in the research and innovation space in the university sector that led me to complete my studies and push forward into a career in intellectual property (IP) law.

What's your favourite part of the job?

Constantly learning – whether it is the development of the law or getting to grips with the IP in a client’s innovation or brand. Being an IP lawyer gives me the scope to satisfy my CQ (curiosity quotient) daily. I enjoy applying my skills to give clients practical and fit for purpose advice or IP-related contracts.

What is going on at the organisation?

James & Wells is successfully expanding into Australia. This is a great opportunity to work with new clients, and with my colleagues in our Brisbane and Melbourne offices (and of course be educated about AFL).

Are there any new programs and initiatives that you’re particularly interested in?

I’m part of the firm’s Diversity and Culture Committee. Some of the fruits are an official mentoring programme, comprehensive unconscious bias training and greater awareness of the cultural make up of our James & Wells team.

I was tasked with creating the policy documents for the mentoring programme and it has been rewarding to see it begin to be rolled out and hear positive feedback from participants.

What tech-related initiatives adopted by the organisation, if any, are you most excited about?

I’m most excited when I see our client’s technology and innovation – it is a real highlight of IP law. It is a privilege to work alongside highly creative and talented people and support them in developing and protecting their IP.

What has been your proudest accomplishment in the last year or so? Or what’s the biggest lesson you learned in the past year and what advice can you give fellow lawyers about it?

Certainly, a big accomplishment this year was my promotion to associate, and before that it was receiving first class honours and the University Prize in Law while working and having my two sons.

However, feeling “proud” of accomplishments does not come easily. I don’t love the term “imposter syndrome” but too easily I can question the value of my opinions, experience self-doubt, and hold myself to a very (perhaps unreasonably) high standard.

I know I’m not alone here. I am still learning that it helps to share your feelings with others, take time to question some of your internal beliefs, and focus on others.

What should the profession focus more on?

There are already opportunities for doing so, but the profession should keep up its focus on creating real and meaningful connections with others including creating opportunities for mentoring/guidance type relationships within the profession. I find it invaluable to hear about and learn from others’ experiences and kanohi ki te kanohi (face to face) is always best.

What are the challenges you expect in your practice, and in the business of law in general, going forward? What challenges are particularly pressing in the country’s legal industry?

I feel supported in my practice working while being a mother of young children. James & Wells and the profession collectively is making great strides in supporting caregivers to sustain their career. However, I think there is still work to be done to ensure there aren’t negative professional consequences for starting/having a family.

Last year, I participated in research on women’s experiences working in the field of IP undertaken by Professor Jessica Lai and others. The published outputs from that research, including a paper published in the Oxford Journal of Intellectual Property Law and Practice shed light on why we make career decisions. If we know this, the profession can identify what changes to make so everyone is supported to succeed in their preferred work environment.

What are you looking forward to the most in the coming year?

Meeting new people, gaining more experience, learning from my colleagues, helping clients. I’ve also just reached the milestone of having both my sons at school, so I’m hoping that simplifies the juggle of life a bit.

If you weren’t in law, what do you think you’d be doing as a career?

Hmm, these are very different careers: working in policy/as a politician or as a fashion designer.

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