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International Women’s Day | Eliza Jane Saunders on women in law

by | Mar 8, 2023

Eliza Jane Saunders International Women's Day 2023

March 8 is International Women’s Day, a day where we together recognise the unique challenges women face around the world and seek to advance gender equality and the rights of women in a positive, respectful way.

Pearce IP has a female founder and more than 80% of its leaders across the firm are women.  It is a place where it is “normal” to see women in leadership and where pay equity is a ‘given’. We are proud to have a majority leadership of capable, respected women, which is rarely seen in law firms in Australia. Pearce IP also has a celebrated female workforce of above 80%.

In honour of International Women’s Day, we asked Pearce IP’s Executive Lawyer, Patent and Trade Mark Attorney, Eliza Jane Saunders about her experience as a woman in law, and her journey to Executive. Quadruply qualified as a lawyer, patent attorney, trade mark attorney, and molecular biologist, and with over 20 years of legal practice, Eliza discusses the challenges she has overcome, influences in her life and advice she would give to young women considering a career in law.

Who were the most significant female role models in your life?

The most significant female influence in my life, including the best piece of advice I ever received, came from my mother.  Despite having a very high IQ my mother was not given the opportunity to have a good education and pursue a career.  She therefore instilled in me how lucky I was to have such opportunities.  She always said, “it doesn’t matter what you choose to do, be the best at it and you will succeed”.  It was based on this influence that I focussed myself on pursuing a career in an area of law that I was really interested in, life sciences intellectual property.  Irrespective of career, I encourage all girls, and women to choose a career in a field where you have added natural abilities, whether it is technical skills, artistic qualities, public speaking skills etc.  By following this advice, being the best you possibly can be in that field will come naturally.

Pearce IP is refreshingly different for me as when I first commenced practice as a lawyer, I faced a myriad of challenges that my male counterparts did not.  While some aspects of the workplace have improved for women over time, barriers still exist and I am passionate about seeing them removed and all women being provided with equal opportunity.

20 years ago, it was not easy for women to have a successful career and a family.  Most successful women I knew and worked with in law and in the patent attorney profession did not have children.  When I started my family 14 years ago, there was no paid maternity leave and the perception was that your career would suffer.  But, you not only lose traction in your career, returning to the workplace is also challenging. Today, parental leave it is far more acceptable and encouraged with most firms providing both mothers and fathers with paid parental leave.  But we can still do better when reintroducing women back to the workplace after parental leave to ensure they feel both supported and enabled to succeed.

Another challenge for women within a law environment has traditionally been that women are generally more gentle, kind and compassionate than men and don’t “sell” themselves as well. I think this is changing as society has become more appreciative of authenticity and the value of women in all workplaces.

There have also been advances over the past 20 years with technology, and with that, transparency, which has created a more equal playing field for women.

I have overcome every challenge thrown at me in the workplace by running my own race, not comparing myself to others, being grateful for the opportunities I have had and valuing my own worth.

What makes Pearce IP refreshingly different to the firms that made it hard for women to thrive?

Pearce IP has associated with it none of the stereotypes that can arise in the vast majority of law firms. First, the founder, Naomi Pearce is a dedicated mother and to that extent represents a more realistic humane and nurturing approach. Second, although an ultra-perfectionist herself, Naomi builds up her staff, focussing on all their positive attributes and successes rather than getting bogged down in any unrealistic negative. Thirdly, Pearce IP is not just a firm for women but is equally balanced in many respects, making for a wonderfully diverse working environment.

Looking to the future, what lessons do you want to pass on to the next generation of female lawyers?

As a leader and a mother, I encourage all women to pursue whatever career they are passionate about.  It is like falling in love, you know it when you see it and you will know there is no other career you wish to pursue.  If there is a particular field of law you dream of, focus on that, study more about it, look for and pursue as many opportunities as possible as you can obtain in that field, and last of all, do not give up.  You will face rejection and setbacks at times as standards are incredibly high in the legal profession.  Like in any career, perseverance and determination will result in a very rewarding career.

Surround yourself with good people, be driven to be the best at what you do and celebrate your successes, always.

Pearce IP’s founder Naomi Pearce is the 2022 Asia Pacific Patent Lawyer of the Year at the Women in Business Law Awards, is the only Australian practitioner recognised by WIPR as a Diversity Champion in IP for 2022, and the only Australian practitioner honoured by WIPR Diversity in 2021 in the world’s top 100 Influential Women in IP.  Naomi was honoured to be the recipient of the peer reviewed Lawyers Weekly Women in Law Partner of the Year (SME Law) in 2021.  Pearce IP was also one of 5 firms shortlisted for the jurisdiction award for Australia at the 2022  Women in Business Law Awards, an award which celebrates “law firms that have developed strong innovative practices and projects that highlight gender diversity”.

Pearce IP’s founder and CEO, Naomi Pearce says:

“I am incredibly proud of our dedicated lawyers and attorneys who are thriving in the Pearce IP “work from anywhere” business model.

The challenges faced by women facing a career in law are significant, and may appear overwhelming at times, but the fact that 80% of Pearce IP’s leaders are women is testament to the fact that in the right environment, women in law can thrive.

Today, on International Women’s Day, I celebrate Pearce IP’s diversity, and honour and congratulate our female leaders Eliza Jane Saunders, Jacinta Flattery O’Brien and Adele Chadwick and their teams for all they have endured and overcome, and all they have achieved professionally and personally throughout.”

About Pearce IP

​Pearce IP is a boutique firm offering intellectual property specialist lawyers, patent attorneys and trade mark attorneys to the pharmaceutical, biopharmaceutical and life sciences industries. Pearce IP is the 2021 ‘Intellectual Property Team of the Year’ (Lawyers Weekly Australian Law Awards) and was shortlisted for the same award in 2022. Pearce IP is ranked in IAM Patent 1000 and Managing IP (MIP) IP Stars, in Australasian Lawyer 5 Star Awards as a ‘5 Star’ firm, and the Legal 500 APAC Guide for Intellectual Property. Pearce IP leaders are well recognised as leading IP practitioners.

Our leaders have been recognised in virtually every notable IP listing for their legal, patent and trade mark excellence including: IAM Patent 1000, IAM Strategy 300, MIP IP Stars, Doyles Guide, WIPR Leaders, 5 Star IP Lawyers, Women in Law Awards – Partner of the Year, Best Lawyers and Australasian Lawyer 5 Star Awards, Women in Business Law Awards – Patent Lawyer of the Year (Asia Pacific), Most Influential Lawyers (Changemaker), among other awards.

Learn more about how Pearce IP demonstrates, promotes and leads diversity in the workplace.

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