Laura Orlando, Head of Intellectual Property Practice in Italy, Simmons & Simmons.
How long have you been working for your current company?
Approximately 2 years.
Briefly explain your career history and what led you to your current position.
I specialised in intellectual property law for approximately 10 years at a well-know, top tier Italian IP boutique. I then capitalised on this specialist expertise to join Simmons & Simmons to develop the firm’s national IP practice.
What is your proudest professional achievement and why?
Heading and running a practice within a top multi-jurisdictional firm is something I am proud of. I feel this is an important accomplishment, given that Simmons & Simmons’ international IP group has a terrific and well deserved reputation. Having had this chance while being relatively young (I was 33 when I was recruited to build up the Italian IP practice) is also an achievement.
What are the greatest challenges that you face in your current role and what do you do to overcome them?
Gaining credibility is a key aim. Leveraging on my reputation as an IP lawyer and litigator, I have been striving to re-brand myself with Simmons & Simmons and at the same time establish myself on the market. I am striving to do this through a number of profile-raising activities, such as attending/speaking at conferences, publications, marketing, etc.
How difficult is it for you personally to attain work-life balance and how do you endeavour to do this?
It can be difficult but I think that attaining work-life balance is fundamental to performing well professionally in general, in particular because women are physically “weaker” than men. Since University, I swim competitively and I am proud that I haven’t had to give it up. It can be difficult sometimes as I have to train regularly–two to three times a week – and attend national and international competitions. Instead of depleting my energy it is actually a big source of energy and concentration.
Did you have a mentor or role model in your career or while you were studying law? Who were they and how did they help you?
I started my career as a lawyer with the Italian IP boutique firm Trevisan&Cuonzo. I learned a great deal from a partner of the firm, Julia Holden. From her I learned a lot on how to keep the right psychological approach to work . Women are often perceived as being more moody and emotional than men, and I think it is not an entirely untrue stereotype. Having said that, I think that a key factor in a woman’s success in a working environment is to be able to remain calm and firm, without being too aggressive.
How effective do you think corporate diversity initiatives are? What methods do you think are most effective and why?
Particularly at the highest levels, women are still largely outnumbered by men in positions of responsibility in politics and business, as well as in other fields. This is true across the EU, and perhaps even truer in Italy.
Although ensuring gender balance in decision making positions is mainly the responsibility of individual EU countries, the European Commission has long recognised the need to promote gender balance in decision-making processes and positions and the European Commission is encouraging the process by various means. I think that the Women's Charter presented by the European Commission in March 2010 and the EU Strategy for Equality between Women (2010-2015) – which reaffirmed the European Commission's commitment to working to increase the percentage of women in positions of responsibility – are important initiatives.
Were there any points in your career when you felt you were at a disadvantage or at an advantage because you were female?
I have been sufficiently lucky to be able to say that there has never really been a point in my career when I was at a disadvantage. However I do happen to feel at a disadvantage in situations such as meetings where I am the only woman or court hearings before a very senior (male) judge and with a very senior (male) counterparty…
What do you think have been the most significant changes for women in the legal industry over the past five years?
The number of women gaining brilliant results at studies and having access to the legal industry has hugely increased in the past few years. Today, it appears that more women than men are graduating from universities. The natural outcome of this is that there will be more women in the working environment at all levels.