We met with Zsofia on a significant day, the second anniversary of the founding of her company, Fillun, which provides training for paper D of the European Qualifying Examinations for patent attorneys, in addition to patent services.
RH: You started this when studying for the EQE’s, why?
ZSP: It was the first COVID lockdown so I was dependent on looking online for different materials and information to understand how the EQE works. The exam was also going to be different due to COVID with all the papers sat remotely.
There wasn’t much information available online about the EQE. There were two blogs by tutors and of course, the EPO's website. Those blogs were both written from the perspective of tutors and qualified attorneys, so you couldn't find anything about study plans, preparation or anxiety. I realised that there was no EQE blog written by a candidate.
Due to lockdown, there was not much distraction in my life which gave me the time to focus on studying and the idea to also create a blog about my preparation.
I was also extremely lucky as I was in the EPO's candidate support program, so I had a few other people to study with. At first, I just wanted to organise my notes about the EQE in a clear summary, so I just put them up on my website and I sent a link to the other participants in the candidate support program.
RH: Your website is striking in design. Did it always look like this?
ZSP: I started with this website as I wouldn't want to put anything out there that I was not completely satisfied with.
When I had about 5 posts on my blog, I took a brave step and starting posting them on LinkedIn as well. For the first few posts, I probably got maybe one like or two likes. But then I kept doing it, made new connections and the blog took off surprisingly quickly.
RH: This led you to think about how to commercialize it?
ZSP: Commercialising never crossed my mind until August 2021.
Firstly, I obviously had to take the EQE myself. That was a lot of pressure. I mean, failing in front of all of these readers would have been quite a shame!
RH: You passed with flying colours?
ZSP: For Paper D, my favourite, and the one I now teach on, I got 86 marks out of 100, which I think is good. After the exam you have to wait months for the results. I didn’t make any plans during those months but concentrated on my patent practice. After getting the results and being contacted by several candidates I came up with the idea (in August 2021) of launching a study group for EQE 2022, Paper D with just 4 people, but then 5 applied on the same day so I closed the group.
That group was good, the study plan worked, but unfortunately not all the candidates passed. The two who didn’t couldn’t put the work in. Passing the EQE is notoriously tough and for more reasons (extreme work pressure, kids, mental health and technical issues on the day of the exam), these candidates could not find the time to attend the classes and study the questions. Finding the time to study on top a full time job and taking care of family and children is hard.
From this initial group I learned a few things.
Firstly, to plan better. E.g. for the first class I forgot to include a Xmas break. This year I have scheduled a two week break.
Secondly, I really felt bad for the people who failed, but came to rationalise that I could not take the exam for them. All I can do is prepare the classes, turn up every single week and explain the questions, strategies, approach, common mistakes, etc.
Thirdly, I underestimated the time it took me to prepare, and I still find it hard to say no, to set boundaries. E.g. my classes always run longer than scheduled.
RH – You are running classes again this year?
ZSP – Yes, different groups for Paper D1, D2 and the Pre-exam. Two Paper D1 study groups already started in September like last year and another, more intensive D1 study group lasting 3.,5 months rather than the normal 6 in November. The take up has been good, the D1 study groups have been all fully booked in September.
RH – Why do you think that is?
ZSP – I think that I approach this differently than the big training companies. The study groups I organise are not 2 or 3-day trainings but 15 or 25-week long programs with weekly meetings. I act as a personal trainer who is there with you, who motivates you and gives you "homework" for the next meeting. It comes back to my experience studying. I found that you needed to be persistent and to find some kind of accountability. To make sure that you actually show up every time. Unfortunately, it is not possible to prepare for the Paper D in a few weeks' time, you need to study for months. Furthermore, not everyone has the motivation to sit down after work, and do one or two legal questions every single day or week. This is the reason why I decided to organise these study groups with weekly meetings, a good study plan and "homework".
All of our meetings start with the small chats, like how are you, how was your week, and so on. After a while, these group really grow, they share their study materials with each other, they motivate each other and the small group becomes a supporting team of friends. Last year we even met personally in Munich after the exam which was amazing. I hope to repeat that next year!
RH – That sounds great, but possibly is a business that won’t scale?
ZSP – Yes, I am aware of that. Also, it takes a lot of energy to do this. I have to give up basically all of my weekends but I do enjoy it, for now at least. Near exam time last year I was really tired. However, after the exams I thought: I have made a lot of new friends and connections and helped a lot of people pass the exam. That is so rewarding.
RH – What next?
ZSP – I always have many ideas, and working on mulitiple projects at the same time. By request, I am steering a Paper C study group but will not teach or attend it. Also the EQE’s are changing they are in consultations now so teaching methodologies will need to change. We will see what happens. I guess it’s a case of watch this space.