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   Patent Agent at BigLaw vs. IP Boutique
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   Author  Topic: Patent Agent at BigLaw vs. IP Boutique  (Read 2097 times)
schmickey
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Patent Agent at BigLaw vs. IP Boutique
« on: Dec 1st, 2005, 11:07pm »
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I am finishing up my M.S. in EE in the spring and have been looking at switching careers to patent law. I really only know that patent law seems to be a good fit on paper (based on speaking with patent attorneys, some friends who are patent engineers/tech specs, and reading endlessly online). However, after years of internships at EE companies, 3 years in an EE grad program, and having interviewed again this fall at EE companies, I'm fairly sure I'd like to make this career jump. That being said, here is my question:
 
For someone who thinks patent law is the way to go (that is, becoming a patent agent for sure) but who isn't sure about law school (becoming a patent attorney), would it be better to work in the IP department at a large law firm or to work for a IP-only firm?
 
Salary and benefits aren't the biggest considerations for me (though I have a feeling they will be better at BigLaw), and I understand there will be a pretty big difference in culture.  
 
What I'm most interested in trying to figure out is if choosing one over the other will affect my career options down the road.  
 
If I decide to go to law school, I know that having advice and recommendations from influential partners at BigLaw could be very useful, if that is possible (and also, they have many branches where I could do 1L and 2L summers). The boutique, however, would pay for school if I stay in town and work full time (though I understand the argument that I should go to the best school I can get into, which might not just be the school in town). Additionally, though the boutique doesn't have more than the one big-name founder, I'm assuming I have a better chance to get to know the higher-ups at the firm better (and hence have more personal and meaningful recommendations/advice).
 
If I don't go to law school, I'm not sure that BigLaw will want to keep me on too long. Speaking with them, it seemed that the track was to be a tech spec for a year or two, go to law school (and do summers with them) and come back to work as attorney for them. With the boutique, it seemed like I could be a patent agent forever if I choose, and that they treat their agents  well (or so they say).  
 
It seems that the type of work I could do at BigLaw would be mostly EE-related prosecution, with some litigation/tech advice thrown in (maybe that means a lot of research and boring reading?). Client interaction (if any) would come down the road. With the boutique, I woud get to meet with inventors right away, but I'm not sure whether I would just do prosecution work all day.  
 
I would ideally like to get the broadest possible picture of what patent law is like (broad in the sense of the nature of prosecution vs. litigation, get client interaction, hopefully get partner interaction, etc) to make my decision about whether or not to go to law school (right now, full-time school seems most appealing). So, if I decide to go to law school, will it matter where I worked? And if I decide not to go to law school (and stay a patent agent), but decide to seek another patent law job, will it matter where I worked?
 
Sorry for the long post, and I sincerely appreciate any advice or info anyone can give. Thanks a lot!
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Isaac
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Re: Patent Agent at BigLaw vs. IP Boutique
« Reply #1 on: Dec 2nd, 2005, 1:45am »
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You seem to be doing your homework prior to making your decision.  I'm hesitant to give advice to someone who has thought things through the way you seem to be doing.
 
I'd suggest that you not give so much weight to how big the names are you'd be working with and getting recommendations from.
 
I also think your impression about the viability of the agent track at big firms is dead on.  For me the solution to that problem would be to go to law school.  Perhaps one way to approach making your decision is to try to answer the law school question.
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Isaac
schmickey
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Re: Patent Agent at BigLaw vs. IP Boutique
« Reply #2 on: Dec 2nd, 2005, 3:06am »
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Thanks for the response!
 
I would love to get as much input as people are willing to give, just to get a point of view or new idea I might not have already come up on in all my agonizing Smiley Of course, I will take advice with a grain of salt, so fire away!
 
I am definitely not choosing a firm on the partners' names (both firms are respectable, but BigLaw has the national cred), but the law school advice/recommendation point was brought up by someone at BigLaw (clearly biased, but perhaps true Wink --just another factor in the mix is all.
 
If I knew that I didn't want to go to law school, I would 100% choose to work at the boutique. At this point, I *do* think I want to go to law school (again, on paper).  I don't think I can really make an informed decision about going to law school until I at least see the legal world-- so my aim is to learn as much as possible while working in patent law to see if being an attorney is something I can do.  
 
So really, the question boils down to this:
In your opinion, where would I get the best picture of patent law and how life would be as a patent attorney? In the BigLaw IP dept, or at the boutique?
 
I'd love more input! Thanks.
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Isaac
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Posts: 3472
Re: Patent Agent at BigLaw vs. IP Boutique
« Reply #3 on: Dec 2nd, 2005, 6:48am »
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I worked at a small firm for a while, and I've been at a large firm for a couple weeks.   I got really good experience drafting patent applications at the small firm.   The small firm pretty much turned the client contact stuff over to me once I was assigned to a case.  Also my supervisor was not an electrical engineer which meant that he trusted me to get the technology down.   I really enjoyed that part of things.
 
At this particular large firm, my expectations are that I'll do less drafting from scratch, more foreign work (cleaning up translated applications) and be involved with litigation support actitivities.  Initially, I don't expect to have as much client contact.   My supervisors know the technology we work far better than I do at this point.
 
But the mix of activities and responsibilities varies from one firm to the next even among firms of the same size.   While interviewing I got the impression that some firms keep attorneys prosecuting for some time before they get involved with litigation activities.   Depending on the client mix, you may be doing more drafting of new apps and less foreign prosecution.
 
There are also limitations to what patent agents can do.
 
Your decision to get immersed before you decide whether to go to law school is rational, but it also is not the way most people make their decision.   I think you'll get a decent impression of things at either firm.
 
 
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Isaac
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