Intellectual Property Forums (http://www.intelproplaw.com/Forum/Forum.cgi)

(Message started by: Masdf on May 13th, 2007, 9:05pm)

Title: Being a happy, healthy, and ethical lawyer
Post by Masdf on May 13th, 2007, 9:05pm
I'm slogging my way through this article from 1999 about the culture at law firms.

(Type "Being a happy, healthy, and ethical lawyer" in Google to see the article- This BB would not allow me to paste the link)

I'm currently a patent examiner strongly considering going to law school for patent/trademark/other ip law and have being reading extensively about the demand for attorneys with huge billable hour requirements. I make a good living right now and would rather have a high quality of life than a skyhigh salary.

Are there many firms with reduced billable hour requirements, especially in the IP arena? What about inhouse council- Is this any better?  50 hours a week I wouldn't mind but much more I don't think is a good idea.

Title: Re: Being a happy, healthy, and ethical lawyer
Post by Bill Richards on May 24th, 2007, 10:08am
Congratulations on your mature attitude on work and earning a living.  It sounds like you've given this a great deal of thought.  If you're happy where you are, why do you want to look elsewhere?
There are many, many law firms that do not have the intense billable hour requirements.  They are generally the smaller firms that specialize in IP work.  The salary will be lower, however.  In-house counsel is a good choice, but there are many different situations.  In general, however, the work is less hectic.  I know of a number of colleagues who went in-house from a law firm enviroment and are very happy.  The pay is not as high as it might be at a law firm, but it can still be quite good.  The only drawback at this time is that many in-house positions require some prior experience.  Don't know if your PTO experience would be attractive or not.  It might at some level, but the lack of, for example, actual drafting experience may be a minus.
P.S.  We really need all the quality patent examiners we can get.  Don't bolt too quickly!

Title: Re: Being a happy, healthy, and ethical lawyer
Post by same as above on Jun 4th, 2007, 11:30pm
Thank you for your response. This law school application process has been long. (I only applied to one school for this year and am now waitlisted.)

The reason I want to look elsewhere is because a future at the patent office requires fully double the production per biweek that I do now. I spend large amounts of time searching and think that I'd rather do something that does not depend on my searching for needles in haystacks with decreasing amounts of allotted time.  Plus the haystack is becoming bigger by >400k apps per year.

I've done the math: 400k divided  by (8231 active agents and 26086 active attorneys) is a fairly high number and thus I think that there will be plenty of demand for someone experienced in EE/CS with a law degree, both inside and outside the patent office.

I am well-aware that the office needs good examiners as it's losing a lot of experienced examiners while not quickly replacing them. I once registered my frustration at the way the office works with a very high-up manager. I said I didn't think it was fair either to applicants or to the office employees that the system is build to encourage allowance and discourage rejection. I write a LOT of rejections and spend a lot of time on them in order to make accurate and easy to understand rejections. We have to dispose of cases as fast as possible so a worse examiner (ie one that does an inadequate search or one that won't justify a rejection) will do better  than one who spends lots of time on his/her cases. The response from the manager was (direct quote) "We're the patent office, not the rejection office."

While the patent office is overall a good place to work, I wish the quality of my work was better recognized. I think that recognition could be better had on the outside. As for salary, I get along quite well on less than 6 figures but want to stay in the DC area long term and that will probably mean buying an overpriced condo. I think I could probably afford something now because of my aggressive saving, so anything more is just a bonus to me.

Title: Re: Being a happy, healthy, and ethical lawyer
Post by Examiner on Jun 13th, 2007, 5:16pm
I'm also an examiner.  I've been accepted to every law school in the DC area, but decided to think it over before possibly enrolling next year.  However, the more I think about it, the more law school appears to be a waste of time for me (and many other examiners) because of the promotion potential here at the USPTO.

I've been told that I'm being considered for the SPE positions that keep opening up.  SPEs make 121-145k base salary.  I know several that max out at 145k by working "overtime from home."  They also get a 15k bonus.  To top it off, they get a pension that is worth at *least* another 10k/year.  So, here is a stable, 9-5 job that effectively pays 170k/year.

How does the SPE position compary to the private sector?  Would I necessarily need to make partner for law school not to be a waste of time and money?

I appreciate any comments.

Title: Re: Being a happy, healthy, and ethical lawyer
Post by Isaac on Jun 14th, 2007, 7:05am

on 06/13/07 at 17:16:53, Examiner wrote:
How does the SPE position compary to the private sector?  Would I necessarily need to make partner for law school not to be a waste of time and money?


You can make substantially more money in the private sector even without making partner, but if your priority is working 9-5 over making more money, you'll probably want to be a SPE rather than an associate.

First year associates can make 145-160k starting salaries at the larger DC firms.


Title: Re: Being a happy, healthy, and ethical lawyer
Post by Examiner on Jun 14th, 2007, 10:43am
I wouldn’t say that my only priority is working 9-5.  But, law school is costly and time consuming.  Thus, for it to be worth it I think there needs to be a significant payoff.  I would define significant payoff as making significantly more money on an hourly basis.

What you’re saying is that SPEs effectively make more (170k) than first-year associates (145-160k).

Most SPEs get 392 hrs of leave per year and thus “bill” (loosely used) about 1688 hrs.  Whereas, my understanding is that associates need to bill 1800-2000 hrs.  And, surely, associates work much harder per billable hour.  Let’s assume that associates work 1.25 hours for each hour billed…that’s 2250-2500 hours.

So, to be worth the money on an hourly basis, I would need to average at least (2250/1688 ) * $170,000 ~= $226,000 per year every year.  This is not even including the cost of attending law school (about 36k because tuition is mostly taxable), not to mention the time.  

Thus, I suppose my question boils down to what is the likelihood that I would make significantly more than 226k every year if I go through law school?

Title: Re: Being a happy, healthy, and ethical lawyer
Post by pentazole on Jun 14th, 2007, 1:56pm

on 06/14/07 at 10:43:08, Examiner wrote:
Thus, I suppose my question boils down to what is the likelihood that I would make significantly more than 226k every year if I go through law school?


I think you will be lucky to make 150 K in your first 2-3 years, unless your base salary is such, and that kind of first year salary is only available at select firms in select markets.  In the rest of the nation, a first year associate makes about 100-120 K per year, based on anywhere from 1800-2000 billable hours.  WIth bonus options, if you can meet your billable hours and then some, you can make up to about 35% of your salary as bonus.  It would be unrealistic to think you will break into the 200's unless you are a superstar, or unless you have a large portfolio of your own clients you are bringing with you.

Title: Re: Being a happy, healthy, and ethical lawyer
Post by Examiner on Jun 17th, 2007, 9:03pm

on 06/14/07 at 13:56:36, pentazole wrote:
I think you will be lucky to make 150 K in your first 2-3 years, unless your base salary is such, and that kind of first year salary is only available at select firms in select markets.  In the rest of the nation, a first year associate makes about 100-120 K per year, based on anywhere from 1800-2000 billable hours.  WIth bonus options, if you can meet your billable hours and then some, you can make up to about 35% of your salary as bonus.  It would be unrealistic to think you will break into the 200's unless you are a superstar, or unless you have a large portfolio of your own clients you are bringing with you.


It's highly likely I could get on the BPAI if I go through with LS.  Would firms really pay a former judge only 150k?

Title: Re: Being a happy, healthy, and ethical lawyer
Post by PA on Jun 17th, 2007, 10:35pm

on 06/17/07 at 21:03:21, Examiner wrote:
It's highly likely I could get on the BPAI if I go through with LS.  Would firms really pay a former judge only 150k?

You seem to be implying that working as a BPAI judge would entitle you to higher salary.  That may not necessarily be the case.  Especially with the smaller firms, income is generally tied to the profitability of the associate.  From a business standpoint this makes sense, right?  If you bring in more money to the firm, then you should get paid more.  For lawyers, profitability is usually tied to billable hours and rainmaking.

I think a better question to ask yourself is how your background as a BPAI judge or anything else provides the firm with increased profitability to justify paying you more than "only" 150K.

Title: Re: Being a happy, healthy, and ethical lawyer
Post by Isaac on Jun 18th, 2007, 7:57am

on 06/14/07 at 13:56:36, pentazole wrote:
I think you will be lucky to make 150 K in your first 2-3 years, unless your base salary is such, and that kind of first year salary is only available at select firms in select markets.


Valid point.  However some firms in the DC market will pay 145-160 to start, and a successful Georgetown, GW or even Geo Mason grad with PTO experience would be a viable candidate for such a job.   I think it's legitimate to consider the DC market for an examiner who already lives in the DC area.

But there is of course no assurance that a given law school grad will get one of those jobs.    Unfortunately, people have to make the decision to attend law school without being fully able to evaluate their employment prospects.   Also, not eveyone enjoys law school.

The question about becoming a BPAI judge does point out another consideration.   A law school education is not simply an expense for getting an associates position, but is itself a valuable consideration.   A law school degree might well have value at the PTO.   I've never quite understood the complaints about having to pay taxes on the money the PTO gives you to pay for law school, but I'm probably just "old school".   Many people struggle to pay off debt they get paying for law school.

However, for an examiner who has the option to become a SPE it doesn't appear that there is a huge payoff if dollars/hour is a consideration.   As an attorney, you probably will work harder per dollar than a SPE if the life is as "kick back" as described here.   Certainly law school itself won't be easy if you are serious about doing well there (as you should be)  You can easily make more money as an associate than as a SPE even without making partner, (do some googling for the pay scale for mid level associates) but depending on your current age, family situation, and time in at the PTO, you might understandably not want to work so hard to do so.    

I hope my comments don't seem to be derisive of Examiner's position.  While, I would view the prospects of becoming a SPE less attractively than does the Examiner,  that's partly because I find the work as an attorney enjoyable and because I wouldn't enjoy being an examiner or SPE nearly as much, and I did examine for a while.   There's a lot to be said for a job that allows you to spend more time with your family than I can, but still allows you to live comfortably in the DC area.

Title: Re: Being a happy, healthy, and ethical lawyer
Post by flskdj on Jun 19th, 2007, 8:35pm
I'm an examiner and have been mulling around the idea of going to law school also.  The question for me is which will be less stressful--going to school part time and staying at the PTO or going to school part time and working for a law firm as an agent.  I've got my registration number and close to three years experience as an examiner and will be entering the sig program in a couple more months if I decide to stay at the PTO.  Anyone have any ideas which would be less stressful?

In my opinion, even if you decide to stay at the PTO, getting that law degree does make sense even if you don't become anything more than a SPE because it'll give you some flexibility and marketability in case you do need to leave the PTO for some reason.  




Powered by YaBB 1 Gold - SP 1.3.2!
Forum software copyright © 2000-2004 Yet another Bulletin Board