I have been trolling this website for several years. The last couple of weeks I have been contemplating actually posting something. And today I finally decided to actually do it.
Let me first start by giving you some background on my life. I have an MS EE from a top 10 university, and worked for a top 10 IP law firm as a patent Agent. I eventually left the law firm for the PTO. I am sure a lot of you are shocked to hear this. Why leave a law firm and give up the great pay and benefits? Yes, the pay and benefits were great. I had a corporate credit card, took town cars on most PTO travel related business, I traveled to see clients, had a secretary (that I shared), my own office with a view, and I cannot even count all the social events that were provided by the firm with all the free food and alcohol you could consume.
However, what you may also be surprised to hear is that I am not the only person to leave a law firm for the PTO. Moreover, I have several friends and colleagues that plan on leaving their firm when they get their student loans paid off, or build up a nest egg. I also have several friends and colleagues that are planning to stay at their current jobs in their law firm and chase the Partner dream. And still further, I know many people that are only at the PTO for the experience; they plan on leaving the PTO to go to a law firm. I count them all as my friends and realize that each one made their own decisions based on their own wants and needs. However, I will focus on why someone would leave a law firm for the PTO.
Let’s first start with the billable hour requirement, of which my firm required 2000 billable hours a year. As many of you should know, 2000 billable hours does not mean being at work for 2000 hours in a year. For me, it took 10-12 hours to bill 8 hours. I understand this to be somewhat standard for most people. Any one who tells you different is most likely lying. If you average that at 11 hours worked for every 8 hours billed, you’re actually looking at approximately 2745 hours worked in a year to make the minimum requirements. For me, that translated in 10-12 hour days, 6 days a week. This of course was for prosecution, not litigation. Litigation is a whole new ball game.
The law firm I worked at didn’t provide actual vacation. However, if you billed your 2000 hours, you were free to take vacation time. You must understand that if you want to become Partner at a law firm, working 2000 billable hours a year will not get you there. The people I saw become Partners were billing upwards of 3000 a year.
For this work, the pay is great. When I started at my law firm, the starting salary for a first year associate was 165K. The medical benefits were very good, but there was no matching 401k.
So, why did I leave the law firm and go to the PTO? Well, I was miserable there. And so were a lot of people I worked with. Yes, there were a lot of people that were happy too, but I was not one of them. I spent so much time working that I rarely saw my wife, and never took an actual vacation. My only friends started to become the people I worked with, mostly because I saw them so much.
I started to contemplate where I wanted to go. Over the course of several months, I received 5 job offers; three government jobs and 2 other law firm jobs. I now had a choice to make. Do I try another law firm, go back into engineering, or go to the PTO. The engineering jobs were out because one was in Wyoming (lol), and the other required 100% travel. I also decided against another law firm job because I new that I would want to become a student associate, and that, I think, would be worse than actually just working as a patent agent, mostly because of the time that would be required.
So I decided on the PTO. I remember the look on the face of my recruiter when I told him I was going to go to the PTO instead of the law firm jobs that were offered. It was somewhere between utter disgust and complete surprise. In fact, several days later I received a phone call from him. One of the law firms wanted to know why I chose the PTO over them. I laughed and just told her I wanted to try something new. In reality, I just don’t think I could have ever been happy at a law firm.
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