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Author Topic: missed my calling?  (Read 5791 times)

Dan Weissman

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missed my calling?
« on: 02-23-04 at 06:34 pm »

I have a pretty diverse educational background with an undergrad in biology, and  a master's degree in environmental engineering.  After some years as an engineer in government, and now 39 years old, I'm starting to think I missed my calling and I should have gone into law. I've consdiered environmental law and construction law, but in those fields the technical background is not as much of an asset as I might hope.  

So naturally the idea of patent law came up.  Is my background good enough to be a patent lawyer? Is my age a handicap? Is there any value in having a professional engineer's license?

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JimIvey

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Re: missed my calling?
« Reply #1 on: 02-23-04 at 08:04 pm »

The thing about patent law is that demand and supply varies from technical discipline to technical discipline.  For life science work, I understand that a bachelors degree alone is insufficient for most of it.  I'm far from authoritative on that point, so check around to make sure.  

As for structural engineering, it won't hurt for most mechanical inventions and might even be very much in demand for construction and civil engineering inventions.  Unfortunately, that's not what I do, so it's hard for me to say.  Perhaps you could look through the USPTO patent database for inventions of the type where you think you could really contribute technical expertice and then try calling the attorneys named on the patents.  Perhaps they can give you a sense as to how "hot" those technical disciplines are.

Good luck!
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M. Arthur Auslander

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Re: missed my calling?
« Reply #2 on: 02-24-04 at 05:48 am »

Dear Mr. Weissman,
You have to follow your heart and then life is still random. Do you want a job or do you want to do it yourself.
There is a big difference if you work for someone.
I think I was the only law grad of my class that never worked for another lawyer, went into business for myself and then went into patent law at the suggestion of my best friends who were patent lawyers. I did have the grasp of technology since childhood.
Then things just seemed to happen.What is more I never encouraged inventors to just get patents which could have been gotten. The focus was on reality. I even did criminal law but gave that up because I was getting too many acquitals, of people that turned out to be repeaters.
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Mary_P

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Re: missed my calling?
« Reply #3 on: 12-14-07 at 09:52 am »

I am in the same situation.  I am 39, I have a BA in Biotechnology, minor in Chemistry, an MBA - risk management and negotiations, and also finishing my thesis for my MA in Industrial Technology with an emphasis in Metallurgy.  I have worked in the engineering field for 10 years and have considered applying for the FE.  I also have specialized technical writing education and experience with a handful of technical publications.  I also owned and managed a very successful company for 10 years.  Obviously, these activities were concurrent so am accustom to a very busy and demanding schedule.  
I too feel as though I may have missed my calling and always had considered law but I didn't know which area to specialize in.  Now, given the composite of my education and career background, I feel patent law to be my overwhelming calling.  The irony is that as I have grown my experience I was often told I was over qualified for various positions.  It would appear I would never hear those words in the patent law field.

Any advise or insight would be much appreciated.

Thank you,

Mary
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BotchedExperiment

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Re: missed my calling?
« Reply #4 on: 12-14-07 at 10:33 am »

At 37 I decided to switch careers from life science basic research to patent law.  Not so much of a calling for me, but a realization of basic economics.

Because I couldn't get a job as an agent with a firm, I decided to start my own business doing over-flow work for local firms.  It has worked out well.

Here are my opinions on the subject:

In general, what I've learned is this: even (or especially) if you're self-employed, or you're a new attorney without several years of patent law experience and you don't have some amazing technical background in a very difficult field, you can't be picky about what type of work you do.  

The only way to really be in control of the types of technology you're working with is to be a patent attorney with 5+ years of experience.  It seems to me that after you're an established attorney, for the purposes of getting work, you're technical experience doesn't matter as much.

It is true that to get that first job doing life science patent work, you're at a disadvantage without a PhD. However, I see lots of attorneys with 5+ years of experience and NO background in life sciences doing biotech work.  Thus, for example, if you don’t have a super technical life science background but want to work in that field, try to get hired by a general practice firm that has some bio work.  For several years, you’ll probably be doing over-flow work for other attorneys (which tends to be mechanical stuff), but eventually you’ll be able to be more picky about what you work on.

Starting later in life could potentially be a handicap, but I think whether it is or not largely depends on two things.  First is whether you feel young and vibrant and are still willing to work hard.  Second is what type of firm you go to.  If you go to some big-city biglaw firm that is known to be a meat factory, they’ll probably look at you a bit sideways.  

As has been said many times on this forum, if you decide to go to law school it is best to go to at least a top 30 school and finish in the top 25% of your class.  Of course, this is not a requirement, but in getting a job, there are about 4 main criteria that they look at: law school, grades, technical background, personality.  If you go to a so-so school, have so-so grades, and have a so-so technical background, you may very well struggle to get a job.

Weakness in any of the 4 areas needs to be made up for in the other 3, but at the firms I work with the emphasis seems to be on a candidate attending a top 30 school, being in the top 25% of class, and technical background either being in life science or electrical engineering.  Preference is given to advanced degrees, but is not weighted all that highly.  So if you want to go to law school, do it right.

As for whether you need to go to law school, that’s another question.  For now, I don’t plan on it.  
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ray.nyls

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Re: missed my calling?
« Reply #5 on: 12-15-07 at 03:45 am »

my two cents to add on this topic: I went to a law school (NYLS) which has an older student population - I would say probably about half of my classmates were not coming right out of college, and quite a few in the age range mentioned here (and above).  I think something unique with older students (as seems to be expressed by a couple of postings here) is you aren't necessarily taking the 'traditional' law school route - going to a top school, participating in moot court/law review, being in the top 10%, etc - which will land you a coveted law firm job upon graduation.  Most older students have to manage living (raising families, paying bills, mortgages, etc) while attending law school, so it becomes more about getting the degree than becoming a law student on your way to a law firm job after graduation.  I agree that starting out in patent law especially would be tough, it may take a little longer to have the privilege of doing what you really want and earning the money you would like - BUT I do not believe being 39 years old, not having an EE degree or PhD, or not being in a top school/top of class/etc forecloses the possibility of successful patent practice.  After all - not all successful patent lawyers have an EE, nor did they all go to a top law school or graduate in the top of their class; those that did most likely had a much easier beginning, but eventually it will depend on what you are able to make of opportunities that come up....
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horsechute

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Re: missed my calling?
« Reply #6 on: 02-18-08 at 04:13 am »

....and now 39 years old, I'm starting to think I missed my calling and I should have gone into law. So naturally the idea of patent law came up.  Is my background good enough to be a patent lawyer? Is my age a handicap? Is there any value in having a professional engineer's license?

39 too old?
You've got to be kidding. I can speak from others experience in the legal field that you are NOT too old at all. I remember  someone who did basic research in biology, and after getting turned down for grants, he said he applied to and got accepted into every law school to which he applied (I think he ended up at Harvard) and that he "decided to go where I was wanted." The answer to your question in my view is a resounding NO. For my two cents, I went to law school later in life after being an electrical engineer and don't regret the decision at all. The only thing I regret, and I regret it very much, is ever working at the patent office.
If you decide to take that route, ask around beforehand, and read what people say on this blog.
I hope you try a career in IP. Experience is the spice of life, and as they say, education is a lifelong venture.
« Last Edit: 08-13-08 at 01:52 am by horsechute »
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dz

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Re: missed my calling?
« Reply #7 on: 02-20-08 at 09:43 pm »

Hi Mary,

I'm glad to hear that you are contemplating a career in patent law.  I encourage you to go for your calling.  Just like you, I had to think of my age when I was making up my mind to go to law school.  I am 38 right now.  By the time I finish law school I will be over 40.  Being a little older than most law school students is generally considered a disadvantage, but having gone through more years of life also gives us more insight into what is ultimately important to us.

I taught math/science at an inner city public school; I was also involved in tech-heavy start-ups for a number of years.  Such experience shaped my outlook on life.  Yes earning $$$ is very important (I am married with kids after all), but there are many other equally important things in life: the kinds of things I learned to appreciate when I was mentoring disadvantaged kids, whether they were racial minority or poor white kids (let's not overlook those poor white kids!); the kinds of things I learned to appreciate when I was struggling along with many people to get our small businesses off the ground with very limited resources...

The legal field is becoming more like a business and less like a profession these days, and that is truly unfortunate.  The way I see it: we enter the legal profession to help people, and along the way, we get compensated for our effort.  When it comes to beating out your competitors in the legal field, yes being a little younger gives you an edge, but when it comes to helping people with your knowledge and wisdom, then I don't see any problem with being a little older than your colleagues in the profession.  And as we focus on helping clients, giving them the best service and value, somewhere along the way we will get justly compensated.  Life is fair in the long run after all.

Just my 2 cents.  Sorry if you feel like I am preaching.

David
« Last Edit: 02-21-08 at 01:34 am by dz »
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xzjn9p

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Re: missed my calling?
« Reply #8 on: 03-04-08 at 09:51 am »

I'll tell you my experience.  I'm 31 and spent 5 years working as an engineer before going to law school full time.  I have a BS and MS in engineering and my work experience is very good.  That said if you want a patent law job at a big time GP firm or a middle to large IP firm you need really good law school grades.  My work experience and education is above average for my peers but my grades in law school were only ok.  That really held me back in my job search.  You need to network and get that 1L and 2L summer associate jobs, without those it gets really hard getting the associate position.  My point is your technical background is important but in reality you will be judged on your legal training not your technical.  They're not hiring scientists/engineers they want a lawyer.  So if you want that big associate job, study HARD for the lsat, get the best school you can and then study study study and get good grades.   If you can't get in a top law school go to one that is geographically near some patent work like DC, NYC, Chicago, Bay area, etc.  Your not going to find much patent work in Nebraska.

Of course after sending my resume to ~150 firms I found one that really values a technical background, which is where I'm going to work this fall.  So it is possible, just difficult.
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LF

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Re: missed my calling?
« Reply #9 on: 03-04-08 at 10:25 am »

Dan:

My view is that you need to decide if you want to go into Law (ie Law School, etc.), or into the IP business (Patent prosecution etc.). While they overlap, if you want the former, you NEED to heed all the advise above, top school, top grades, etc. As someone stated, they do not need an engineer, they want a lawyer!

If the latter (IP), then nothing is stopping you from getting your Patent Agent credentials. I am also a PE, have a couple more years than you (but within a decade), and can tell you that the patent prosecution side has nothing to do with engineering, and all to do with communication (with your customer, so you understand the idea and can write it down; with the USPTO so you can be an effective champion for your customer), and rules, lots of rules.

As you also will see, the exams (PE and PA) have nothing in common (well, ok, in both of them you sit for a number of hours?).

I find I LOVE the patent prosecution side (as an Agent), the whole having someone explain their idea, writing it down, office actions, etc. But there is a lot of work in securing a position when you are older than 45. Firms recognize they'll be training you, and frankly would rather have someone else do that. An honest partner in an interview just told me, "heck only 1/3 of the hires work out anyway" (He meant staying at the firm, not making partner!).

I wish I had started sooner (say when I was 40), but it is what it is, and it is a great business. You get paid to learn! (partly). As a good contrarian, I am distance learning law in CA, but I certainly don't plan to get a job there through any traditional methods. I figure when (if?) I get my Law license in CA, I'd have the magic 7+ years of Patent Agent experience, and it'll be more of a lateral (I'll be working for myself anyway, just doing basic Trademarking, not going near a Jury under any conditions!). But again, everyone's circumstances are different.

Good luck.

LF
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