Advising Incoming Law Students Interested in IP

Our law school, like many, has begun the process of distributing offers of admission to prospective students.  Several of us faculty members are part of a typical marketing effort to persuade our admittees to pick our law school; the effort consists of the admissions staff’s sending email under our names to prospective students who have expressed an interest in our fields.  Messages from me, for example, go out to students who are interested in IP law.

A typical response consists of questions about careers and employability.  For students interested in careers in copyright and trademark law, for example, and related non-patent prosecution IP/information law subjects, what are the career prospects for new graduates?  What kinds of jobs have your graduates obtained, and where? 

Sometimes the questions focus on Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania, and when they do, the geographic specificity makes a response relatively straightforward.  Pittsburgh is an old industrial city with an emerging new economy, but the demand for new economy legal services is still young enough and thin enough that the legal profession as a whole hasn’t been reshaped.  There are some opportunities here for non-patent work in IP, but not a lot, and there is a fair amount of scrapping over them by more experienced lawyers.

I should answer the broader question, too:  What does the legal profession offer students who want to pursue interests in “soft” IP, especially if they want to pursue those interests right out of law school?  Faculty colleagues, practicing colleagues, please chime in:  What are the best answers here?

4 thoughts on “Advising Incoming Law Students Interested in IP

  1. Well, I was hoping for some good advice to tell my students! My piece of advice is to look beyond biglaw – there are a lot of medium, small, and boutique IP firms out there that might be interested in hiring.

  2. Well, I was hoping (and am still hoping) to get other perpsectives before offering too many of my own. But I’ll offer one: I generally tell students that whether or not they look primarily to big firms, there aren’t a lot of entry-level jobs out there that permit new lawyers to focus on IP. In other words, there aren’t a lot of first-year “copyright lawyers” and “trademark lawyers” or even “patent litigators.” There are clearly some, particularly in the well-known entertainment and tech centers, but that pool of positions is limited and extremely competitive. Someone who wants to build a career as an IP lawyer is likely to be better off looking for opportunities to get some exposure to IP matters in the context of broader exposure to business law generally, then developing special skills and a practice in IP over time.

  3. Mike: I’ll be interested to see what others say – as a decade ago, my law school had NOTHING to tell me when I posed a similar question. So I forged my own path into software licensing.

    Today, there are maybe 10 (ok, 15) true licensing experts out there who are also lawyers. It’s a green field for someone who can not only learn how to navigate the issues, but also draft and negotiate the agreements. It’s a combination of contract drafting (a non-required class); alternative dispute resolution (a non-required class); negotiation practicum (not even available in most places); and hands-on work in procurement and or a corporate legal department directly related to software (harder to obtain today than anytime in the past given the current economy).

    Oh, and to really be great, you have to understand the technology and business sides of things, too (more classes that aren’t offered in law school).

    So, unfortunately, the legal profession still doesn’t offer much. You have to leave the profession and then, if you so desire, return after getting the skills and experience necessary to do the job. But, then again, this is a MUCH larger issue about the practice of law than just one focused on IP. 🙂

  4. I think it’s best to emphasize that IP problems are part of a much larger suite of issues that will occupy clients. As more commerce moves online, everyone has to deal with cyberlaw. In an era of globalization, only the IP in a firm can be well-monetized (as Andre Gorz argues in The Immaterial); all else gets commoditized.

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