Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Work Experience

As promised, I am writing to discuss my thoughts on how my work experience will affect law school, and my career beyond law school. I am one of the lucky few who will be going into law school with several years of real world legal experience, and I don't mean being a gopher at a law firm grabbing sandwiches for the associates. I also don't mean being a paralegal. I am not disparaging paralegals, far from it. But I think even paralegals would agree that there is a large difference between what paralegals do and what lawyers do.

I have spent almost three years working as a patent agent in a patent law firm. For those of you who aren't familiar with patent law, a patent agent is someone with a technical degree (Chemical Engineering in my case) who has passed the Patent Office's qualification exam, usually referred to as the Patent Bar Exam. I passed the Exam in 2001 and have been a patent agent registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) ever since. Even before that I was doing a lot of work on patent applications, which was reviewed by my boss, a patent attorney.

Since starting my job I have written about 45 patent applications, and at least as many amendments1. I have conducted several patentability searches and written search reports/patentability opinions2. I also have helped write non-infringement and/or invalidity opinions3. In addition, I have been able to see how my boss, a patent attorney with about 15 years of experience, handles clients, adversaries, and a law practice in general.

To make a grand statement of the obvious, I believe my work experience will have one of three effects on law school and my career:
1. It will be an advantage for me
2. It won't really have much effect
3. It will be detrimental

Here's my reasons for why I believe each could be an option.
1. Advantage Through my work, particularly due to my training from my boss, I have seen, and hopefully made, several good persuasive arguments. Most of my bosses career has been spent as a patent litigator, so he has a lot of experience with good arguments and bad arguments. If I make a bad or flimsy argument in something he reviews for me, he'll tell me so (and boy, does he tell me so). He has also helped me to spot my good arguments, and to present them in the best way, so that they are more forceful and persuasive. If any of this experience has rubbed off on me, I should have a head start on my argument skills, which if I continue to develop them will be invaluable throughout law school and in my career.

Also, I have done a lot of writing in my time here, and my writing has improved dramatically (at least I hope so). I am now able to more clearly organize my thoughts so that they come out cleanly onto the page, instead of as a incoherent mess. I am able to more efficiently organize and develop my words. Since writing is absolutely the most critical skill a good lawyer can have, I think this skill will be even more valuable than my argument skills. Also, because law school exams are written, I hope that my improved efficiency and clarity in my writing will help me convey the "right" answers effectively, and hopefully translate into better grades.

2. No Change All the stuff I said up there is great right? But will it really help me that much? There are many great natural writers and arguers in law school... it's just naturally where arguers go. I've had some polishing of my skills... so what? It could be that it won't really help me all that much. Maybe the skills I improved on went in the wrong direction, or aren't as useful in law school as I think they might be. Or maybe, by the time I get to the point of the skills being useful, I've read so many cases that my brains have turned to mush, and I've forgotten everything and am now the equivalent of an intellectual five-year-old.

3. Detriment What if I am so sure that the skills I've gotten in my work experience are helpful that I miss out on some other really great learning experience? What if I simply close my mind to some really great ways of looking at things because "that wasn't the way I did it at work"? They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks, and while I don't feel that I am an old dog quite yet, I sure as hell am not getting any younger.

I really don't think option 3 will happen, because I feel I am very good at being open to new experiences, criticisms, and ways of learning. Like all of you, I've had to adapt how I learn several times as the difficulty of the subjects I was learning ratcheted up and up, so I think I will be able to take law school as it is intended, a place to train me to become a lawyer. We'll see.

1 An amendment is the patent applicant's attempt to modify the claims based on a rejection by the patent office. It is fairly standard practice, and usually two or three rounds of rejections and amendments are required before a patent application is allowed.
2 Typically, a search of previous patents, or prior art, is conducted before writing a patent application so that you know if there is similar technology in the public domain.
3 A client has these done when they have been accused, or expect to be accused, of infringement of a specific patent. These opinions, or opinions of counsel, state that the attorney (my boss was the one who signed off on them, so don't worry, no pre-law school malpractice for me) believes that either 1) The patent is not infringed by the client's product in question, and why, or 2) even if the patent is infringed, the patent office shouldn't have issued the patent, and that the patent is therefore invalid, or both.


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