Friday, June 15, 2012

Great Careers for Women -- Patent Law

This is a public service message.

Somewhere out there, a 17 or 19 or 21 year old girl (woman?) is wondering...what the hell should I do for a living?  How can I do something fulfilling, fun (for work), where I can wear fabulous clothes, and make good money?  I have the answer. 

I give these speeches at events at my undergraduate school, because that's how I learned about patent law.  It's my way of giving back.  When I was 18, I didn't even know what a patent was, much less that you could actually be an attorney if you got a technical degree.  I actually thought you had to get a "prelaw" degree or some such nonsense to go to law school.  I was a little sheltered. 

Ladies -- go into patent law.

How do you go into patent law?  Start out with a bachelor of science degree, preferably in some kind of engineering, but math, physics, biology, and chemistry will also be fine.  Something technical -- a "hard science."  Work for at least two years in that field.  Do not -- I repeat, do not -- go straight to law school after you get your bachelor's degree.  As a woman, you should be able to find a job in a technical field.  You are a minority -- diversity is king these days.  If for some reason, you can't after sending out at least 100 resumes and custom cover letters (no, this is not a typo--100), then I will allow you to go straight to law school.  This should not happen for any of you.

After working for two years, go to law school.  Try to go to a school that has a halfway decent intellectual property program.  Or go to a Top 20 school, if you can get in.  Take patent law, trademark law, copyright law, and any other intellectual property classes your school offers, such as trial advocacy, trade secrets.  If your school offers a "major" (certificate) in IP law, get that.  Take the Patent Bar Exam during the fall of your second year in law school.  (If you study for and take it at the same time as you take Patent Law, you will ACE patent law.  Trust me on this.)

Why would you want to go into patent law?  *I hope to not offend anyone here, but I might.

1.  You will be in the minority, which means its easier to get a job.  I'm not saying you can be a complete dumbass idiot and trip and fall into this field.  Chances are, if you managed to get a hard science bachelor's degree, you are far from an idiot.  What I'm saying is that the majority of people in this field are white men.  Law firms want diversity.  Do the math.  (I know you can, since you likely took two years of Calculus.)  This is a heavily male dominated field.  I can't tell you how many times I've been the only female attorney with an appearance in on a case. 

2.  When you get into the job, the same "minorityish" rules apply.  Certain Judges out there hate it when there are no women on the litigation team.  The law firms know who they are.  I've been assigned to cases randomly after we draw the Judge.  In short, you can get some good work just because you are female.  (Some might ask if I care -- no, I don't.  I work at a place that if I wasn't doing good work, I'd be fired, so I don't really worry that I'm getting special treatment.  I kind of laugh when the guys are like "Shit, do you have time to work on this case?  We drew Judge X."  Sure, sure.)  Further, there are a lot of female federal judges these days.  Law firms want female attorneys on cases with female judges.  Again, do the math. 

3.  If you aren't the type to want to get up in court and speak, you can be a patent prosecution attorney, which means you write patent applications and convince the patent office (in writing) to grant your inventor's patent.  Women are needed here, too, because more women than ever are inventing things.  Men are From Mars, Women are from Venus, women are sadly lacking in the field of patent prosecution.

4.  You will make good money.  Patent attorneys are on the higher end of the pay scale when it comes to lawyering.  It's an amazingly specialized field.  (You should start at close to or over 6 figures). 

5.  Because you work in a largely male dominated field, you can get away with a lot when it comes to fashion.  Men have no idea what is appropriate unless it is wildly inappropriate.  You can follow trends.  Just be conservative for clients, court and depositions.

6.  You get to learn about a lot of different types of technology and how they work.  I know all the best brands of cell phones, TVs, etc. 

7.  You don't have to give legal advice to random people.  Lawyering is one of those jobs that when people find out you are a lawyer, they want to immediately start asking you for advice on any topic.  The problem is, being a lawyer is a lot like being a doctor -- after awhile, you get really specialized.  If I got arrested, I'd be freaking about what to do and calling one of my criminal defense friends.  Likewise, while I could probably write my own will, I'll likely go to an attorney who specializes in that to do it.  Just because you have a bar card doesn't mean you should be willy nilly practicing all kinds of law.  Hardly anyone you ever meet has invented something or plans to invent something.  People talk big about it, but no one really does it.  So, you kind of get off a lot more scot free than, say, someone who specializes in family or criminal law.

8.    It really is a fun job.  If you like writing and researching, you are in a very specialized field.  Patent law even has its own appeals court, the Federal Circuit.  It's a small community of attorneys who practice it.  Almost everyone has engineering or other technical degrees.  You are removed from other types of attorneys.  It's just plain fun and unique.

End of public service message.  Go into patent law, ladies! 


  1. I was just having a conversation with another flight attendant last night that I wish I would have pursued something a little more practical in college. She kept wanting to argue with me about how my degree is "invaluable" and "worth every penny" and I kind of looked at her and said, "And yet, we are still doing the EXACT SAME JOB." I'm definitely not saying that degrees in technical fields are unimportant, but i think liberal arts degrees are kind of pointless in the real world.

  2. Thank you for your post.

    I have been considering switching to patent law. I have a PhD in Physics and I am currently do research in the Physics Department of a University. I feel like I would like the type of job you describe. I love reading and writing about science. I am great at talking to people, and in front of people. I just don't like programming or doing complex math. This weekend I will give a talk at the national physics conference and right after I come back I will apply to be a technical advisor at law firms. I read that some firms will pay for the tuition for you to go to law school part time after you take the patent bar. I heard that patent bar is hard, but my qualifier for the PhD was 4 days long, 6 hours each day about anything in physics. I passed the whole thing on the first try.

    I wouldn't mind wearing cute clothes. Here everyone wears jeans and sweatpants, so it is easy to feel too dressed up.

  3. Why do you advise against going to law school immediately after getting a bachelors degree

  4. If you want to check out some good patent lawyer, you can go to - I just took advantage of the free consultation and it was really great. Thinking of hiring him to patent this idea of mine after I finish it.