Whenever I speak at law schools, I inevitably get asked questions about what students should be doing to (1) set themselves up in a position to be hired; and (2) ultimately land a job. With that in mind, I thought it might make sense to cover some steps that can be taken to help find a legal job in this field.
1. Take and pass the patent bar exam
For virtually everyone, the best advice one can give now is to take and pass the patent bar exam while you are in law school. First, the job market is tough and anything you can do to set yourself apart will be helpful. Second, if you pass, you will be a patent agent, which opens up the possibility that you might be able to get some relevant work experience during your law school career, helping you bridge the gap toward obtaining that 2+ years experience that firms all say they want.
Take the exam as early as you reasonably can, but don’t even consider taking it until the end of your first year of law school. You need to focus 100% on your first year of law school. But the sooner the better, after that. We now see that the largest demographic taking our course seems to be rising 2Ls, taking the Exam in the summer between their 1L and 2L years.
2. Identify what you bring to the table
It is critical to understand that what a patent attorney or patent law firm wants is some kind of technical expertise. Unlike in virtually any other field of law, those who are patent-bar-qualified can meaningfully assist a patent attorney day one, particularly those who are Category A qualified.
With this in mind, you must determine what it is that is unique about yourself. What technical expertise do you bring to the table?
3. Do a patent search
Once you figure out what you bring to the table, now you have to figure out where to send your cover letter and resume. Identify attorneys and firms that work in the space where you have something unique to contribute. The best way I know how to do that is to do a patent search. Search for technologies that you know something about and see what attorneys or firms are listed on those patents. Then see if any of those firms or attorneys are hiring, or just reach out to appropriate individuals for mentoring and/or networking.
4. Networking is an absolute must
Gone are the days when your law degree is going to get you a job with little or no effort. But don’t attend networking events with your resume stapled to your forehead. You cannot be in “sell” mode constantly. You need to make contacts. You need information. You need someone who can point you in the right direction.
Career services people call it informational networking. Family, friends of family and alumni are great places to start doing information networking, because it is far easier to get those folks to say yes to a 15-minute phone call, or to meet at a popular local lunch spot or nearby coffee shop. Ask questions to gain information, ask what might be good to put on a cover sheet, even ask them to take a look at your resume. You can, and should, also ask whether they know anyone who is hiring that might be able to use your skills.
5. Business cards
Wherever you go, you absolutely, positively must carry business cards with you. If you offer a business card, the likelihood is you will get one in return and then you have contact information from someone you might be able to network with later for information or advice.
Of course, your business cards need to be professional, so no e-mail addresses like “bunnylove4u@XYZ.com.” If you don’t want to use your school e-mail address for some reason, then get a GMail account with something like your first name – dot- last name. Also be sure to have an updated and professional LinkedIn account and include your URL on your business card. You may also want to consider putting your patent bar qualifications on the card as well, perhaps saying something as simple as “B.S. Electrical Engineering, Rutgers 1992.”
6. The Internet is forever
It should go without saying, but the Internet is forever! Be careful what you post to the Internet, and attempt to segregate your personal life from your professional life to the extent possible. I say this because Facebook is so extremely popular, but it is probably not the most business-friendly platform for an individual professional setting out to try to make a mark. Facebook is a great way to stay in touch with family and friends, but much of what you and your friends do and say on Facebook probably won’t convey the polished professional that you are or strive to be.