Where’s the Money? IP Law’s Lucrative Niche for Future Attorneys

February 28, 2017

With jobs becoming fewer and farther between many future lawyers are finding themselves asking the same couple of questions. Where are the jobs? What practice areas are expanding and need attorneys? And where is the money? In a podcast styled interview with Asked and Answered, Stephanie Francis Ward advanced these questions and more to legal search consultant and author of The Right Moves: Job Search and Career Development Strategies for Lawyers, Valerie Fontaine.
Law students and practicing attorneys alike will agree that the job market for lawyers is far from where it once was. And although it is recovering, finding a job in this day and age can be a daunting task for many advocates of the legal profession. Yet not all practice areas are without hope. Understanding the “legal economy” can help law students figure out that certain “areas [can be] hot right now [yet] may be completely cold in the future, and vice versa.”  Among the practice areas destined for growth and security, real estate, corporate transactional, and intellectual property (IP) top out the list.
The reasons IP is growing mirror the technological boom the entire world has experienced within the past half-century. From a 50 ton computer only capable of calculating the most rudimentary equations, to hand held devices capable of sending a rocket ship into the atmosphere; IP’s prospective job field is understandably on the rise. Finding a job in this field however, is not without its setbacks. Specifically, for the liberal arts undergraduate majors who have undertaken the journey to becoming a lawyer.
What IP firms are truly looking for are candidates with hard-science undergraduate backgrounds. The electrical engineers, the biologists, the physicists and even mechanical engineers are the premiere target candidates of many IP firms and boutiques. This has to do with the nature of patents under the umbrella of IP law, and their exclusive requirements to sit for the patent bar. Unfortunately for the political science and English majors, the patent bar precludes those who do not have a hard science background from being “patent bar eligible.”  Further, many law firms and clients prefer lawyers who have masters and even PhD’s in the particular subject matter.
Aspiring lawyers should not fret however, because while patent lawyers require a degree which many attorneys are undoubtedly unaware of when first applying to law schools, “soft IP” may serve as a viable answer. The term is often used colloquially to mean a couple of different things. Most notably in all interpretations is that patents (hard IP) are not involved. These practice areas include trademark, copyright, trade secrets and so on, for both litigation and transactional lawyers.

With the entertainment industry at an all-time record high; licensing, trademark, and copyright fields are now back in high demand for legal counsel.

The job security comes directly from the booming of respective industries and with such a likable appeal IP law will not be crashing any time soon. Add globalization to the mix, and the traditional bodies of law which govern American trademarks expand to new horizons. For example, on February 22, 2017 the New Zealand Supreme Court revoked the popular household trademark Lacoste, and determined the French clothing store’s competitor Crocodile International was entitled to a $25,000 recovery.
So whether it is hard IP like patents or soft IP like trademarks, the bottom line is that technical and industrial advances are ensuring job security for many future lawyers. These secure and lucrative jobs are part of an industrial tidal wave guaranteed to last through the foreseeable future. In her interview Valerie Fontaine did note one important caveat. Follow the passion, not the money, “students should pay attention to what classes interest them, and perhaps in their clinical experiences, what they like” not simply follow the hottest legal trend. The reasoning is obvious, but for those who do have a genuine interest in IP; the sky is the limit.