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Why Law Firms Don’t Understand Patent Attorneys
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patent attorneys

Summary: Patent attorneys are not like other attorneys. They should be thought of as scientists.

Read the full article here: Top 10 Reasons Most Law Firms Have No Idea How to Hire and Evaluate Patent Attorneys


Patent attorneys are some of the most sought-after lawyers in this technology-driven world. Yet many law firms don’t know what to do with them, and fail to understand they are scientists are heart. Here are 10 ways patent attorneys tend to differ from traditional lawyers:

1. Patent Attorneys Don’t Care What School They Attend. As a general rule patent attorneys are not overly concerned with what law school they attend. While most prospective law students take liberal arts classes in undergrad, patent lawyers study difficult subjects like electrical engineering and organic chemistry. Consequently they tend to have lower grades and may not get into as prestigious of law schools. Good law firms understand this, and do not discount patent attorneys for going to lesser-ranked schools. They understand that the law degree doesn’t matter as much as the individual’s background in electrical engineering.

2. Patent Attorneys Don’t Care About Law Review. Patent attorneys are more interested in science and engineering than they are with law review or traditional law school activities. They know they are in school to become patent lawyers. They’re usually more concerned with finding a group of like-minded people who accept them for who they are than they are with fitting in with the rest of the J.D. candidates. Many of them would rather spend their time making $50 or more an hour as independent contractors instead of working on a journal. Smart law firms understand this and value the patent attorney’s science background over law review.

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3. Patent Attorneys Are Often Older. Patent attorneys are often older than other attorneys. Typically they attended several years of graduate school to get a Master’s degree or a PhD before applying to law school. Being a patent attorney is often a second career. At many firms young attorneys with stamina sometimes bill over 3,000 hours a year. But these hours are not necessary for patent attorneys, and can be detrimental to their work product. Patent work is more focused, and patent lawyers get more done when they have fewer distractions and a more reasonable schedule.

4. Patent Attorneys Often Interview Horribly with General Practice Law Firms. Patent attorneys often interview differently than their polished, gregarious counterparts in other areas of law. They are different types of people. Patent lawyers tend to be more techy and nerdy; many of them would prefer to tinker with a machine or play video games instead of hitting the bar with their colleagues after a day of work. Smart firms do not expect patent lawyers to connect with every attorney in the firm. They realize they are hiring a scientist, and that patent attorneys’ personalities may be different from other lawyers’.

5. Patent Attorneys Have Disputes with Each Other. Patent attorneys have a much higher than normal percentage of disputes with one another. These disputes are such that patent attorneys often “blackball” one another to a degree that is unusual in the legal profession. This may be something to do with a “lab culture” that demands perfection and harshly punishes a lack of it. In most cases, the punishment that patent attorneys inflict upon one another is not at all deserved and something that law firms should take with a grain of salt.

6. Patent Attorneys Tend to Move Jobs and Have Gaps in Employment. While patent attorneys will happily accept partner titles, they are generally more concerned with steady work than the glory of a title. They often start out in small, low paying firms because larger firms slight them for various reasons. Consequently they may move firms more frequently to garner pay raises. They also move firms whenever their firm loses its work in a subject matter. If a firm loses a client like Samsung, and Samsung provided all of the firm’s wireless patent work, the attorney will be forced to move to a firm that works on Motorola patents. Smart law firms realize this happens often and do not punish patent attorneys for gaps on their resume.

7. Patent Attorneys Often Work as In-house Counsel. Faced with ever-shifting employment, patent attorneys are more likely to accept work as in-house counsel than other attorneys. May law firms look down on in-house work. This is silly when it comes to patent lawyers. They are often exposed to cutting-edge technologies when working in-house. In-house patent work can be even more demanding and sophisticated than law firm work.

8. Patent Attorneys Frequently Work as Solo Practitioners. Faced with breaks in employment, patent attorneys often hang out their own shingle. Many larger firms look down on solo practitioners. They don’t understand that patent lawyers do not always have a steady supply of work, and that solo practice lets patent attorneys sharpen their skills and stay on top of the latest technologies.

9. Patent Attorneys Tend to Be More Calculating About How They Spent Their Time. It is not uncommon for patent attorneys with offers from law firms to spend a great deal of time creating spreadsheets comparing the value of one option over another. The length of one commute to work might be assigned a value on a scale of 1 to 10. The salary might be given a different weight of importance, and the friendliness of the staff another. Patent attorneys often evaluate firms less on the human component and more on a variety of scientific factors. They tend to be less impulsive and think through things more. With the “average” attorney, law firms expect to be able to “lay down the law” and have the attorney do whatever it takes to meet the law firm’s demands. However, patent attorneys are scientists and think like scientists. They are not as concerned with being a partner as other attorneys are. Firms need to understand what is important to them.

10. Patent Attorneys Are Not as Ambitious as the Average Attorney When It Comes to Money and Prestige. Patent attorneys like to make money, but they are generally less interested in wealth, prestige and power than other attorneys. Patent attorneys do not show up to interviews with non-patent attorneys and blow them away with their personalities. They are scientists, and are motivated differently. Smart law firms understand this and cater to patent attorneys’ interests and values.

There is a crisis in how law firms are trying to integrate scientist patent attorneys into their folds. Sadly, the victims of this are often patent attorneys themselves.

Smart firms understand that patent attorneys have different priorities and career goals from than the typical attorney. They do not discount patent attorneys because they’ve followed a different path than most traditional lawyers. Instead, they cater to patent attorneys’ strengths and welcome them into their firm.



Read about recent trends in patent law here:

Patent Lawsuits on Track to Top 6,000 This Year

Top 10 Firms at Obtaining Patents in TC 2400



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