Software engineer considering switching to patent law. Thoughts?

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sb2242

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Software engineer considering switching to patent law. Thoughts?

Postby sb2242 » Thu Dec 21, 2017 1:42 pm

I have recently received an offer to join a law firm as a technical advisor (two years work + fully reimbursed law school) in their IP litigation group.

At the same time I also have an offer to work as a software engineer (Big 4 tech, more than $150K annual compensation, all the associated benefits).

From a pure “which job do I think I’d enjoy more” perspective, I’m pretty sure I’d prefer IP law to software engineering. (My data for this is admittedly skewed as I only have work experience as a software engineer and I’m going off of how the practice of IP law was described to me by the recruiters/interviewers).

However, if I tell any of my friends that I’m considering a career in IP law, they look at me like I’m absolutely crazy. They say that life as a big-law associate is pure hell, that legal services is a dying industry that’s going to be automated away by AI in 20 years, and that the opportunity cost of walking away from a career as a software engineer is too high.

That being said, none of them are lawyers or have ever considered pursuing a career in law. As such, I thought I’d pose the same question to a this forum.

What do you guys think?

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jkpolk

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Re: Software engineer considering switching to patent law. Thoughts?

Postby jkpolk » Thu Dec 21, 2017 1:52 pm

I havent done both, but I know people who do each. The software engineers live objectively better lives.

beautyistruth

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Re: Software engineer considering switching to patent law. Thoughts?

Postby beautyistruth » Thu Dec 21, 2017 2:25 pm

It seems like OP isn't committing to law school just yet, they're accepting a job that comes with fully reimbursed law school, should they choose to take it.

I agree that software engineers live objectively better lives.

If you think you might want to do IP law anyways, it seems like the law firm offer is a pretty sweet deal. I don't think technical advisors work associate hours. Go in, work for two years, and take a good hard look at whether IP litigation is something you want to do. If it is, great, go to law school. Otherwise, go back to software engineering. It will still be there.

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totesTheGoat

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Postby totesTheGoat » Thu Dec 21, 2017 4:20 pm

sb2242 wrote:However, if I tell any of my friends that I’m considering a career in IP law, they look at me like I’m absolutely crazy. They say that life as a big-law associate is pure hell, that legal services is a dying industry that’s going to be automated away by AI in 20 years, and that the opportunity cost of walking away from a career as a software engineer is too high.

That being said, none of them are lawyers or have ever considered pursuing a career in law. As such, I thought I’d pose the same question to a this forum.

What do you guys think?


First off, AI isn't replacing law. Folks like legal secretaries and paralegals may be replaced, but a 10-year veteran patent attorney isn't gonna be replaced by some fancy heuristic in my lifetime.

I was a software engineer for 3 years prior to going into patent law. I did the technical advisor thing in biglaw for 2 years while in law school, and I've ended up in-house doing patent prosecution after graduating 12 months ago.

I don't live in the Bay Area, so I never made as much money as you're talking about while a SW engineer. In fact, my entry level attorney compensation is over double what my entry level engineer compensation was. The Bay Area is a bit unique, so your mileage may vary.

It's hard to know exactly what to discuss, so feel free to PM me if you have specific questions. I'll say a few things about the differences. Regarding the work/life balance, biglaw absolutely sucks in comparison to working at a tech company. One thing I did while working in the biglaw firm (or interning at other firms) was observe when emails were sent by partners and other senior attorneys. You can tell what sort of work environment it is by looking at the timestamp on some of those emails. I would also do a lap around the building on the days that I stayed late, just to see how many people were still there. It may surprise you to see that more people are in the office at 9pm than were there at 9am.

However, working in-house in a tech company's legal department is roughly on par with working engineering. I work ~45 hours most weeks, with a week here or there approaching 50 or 55 hours. I'd say the most frustrating thing about working in legal is that most lawyers are technophobes. There are so many things that could be easily automated, but the department runs on 90s technology, so good luck with that. Also, in-house attorneys usually have to do more of their own work and not rely on paralegals and secretaries as much.

As far as the work, I find it more enjoyable. Patent preparation and prosecution is small, compartmentalized work. I find it a bit dull; probably on par with bug squashing in the engineering context. It's heavy on the writing and light on the creativity. It tends to be rote and formulaic. The strategic work is much more interesting, and I can't think of anything in engineering that was quite the same. Maybe project management? I only had limited exposure to that aspect, so I can't speak much about it.

The only thing I caution you about is that you're not guaranteed to have a more social job by going into law. I really hated the hours and days that would go by without professional collaboration in my engineering job. It's better in patent law, but not by much. It's still highly individual work, but with more opportunity for collaboration in the strategic projects.

Sorry for the novel, and please feel free to PM me if you want to know more about my experience shifting from SW engineering to patent law.

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thesealocust

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Re: Software engineer considering switching to patent law. Thoughts?

Postby thesealocust » Sat Dec 23, 2017 10:48 pm

jkpolk wrote:I havent done both, but I know people who do each. The software engineers live objectively better lives.



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