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Old 06-27-2016, 10:24 AM   #1
choliszt
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Default Does having an engineering degree help you if you switch to being an IP lawyer

Hi all,

I am currently studying engineering. Doing well in grades but seriously dislike it: cannot imagine doing this for the rest of my life. I am looking at switching my career path: get a graduate LLB from NUS or JD from SMU and do intellectual property law: likely patent related.

I have asked this to law professor before but want to get more opinions: Does my experience in engineering help me in becoming a better lawyer of intellectual property? I know it probably does in terms of understanding the patents but also in terms of pay rise. I need to make up for the lost years with accelerated pay rise and my competitive edge would be having knowledge in both fields.
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Old 06-27-2016, 11:11 AM   #2
acidgal
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For what it's worth, glad you've made the decision to switch to a field you're likely to be more interested in! Your interest will sustain you as you pursue a career in the field, that's for sure.

Not quite sure if you'd get a pay raise.... but still you should use your combined knowledge in two fields as leverage for future employment opportunities. You know what they say - Uni is about more than just acquiring theoretical knowledge. It's about being given the opportunity to stretch your mind and potential. I'm sure your situation will definitely give you an edge. But whether that translates to a pay raise.... maybe you shouldn't be too hopeful!

This might not have been the most helpful reply but I wish you all the best in your endeavours! You're on to great things
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Old 06-27-2016, 03:10 PM   #3
Cavaliere
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Answers below;

Law professors are not always the best source of information

Part of a law professor's job is student recruitment. They will not be dishonest but unless they know you on a personal basis, they will also never tell you anything that might discourage you from applying.

Your engineering background probably help... but only a bit

There are several different groups of professionals working in the IP field in Singapore. Two of the main types of IP professionals are IP Agents/Attorneys and IP Lawyers.

IP Agents/Attorneys are professionals with a background in engineering or the natural sciences. They tend to focus on patent work and deal with the technical aspects of such work. They are usually not fully qualified lawyers and instead take a separate patent agent qualification exam. They will also take a Graduate Certificate in Intellectual Property Law instead of a full law degree.

IP Lawyers are fully qualified lawyers. Some of their work will overlap with that of IP Agents/Attorneys. However, they are unlikely to be as involved as IP Agents/Attorneys in actual technical work (since most IP Lawyers will not have engineering/science degrees). Instead, they will focus more on the provision of legal advice pertaining to IP processes, administration and protection/enforcement. Because of this more general focus, IP lawyers (especially junior IP lawyers) are unlikely to focus solely on patent law and would also look at copyright, trademark and possibly licensing issues.

Assuming you have engineering experience and you're an IP lawyer, you will probably be better able to communicate with the IP Agents/Attorneys at your firm. You will also be likely to have an edge over your fellow lawyers since you will be more familiar with the relevant technical issues. However, assuming you work in a law firm, your job will solely be that of an IP Lawyer and not an IP Agent/Attorney so you should not expect to get any special treatment just because you have an engineering degree.

You're unlikely to get an accelerated pay rise

If you perform better than your peers, you might earn a better bonus and receive earlier promotions. But this will be based on your performance as a lawyer, not because you have an engineering degree.

Also please understand that the economy is bad and legal salaries for junior lawyers have been on the decline. Tailor your expectations accordingly.

What are IP Agents/Attorneys? Where can I find out more?

You can refer to the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore website -http://www.ipos.gov.sg/IPforYou/IPforProfessionals/TypesofIPProfessionals/PatentAgentsInformation.aspx

You might also be interested in checking out this brochure from NTU's recent career fair that contains job descriptions for IP Agent/Attorneys and expected salaries etc. - http://www3.ntu.edu.sg/cao2/CareerFa...%20Trainee.pdf

Other alternatives

Instead of jumping directly from your engineering degree into law school, you might consider working as an IP Agent/Attorney first. Actual practical experience in this field might earn you more recognition and money than an engineering degree with zero actual experience. Also, if you secure a position as an IP Agent/Attorney with an international law firm and work there for a while, they will probably also be more keen to take you on as a full lawyer after you finish law school. International law firms tend to pay better than local firms.

Disclosure

I am not an IP lawyer.

Last edited by Cavaliere; 06-27-2016 at 05:40 PM.
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Old 06-28-2016, 03:28 PM   #4
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Thanks for replies!

@Cavaliere This law professor knows me well actually. I am in Renaissance Engineering Programme and he taught me for Business Law before, and will be teaching us for Intellectual Property Law next semester. My initial plan was actually to approach him to get a temporary job as a research associate (my programme is 4.5 years and there is a .5 year gap), hopefully publishing a law paper before going to law school.

After reading the replies, I am giving this a second thought. I still want to ultimately go to law school but maybe in the longer run. I was wondering in your opinion what you would do if you were me? Do you think the engineering knowledge (though it wouldn't directly increase my pay) would indirectly increase my pay quickly and help me catch up with other IP lawyers who didn't waste their time? Or do you really feel the way not to waste time is to go the path you suggested: i.e. enter the workforce as a patent attorney first (maybe 3.5 years? the .5 year is due to the weird timing of my programme ending), then enter grad law school and catch up in pay in a relatively short amount of time?
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Old 06-28-2016, 07:40 PM   #5
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I don't think your expectations are realistic.

No, you will not be able to catch up with IP lawyers in your age cohort within a short span of time (e.g. 2-4 years). The legal profession operates based on PQE (post-qualified experience) measured in years. Unless you're so fantastic that you manage to cram in years of experience out of all proportion to your PQE number, you're unlikely to catch up with your age group peers in the short term as they'll have 3-4 years more PQE than you. Most people need to work their way up the ranks - no short cuts. Over a longer period of 5-8 years, sure it's possible to catch up. But unless you're a prodigy of some sort, surging ahead within the short term is unlikely. You need time to build expertise and a good professional reputation.

You can reduce some of the difference in earnings by getting into an international firm. Such firms pay better than local firms but they usually also demand good law school grades (usually First Class Hons - which is not easy in law school). An international firm might be more willing to take you on if you've worked with them prior to law school e.g. as a Patent Attorney, but this will depend on the size of the firm, your performance there etc.

You need to do more research if you're considering working as a Patent Attorney before law school. I'm afraid I can't advise you on that beyond telling you it's an option. You should see if you can speak to people actually in the industry for better advice. Maybe consider doing an internship in that area? I did the graduate LLB at NUS, and focus on corporate law. I'm not that familiar with the details of how IP law is like.

On another note - Why is there even a need to catch up with other IP lawyers? Wouldn't making a decent salary (better than many people your age) be enough? If money is a key motivator, you should consider finance instead.

Last edited by Cavaliere; 06-28-2016 at 08:09 PM.
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Old 06-29-2016, 04:57 PM   #6
choliszt
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I see. Well I do agree that there is no need to earn a ridiculously high sum to feel satisfied. But let's just say that I need a good pay for now because of the years I will waste for having taken a wrong path. I want to minimize the amount of years wasted. So yea, money is not the motivating factor that makes me want to be a lawyer, but the high pay justifies me having gone a detoured path.

I would definitely consider that option you suggested! =D
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