How Do I Become an Intellectual Property Attorney?

C. Mitchell
C. Mitchell
Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

In order to become an intellectual property attorney, you must attend law school, obtain a license to practice law in your jurisdiction, and devote your practice to at least one of the three pillars of intellectual property law. Intellectual property, or IP as it is often abbreviated in the legal community, is made up of patents, trademarks, and copyrights. Lawyers practicing in any or all of these areas can properly be referred to with the collective title IP attorney.

Getting a law degree is almost always the first hurdle you must clear on your path to becoming an intellectual property attorney. Different jurisdictions have different law school requirements, but the programming is rigorous and highly competitive nearly everywhere. You will usually need to start planning early, choosing challenging courses and earning top grades.

If you want to become an intellectual property attorney who practices patents, preparing your early education is particularly important. Most of the time, patent lawyers must have hard science backgrounds. At least an undergraduate degree in engineering, chemistry, physics, or similar is usually essential.

Aside from patent practice, there are few hard and fast intellectual property attorney requirements, at least where foundational education is concerned. Copyright and trademark lawyers tend to come from all sorts of backgrounds. So long as you have a law degree and are licensed to practice law in your jurisdiction, you can usually become an intellectual property attorney simply by applying yourself to the discipline and looking for work in the IP realm.

Most of the time, law schools do not permit burgeoning lawyers to specialize or major in any particular discipline. Almost all programs offer IP courses, however. If you know that you want to become an intellectual property attorney early on, look for schools with strong IP programs and take all the relevant courses that you can. This will not only give you some basic intellectual property attorney training, it will also help you identify your precise interests in the field. Intellectual property law is traditionally very broad, encompassing not only standard print and branding issues, but also nearly every aspect of Internet publishing, domain name registration, and technology developments.

Training and interest will only get you part way down the road to become an intellectual property attorney. You must also find work to truly be a member of the profession. Many people begin their intellectual property attorney careers as summer interns in large IP firms. Firms generally hire law students to take on certain limited responsibilities during school summer breaks. The hiring process varies by firm, but many conduct at least preliminary interviews on campus. Your school’s career services office should be able to provide you with information on any IP firms that may be visiting your school.

Many opportunities exist for IP lawyers outside of firms, too. Nearly every corporation has lawyers with intellectual property expertise that both look out for the company’s interest and advise employees on how to follow governing patent, trademark, and copyright laws while on the job. Governments also hire attorneys to protect local and national IP interests. These sorts of jobs are widely varied and generally encompass all skill levels from junior lawyers to seasoned experts. They can be harder to find straight out of school, however, which makes networking within the local IP community, participating in recruiting events, and keeping your eyes open for potential jobs quite important.

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