Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Why I *CAN* start a law practice after school.

So I have this blog reader named Anonymous who is a patent attorney and who has been sending me messages as to why I shouldn't go back to school to finish the electrical engineering degree, and instead, I should forget patent law altogether and I should just quit and move on because I'll never succeed going down the path I am headed.

Anonymous' reasons were 1) I didn't get an engineering degree the first chance I could back in college, so law firms will think I'm not a techy kind of guy, and so they wouldn't hire me, 2) I became a patent attorney through a technicality (e.g. piecing together science classes I took while an undergraduate student and taking what I was missing during law school to fill in the gaps) and thus I am not a real science guy and for that same reason, law firms won't hire me, 3) I am not following the traditional path (e.g. engineering or science route, then law school, then patent exam) and thus they won't consider me because I'm not a typical applicant, 4) I'm only going into electrical engineering because it is "hot" and so I am chasing the trend, not standing in front of it, and finally, 5) regular patent attorneys who did everything in the proper order and who went to the good schools and got the good grades are having a super-difficult time finding work, so why would I think that I will be in any better of a situation then they are. I think this list is complete.

Okay, here's my retort. No, I am not superior in any way to any of the other people that went to a better school than I did, I did not participate in moot court and I did not graduate within the top five percent of my class. Frankly, I am happy that I did the work and that I made it out of law school, that I passed all my bar exams, and that I worked hard and passed the patent bar exam on my first try. I am also happy that I have a family to support, that my family is growing in number by the year, and that I have a wonderful wife who is supportive of everything that I do.

I am not and have never been the ideal candidate for a law firm, nor do I fit the mold with my religious Jewish lifestyle, where Shabbos, family, and holidays take precedence over my position at work and my career. I will not be the type of lawyer who spends all hours of the night working because more importantly, I am a father who has children who I love and whose lives I want to be part of. I do have law school debt up the wazoo, and I'm no longer living in one of the states I'm admitted in, so my only option is to work as a patent attorney OR to work in some other non-lawyer capacity.

I *am* a techy kind of guy; I always have been. Just because I went the medical school route during my undergraduate years in college rather than the engineering route should not preclude me from practicing patent law now that I'm an attorney. To add to that, I have been taking the coursework which will lead to an engineering degree, and I feel that electrical engineering is the most useful of them all when it comes to designing patents and with regard to being part of the workforce should I choose NOT to practice law. Is electrical engineering the kind of engineering I would practice if I WEREN'T going to be a patent attorney? Honestly, who knows. However I DO know that I will be exposed to all the different engineering disciplines when I go back to school in the Summer, and I will have some time to make a decision as to which direction I would like to go.

Honestly, and this will not take up much room in my thoughts, EVERY career test I have taken over the years makes me either an actor, a movie director, some kind of artist, or some kind of performer. And since these fields are not within the pay range I am able to even consider with my law school debt, I will stick to the fields that will pay well that I enjoy doing, and when I am older and I don't need a paycheck to pay the bills, I will consider those fields as hobbies.

Speaking of a paycheck, all of Anonymous' arguments against what I'm doing apply to someone who is looking to work for a law firm. Trust me, in my life family comes first and I'm not looking for the kind of lifestyle that a law firm provides. Because I do not fit the lawyer mold, I will likely not end up on the partner track, and I will not work 80 hours a week just to make my billable hour requirement. However, I *am* and always have been a diligent and a hard worker, and I am not afraid to take calculated risks and to put in effort into endeavors which will take years to become fruitful. With this I am referring to starting my own law practice once I leave school.

I've been reading Jay Foonberg's book on How to Start and Build a Law Practice, and I believe I have what it takes to make this happen. I am willing to put in the effort to learn the ins and outs of running a law practice while I am in school, to get the connections with the people who can help me get started, so that WHEN I decide to go for it, I will hit the ground running. On top of that, my wife is going back to school for a second degree, so once we're done, she and I could both work and pay the bills while we get the law practice up and running. I have two years to figure out the ropes and to network, meet and befriend the right people to get started.

Lastly, looking at everything that is going on from a different perspective, this opportunity to go back to school while receiving unemployment insurance is a blessing in disguise, because it is also allowing me to look at the different fields out there even outside of engineering and patent law and to help me gain direction with regard to which direction I would like to go, if not the path I am already on. This IS potentially a mid-life career changer, and there is no denying this. Having the ability to return to school is quite a gift, as I feel that I HAVE made some major mistakes along the way with regard to career decisions (first thinking of becoming a doctor while being a Cohen, then going to law school thinking I'll be able to practice patent law right out of school), and so this could afford me a clean start. I will look at things from a fresh perspective, and will try to find the best profession that will fit the needs of my family and my goals. I expect that electrical engineering IS my path because everything has led to this, however, I AM open to other possibilities. What a privilege to be able to make decisions like this at my not-so-ripe age of 31.



Anonymous said...

It's me...I read what you said, and you might succeed. Your analysis is clearly flawed, but you seem to be pretty bull-headed, and I don't really want to waste any more time on this. You are clearly motivated, but even more naive. But you are good-hearted, I wish you the best, but really doubt you'll actually make a dime starting your own law firm. Or, if you make a dime, you will make just that: a dime.

To each his own...but I'm thankful and lucky I made it out of law school and into a good high-paying job, because otherwise I'd be in your shoes.

Anonymous said...

Do not think that the fact that you are an observant Jew is incompatible with being a successful attorney in whatever way you choose to go about it. I just left a very large national law firm where the senior, most successful partner is an orthodox, observant Jew. It never inhibited his career in the least--on the contrary, the community connections he has have given him amazing client development opportunities. I suggest you do the same, and best of luck to you!

Zoe Strickman said...

Thank you. I am inspired by your comment.