From Brain Injuries to Big Law: An Interview with Justin Taylor

Justin Taylor is a third-year law student at Loyola University Chicago School of Law, who will soon be graduating with his Juris Doctor. He has a job lined up in New York City at Hughes Hubbard & Reed (HHR), a large law firm that can be considered part of “Big Law.” During his time at Loyola, Justin has served on the Moot Court Board as the In-House Competition Director, in addition to being a member of the Saul Lefkowitz Moot Court Team, which focuses on issues in trademark and unfair competition law. Justin is an Associate Blogger for IP Bytes and is a member of Loyola’s chapter of the Black Law Students Association and former President of the Intellectual Property Law Society. Like me, Justin came to Loyola with a bachelor’s of science degree in neuroscience, having studied the structure and function of the nervous system and brain. We recently sat down to talk about his background, his legal career, and his best pieces of advice for current and prospective law students.

I know you have a neuroscience degree like me, but did you focus on any particular areas?

While I was working toward my bachelor’s degree in neuroscience at Tulane University, I did sports-related brain injury research and also worked in the Cognitive Neuroscience Lab.  Basically, my research was aimed at better understanding sports concussion testing and sports-related brain injuries. Officially, I was focused on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease associated with repeated head trauma, in addition to concussions and cognitive imaging testing.

Around the time I got to Loyola, the NFL’s CTE case was officially settled, awarding around 4,500 former football players a significant amount of money for concussion-related injuries suffered while playing. It seemed like everyone here was talking about brain injuries and neuroscience. The lawsuit and all the press surrounding it gives me something to point to when describing my work prior to law school— it’s easy for people to remember the guys in the NFL who have multiple health issues from getting hit in the head repeatedly.

How did you end up in law instead of neuroscience?

I became interested in applying to law school through a friend of mine, who gave me an outdated study book and basically challenged me to take the LSAT to see if I liked it. I ended up spending a lot of time during my last semester of college thinking about how I was either going to have a career in neuroscience research, which seemed like a long, grueling path, or I could see what other career paths were out there for me. I decided to study from that outdated study book. I took the LSAT and I ended up getting a good enough score that law school was a realistic opportunity.

Why did you choose Loyola?

Loyola was an easy decision for me. I’m originally from the Chicago area and after four years at Tulane, being a 16-hour drive away, I knew that I wanted to be back home near family while getting my law degree. There are a lot of great schools in the area, but Loyola does have one of the stronger IP programs.  Loyola has the well-connected and student-focused Professor Ho directing the IP program and, of course, Loyola is the one-and-only host of the Patent Law Interview Program, a two-day interview program held in Chicago each summer that brings together patent law employers and law students from across the country to interview for summer associate positions and post-graduate employment, which is a huge plus for Loyola students.

When did you figure out that you wanted to concentrate on intellectual property (IP)?

When I first got to campus I met with Professor Ho. While I was initially going to focus primarily on health law, she knew I had a science degree and suggested I also consider intellectual property law because I would qualify to take the “Patent Bar.” Individuals that take (and pass) this exam, which requires a science background, can then officially communicate on behalf of inventors of patent applications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). When I first looked into IP careers for people with a life sciences background, the primary thing mentioned was always pharmaceuticals, which is great, but that isn’t the only thing you can do. I quickly found out professionals in other fields— for example, the medical device industry— need lawyers to protect their life sciences IP, too. These were the kinds of things I figured out as I was going through my first year of law school and what ended-up sparking my initial interest in the IP field.

How did you get your job the summer after your first year of law school?

My first job was at Dorsey & Whitney’s Minneapolis office doing “patent prosecution,” which involves drafting patent applications and related work to try to get a patent granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). During December of my 1L year, I found a list of about 50 firms in Chicago and the surrounding area. I looked into each firm’s IP practice and whether it hired 1L Summer Associates. I basically ended up mass emailing the firms I was interested in and it worked! Dorsey has a pretty large patent prosecution department, doing mostly medical devices— even down to syringes, which even though it seems simple, still need patents. But it is also a general practice firm, meaning that it includes a broad range of practice areas; so, patents weren’t the only thing I did. I ended up doing a lot of contracts and health law work too. It was a nice way to get my foot-in-the-door and start to understand what’s actually happening at a firm.

How did you decide what aspect of IP you wanted to focus on?

I did some patent prosecution work during my first summer and discovered it wasn’t for me— it was too dry on a day-to-day basis for my taste. But I did learn intellectual property litigation was more my thing and it’s what I’m going to be doing after graduation. Basically, intellectual property litigation is like any other type of litigation that you might see featured in the media in that it could end with a trial, except it focuses on violation of IP matters. So, it’s a process, learning what opportunities are out there and then figuring out what you want to do, what you actually like.

How did you get your job with HHR?

I participated in Loyola’s Patent Law Interview Program as a rising 2L; I was lucky to have   several firms interested in interviewing me. In addition there was a wide range in the type of firm that responded to my “bid.” HHR is a general practice, full-service (i.e. providing all legal services), “big law” firm in New York, New York. The firm has nearly 300 attorneys working in a variety of legal areas, including intellectual property, but certainly not limited to it. Another firm that interviewed me was an IP “boutique” focusing exclusively on patent cases, with a 10-person office in Schaumburg, Illinois.

Why did you decide that HHR was the right fit for you?

I chose HHR based on a few factors.

Most importantly was the fact that it had an active IP practice that was not exclusively patents, but had also expanded into trademarks and copyrights. Therefore, I have the unique opportunity to work on patent litigation cases and also be a member of the trademark practice group. The HHR’s trademark practice is currently undergoing an expansion of clients and there is a ton of work to be done. This is ideal for IP associates like myself. These opportunities will allow me to connect with clients in two different areas of intellectual property early on in my career.

In addition, as far as its patent litigation practice, HHR has an interest in students with biology-based backgrounds, which made me an ideal candidate. I also liked that the practice has a strong background in working with the arts (music, painting, movies) which is an interest of mine. Regarding the location, I ultimately chose a firm in NYC because it is also home to several pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies and, on a personal level, I have family members who live nearby.

How have you found your neuroscience degree benefits you in your intellectual property career?

Neuroscience degrees are varied, but my neuroscience degree functions almost like a pre-med, generalized science degree. I took chemistry, organic chemistry, physics and several different kinds of biology during college; that variety helps out a lot. HHR and I suspect other general practice firms like an employee who is able to read something new and have a basic level of understanding. So, it’s nice to have that generalized scientific background; I can take a look at something new in a patent and usually at least something looks familiar.

In fact, HHR decided to hire me specifically because of my undergraduate science degree. At a general practice firm, they don’t necessarily need a patent lawyer with a specialized engineering background because they’re not going to be getting the “NASA-level” cases— those will go to a boutique firm that specializes in whatever highly-specific technology is the subject of the patent. But every random IP case? Now that’s something I’m able to do, even with “only” an undergraduate degree in neuroscience.

As someone who is about to head into her first legal job, can you tell me the biggest lesson you learned that first summer?

Do not be afraid to ask for projects that you want to do. Especially in general practice firms, the program will probably have you rotate between departments; for example, during my first summer I did health law and merger and acquisition work in addition to my intellectual property projects. There are always plenty of opportunities thrown at you, but it is smart and helpful to ask for the projects you actually want to do. When you do ask for specific projects, especially if it is something in an area where the firm doesn’t usually have new people start, you realize that the people who work in those areas of law are so flattered that someone is interested in doing what they do and are happy to have your help. It is important to ask, because at the end-of-the-day, that first summer at a firm is really just a try-out: figuring out if you like them and they like you. It’s really just professional dating.

What are your best tips for interviewing or networking in the legal field with a science degree?

If you did research or independent study, especially in the life science realm, know it really well and be able to communicate it. If your science background is an undergraduate degree, interviewers don’t expect much more than that. If you have a PhD, they might ask for more in-depth analysis and outcomes. But for people with undergraduate degrees, it’s more along the lines of “please give me a two-minute explanation of what your research is in lay-person terms.”

You shouldn’t be worried if you don’t remember much from college, because it’s more about checking off the box that says you understand basic science. Because, honestly, odds are you’ll end up practicing something much different than what you studied. I know practitioners who have had 15-year careers without working a single case related to their background. Don’t be surprised if you run into a patent lawyer with an engineering degree and he has a bunch of neurobiology books in his office because he had to teach himself the subject for a case.

Other than that, when you’re at the interview stage, it’s more about personality and fit than anything else. Every lawyer I’ve talked to who works in recruiting uses the same test: basically, what they’re looking for is someone who they can take to a dinner or drinks with a client and who will not make them or the firm look weird or foolish. So, it’s really beneficial to show a little personality. That really applies to any type of networking event around the city. As weird as it might initially seem, don’t be afraid to go up to someone and ask them what they do. Lawyers like to talk about themselves, so even if they tell you that they do something super complicated, all you have to do is ask them to break it down for you, and honestly, that’s when they’ll really start to open up.

Any final advice for students interested in IP law?

Don’t only take IP classes. You can take Patent Law, Trademark Law, Copyright Law, and Cyber Law, which are all great, but once you start working, you’ll realize IP is only part of most cases. For example, I’m currently in an antitrust class and an enterprise risk management class.  In addition, I previously took Sports and Entertainment Law, things that you wouldn’t initially think had anything to do with IP. But once you get into the topics, there’s a lot there; IP is ingrained in them. In my anti-trust class, we talked about patents being like trusts, because they’re kind of like little monopolies. In Sports and Entertainment Law, we talked about the right of publicity (the right of individuals to profit from their likeness) and drafting contracts for the intellectual property of a team.

The reason IP is such a big area is because everything has IP in it. Everything. It’s just embedded. So, look into classes that are interesting to you, they don’t have to be IP whatsoever. That’s my biggest piece of advice.

Elise Fester
Assistant Blogger
Loyola University of Chicago School of Law, JD 2021