Networking in IP: Identifying Your Interests And Finding A Job

Networking. I’m sure you’ve heard the word thrown around in various professional and academic settings. It’s a term sure to send shivers down the spines of every first-year law student. The reason many students fear networking is likely because they aren’t sure exactly what it entails. For many students with an interest in IP, however, networking can be the key to success once you learn how to use it to your advantage.

My goals for a career in IP have evolved substantially since I started law school at Loyola. Much of this progression has been thanks to networking with students, faculty, and professionals with experience in IP. Because networking has helped me so much throughout my law school career, I’d like to take you through my own networking experiences and how they helped me get to where I am today. But first off, let’s briefly define the buzzword “networking” and help take some of the fear away from the term.

What Is Networking?

Figure by Jack Hynes

Networking is developing relationships with professionals that can then be leveraged for various professional goals. This relationship can be as shallow as a phone call, or as deep as a long-term professional confidant. Networking typically involves meeting or connecting with a professional, asking them questions about their career and experiences, and, once the relationship is established, following up with any additional questions or requests for advice. I like to think of each networking interaction as a data point, and your career as the “decision” being informed by the data: the more data points you have, the more informed your decision will be. For IP students, these networking data points can be used for a variety of purposes, including: figuring out the type of IP law you may want to practice, deciding what type of firm you may want to work for, finding a professional mentor, and locating a job. When I started my law school journey, I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in IP law, but I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant. Thus, my first step in my networking journey was to learn more about the types of IP law that attorneys practiced.

Soft IP or Patents? Using Networking to Figure Out What IP Law I Wanted to Practice

A little background on me—I graduated from undergrad with a degree in civil engineering, and worked for two years as an engineering consultant in the construction industry. With an engineering degree and engineering-related work experience, many people assumed I wanted to pursue a career in patent law, or the branch of IP that deals with inventions and typically requires a technical background. However, I came to law school wanting to pursue a career in music, which involves getting experience in transactional law, or the law surrounding business dealings, as well as soft IP, or copyrights and trademarks. I quit my job in engineering amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, and I saw law school as a time where I should try and explore my “true” interests rather than do what it seemed I should given my background. That being said, I had no idea what a career in music entailed, or how to get there. I also didn’t have much background on what patent law entailed, either. So, my first order of business was finding a mentor who could guide me in my initial understanding of the IP industry.

Finding a mentor is one of the most valuable things a law student can do. A mentor is an experienced attorney, faculty member, or law student who passes their knowledge and experiences to another. Mentors can help you learn new skills, set goals, and plan for career opportunities. A mentor should be a connection that you can go to throughout your career and ask for advice on things such as resume edits, interview preparation, or industry insight. Anybody can be act as a mentor, whether that’s an upperclassmen, professor, career advisor, junior associate or law firm partner, and you’ll likely have many mentors throughout your career that each serve a different purpose. The important thing is finding someone who will make themselves available to help you progress in your career.

When I arrived in law school, I was searching for a mentor who could help me understand each type of IP, identify the career paths in each, and help me create a game plan for the next three years to accomplish my professional goals. For me, that mentor was Professor Cynthia Ho, Director of Loyola’s IP Program.

Professor Ho is the reason I decided to attend Loyola, and she is extremely devoted to Loyola students in addition to knowing everything there is to know about IP. Professor Ho explained that, given my technical background, I would be a much more marketable candidate for patent law jobs than soft IP jobs. She also described the strength of the Chicago patent law market, and explained that it may be easier to get a job in patents rather than music. Through conversations with her, I began to understand more about patent law, and the technological aspect really piqued my interests. I had considered a career in patent law back in college, and realized that working with technology would keep me interested in my career long-term, so I decided to focus my attention to patent law. Although I had a new focus on patent law, I still was unsure what a career in patent law looked like. So, it was time to use networking to fill in those gaps.

What Pathways Within Patent Law Should I Pursue? Using Networking to Create A Career Path

With a new focus on figuring out what type of career within patent law I wanted to pursue, I set a goal of talking to as many IP students and patent law attorneys as I could. I first turned to my Loyola network, and then looked outside of Loyola to anyone practicing patent law.

Fortunately, I had several 1L tutors at Loyola with experience in IP. As a 1L, you will have two tutors assigned to each bar class. Your 1L tutors are experienced law students who performed well in their classes, and will be one of your best resources as you start your law school career.  My first order of business, therefore, was setting up a time to speak with my tutors outside of office hours about their IP experiences (thank you Ashley, Maggie, Erica, and Adrian!).

“Lego Patent D253711” by aaron_anderer is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

From my conversations with my tutors and Professor Ho, I learned that there were two main types of patent law—patent prosecution, which is the actual drafting of patent applications to file with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, and patent litigation, which is the enforcement of patent rights in court against parties who (allegedly) have infringed a patent. I also learned about the different job opportunities for law students, both for your 1L summer, 2L summer, and during the school year. These included research assistant positions with professors, judicial externships where you perform legal writing and research for judges, law clerks at firms performing legal writing and research at law firms, legal interns at companies doing corporate or transactional work, and summer associates doing the work of full-time lawyers at law firms (and getting paid like it, too).

The best advice I got during this process was that any legal-related job experience during your 1L summer is good experience! It’s difficult to get a job in IP as a 1L. Try your best to get one, but if you don’t, don’t sweat it! That being said, I learned there were a limited number of IP summer associate positions available for 1Ls. Thus, I had a new goal of trying to become a 1L summer associate doing IP work.

While I had this new goal, I was still unsure whether I wanted to prosecute patents or litigate them. Also, I was not sure what type of firm I wanted to work at. So, I sought out opportunities to speak with patent lawyers about the differences between patent law types and patent law firms. I found attending networking events put on by Loyola and Chicago professional organizations, as well as searching for connections on LinkedIn, to be great resources for gathering that information.

Loyola hosts many events throughout the year that will introduce you to IP alumni, such as the IP Speed Networking event. Loyola hosts two IP Speed Networking events throughout the year, and other Loyola networking events will be posted in the Loyola Law School Announcements. Additionally, professional organizations such as the Intellectual Property Law Association of Chicago (“IPLAC”) regularly host IP-related events with IP professionals, like Trademarks & Cannabis and their own networking-specific events.

Here’s a bit about how I used those events to learn more about various IP career paths. At each event, I was able to speak with upwards of 10 to 15 attorneys practicing IP in various capacities. If I met a professional whose career I was especially interested in, I would follow-up with them after the event and request to set up a time to further discuss their experiences. This typically involved an email with a subject line that says something like “Law Student Follow-Up From [X] Event,” a short description of our conversation from the event, a request to discuss their experiences further via phone, Zoom or coffee, and an outline of my availability so that they can more easily fit the discussion into their schedule (because attorneys are BUSY). During these discussions, I tried to focus on the decision-making process for pursuing certain areas of IP. I often asked questions about why they chose their first job after law school, and how they went about getting that first job. If they had changed jobs since then, I’d ask them about why they left their previous role for their new one. These all became data points by which I could inform my own decisions about what type of patent law I wanted to practice, and what type of firm I may want to work at.

Figure by Jack Hynes

While the in-person networking events are great opportunities to meet people, I also used LinkedIn to locate Loyola IP Alums and other IP professionals that I could reach out to. To do this, I used LinkedIn’s Advanced Search “school” feature and selected Loyola University Chicago School of Law. Then, I used keyword searches such as “patent litigator” or “trademark attorney.” You can also search for Loyola alumni working at a particular firm by visiting a firm’s LinkedIn page, selecting “People,” and adding “Loyola Chicago School of Law” to the “Where They Studied” section. I would then reach out to any alumni whose career interested me by a process similar to the one above.

In my networking interactions, I spoke with attorneys at specialized (or boutique) firms that only practice IP, attorneys at Big Law firms that offer almost every type of law (including patent litigation practice groups), and in-house attorneys doing IP transactions and patent portfolio management at technology companies. These conversations informed my understanding of the various types of roles for patent attorneys.

Specifically, I learned that specialized IP firms were a great way to get tons of experience early in my career, because teams are smaller and therefore you get more responsibility. However, specialized firms may pay less, training may be more informal, and they may focus more on patent prosecution rather than litigation (or vice versa). At Big Law firms, you will receive benefits such as fantastic formal and informal training, a steady stream of work, and very competitive pay. However, you will be required to work intensive, long hours in a competitive environment. In-house attorneys will do more IP transactional law surrounding the business dealings of the company in addition to potentially working on patent prosecution and litigation. In-house roles differ from firm jobs because your client is the company’s executives, and not outside parties. Additionally, in-house attorneys may have shorter hours than firm attorneys, their pay may be competitive, and they don’t have to bill their time—a laborious process at a firm by which you account for every hour of your day so that you can charge a client for your work. However, it’s extremely difficult to get an in-house job out of law school—most roles require firm experience before moving in-house.  It was through these discussions that I realized I wanted to start my career at a Big Law firm practicing patent litigation.

Through my conversations with these IP professionals, the work and environment at a Big Law firm appealed to me, and I was able to focus my job search to roles in these types of firms. However, I learned that getting a job at one of these larger law firms would not be easy, and would require a top GPA as well as membership in either law journal, the law school’s academic publication, or moot court, a simulated court competition team. This allowed me to tailor my law school experiences with the goal of getting a job, leading me to apply to both law journal and moot court.

How Do I Get A Job in IP? Using Networking To Land An Offer

Your approach to job searching differs whether you are a 1L, 2L or 3L. Your 1L summer job search lacks a structured hiring process—it will be on you to seek out jobs at various firms on your own (with the help of Career Services, of course). For your 2L summer, there is a more formal process to seek employment, where firms will seek candidates either through the Loyola Patent Law Interview Program or through the On-Campus Interview process (“OCI”). Whether there is an informal or formal process for seeking jobs, you should be using networking to help yourself land a job. My biggest piece of advice when looking for a job is to never rely on your job application. Positive networking connections with a professional at that firm increases your likelihood of receiving an interview or offer, because people like to hire people they know. Having said that, here’s how I approached networking for my 1L summer associate position at Steptoe & Johnson in Chicago, and my 2L summer associate position at Paul Hastings in Palo Alto.

As previously mentioned, I wanted to try and land a job as a 1L summer associate, knowing it would be a difficult feat to accomplish. Were it not for networking, I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish my goal. I started my process with Loyola’s Career Services. They maintain an Excel database of every law firm in Chicago, and I searched that database for each firm practicing IP law. From there, I visited each firm’s website and applied to any firm that was offering a 1L summer associate or law clerk position. I applied to over 40 IP law firms (which I tracked in an Excel spreadsheet). Of those 40+ law firms, I narrowed it down to roughly five firms that I really wanted to work for. Then, I searched those firms on LinkedIn to see whether Loyola or University of Illinois alumni (my undergrad alma mater) worked at any of them. I also searched the firm websites for any patent litigators that worked at the firm. I compiled a list of 2-3 attorneys at each firm to reach out to for an informational meeting. Most didn’t respond, but a couple did.

During the informational meeting, I asked each attorney about their career in IP, experiences at the firm, and law school preparation for a career in patent litigation. At the end of the informational meeting, I would tell them that I had applied to a position at their firm, and ask for any advice for continuing in the process. Most people didn’t say much other than to wait for the process to play out. But a few told me to send them my resume and they would look into it for me. In the end, I got two interviews for 1L summer associate roles: one at Husch Blackwell and one at Steptoe & Johnson. Both interviews came from firms in which I had an informational interviews with an attorney(s) at the firms. I never heard back from any firm in which I applied to but didn’t conduct an informational meeting. After the two interviews, I received one offer. Sometimes, it only takes one.

Remember though, networking doesn’t end when you accept a job offer. The attorneys at the firm in which you work are important contacts that can deepen your understanding of the industry, coach you on various aspects of the job, and share their career advice and experiences along the way.

While networking led to a job offer for my 1L summer, that’s not where my networking ended. Networking will be a process you engage in throughout law school and your legal career. There are always aspects of the legal industry that you can learn about by talking to other professionals. And, there may be future career opportunities that you can explore by networking with decisionmakers or those familiar with the organization or role.

Now, on to my 2L summer process. When applying to your 2L summer jobs through the Loyola Patent Fair or OCI, you will be shown a list of employers who are seeking candidates through that particular process. Thus, the pool of employers is pre-determined in these formal processes, unlike with your 1L summer job search. However, you don’t have to limit your job search to only those employers interviewing through these formal processes—many more firms and organizations will be hiring outside of these job fairs, especially specialized firms and boutiques.

I applied a similar methodology to my 2L summer employment as I did for my 1L summer employment. Whether I applied to firms through the Loyola Patent Fair, OCI, or informally, I would reach out to attorneys at those firms and schedule discussions to discuss their career, experiences at the firm, and any advice for progressing through their firm’s interview process. Additionally, I reached back out to contacts I had made earlier in the year, such as attorneys I had followed up with after the Speed Networking events, to discuss my options and ask for any advice they may have for someone seeking a summer associate position in Big Law.

For me, an important aspect to focus on was why these attorneys chose to work at the firm that they did. This is because almost all summer associate positions result in a full-time offer once the program is complete. Thus, you want to make sure that the firm you are summering at is a firm you will want to stay at as you start your career. The attorneys at Paul Hastings spoke highly about the firm’s culture of respect, the steady stream of work, growth within the IP practice, and affinity for the firm’s leadership who oversee day-to-day operations and overall firm strategy. These discussions with attorneys at the firm made me realize that I wanted to work at Paul Hastings. I was able to get an interview with the firm through the Patent Fair, and the rest is history.

Even When You Land the Job, Networking Never Ends

While networking is a valuable tool in finding your 1L and 2L summer jobs, you will use networking in just about every aspect of your career, both in law school and beyond. When I decided to apply to law journal, I talked with my Loyola tutors who were also on law journal about the write-on process and benefits of joining. When I became interested in externing for a judge, I spoke with previous Loyola externs about the application and interview process. Once you’re a practicing attorney, I’ve been told that networking will help you procure clients if you work in a law firm, or seek different legal roles as you progress in your career. In fact, I once had a law firm partner with experience in many roles tell me that, after law school, they had never applied to another job—each role they had gotten had been received through a connection.

This perpetual need for networking emphasizes the importance of not only making connections, but maintaining those connections. There have been countless times where I have reached out to connections after our initial meeting to ask questions or advice on various career moves or job interviews. However, for these contacts to be available when you need them, you need to keep up with the relationship. For example, a contact may be less likely to respond to you if its been a year since you had your initial discussion. They may have simply forgotten that you had connected in the past. Not all connections that you make will be maintained, and that’s OK. That being said, I’ve used various strategies to maintain a relationship with a connection. They involve sending an email to my contact whenever I have a new job or law school update, such as landing my 2L summer associate role, or making a moot court team. Additionally, I may send them a law-related article via email or LinkedIn message if I think it’ll interest them. I may also simply send an email every quarter wishing them well. There are numerous ways to maintain a connection, and you will figure out which ways work best for you and a particular contact.

The most important thing to remember about networking is to never fear rejection. Most people you reach out to will not email you back. You may forget to maintain a connection, and then can’t get a response from them the next time you email them. This is all OK. Just make sure you are talking to as many professionals as possible so that you can learn about as many career paths and opportunities as you can. Even if you’re 100% sure you want to practice a particular area of IP, you never know what other positions or journeys could be out there that you may like just as much (or more).

Jack Hynes
Assistant Blogger
Loyola University Chicago School of Law, J.D. 2023