April 24, 2018
I am a commercial litigation associate and want to transition to IP litigation. Do I need a technical degree to make the switch?
Need? No. But would the technical degree make you more marketable for IP litigation opportunities in the market today? Yes. Particularly if you possessed an electrical engineering (EE) or computer science (CS) degree.
With that said, a technical background is not a hard requirement to transition to an IP litigation practice or to be a successful IP litigator. In fact, many of the finest IP litigators practicing today do not possess technical backgrounds. It’s important to note; however that these partners do have a team of technical lawyers on deck to assist with cases and participate in pitches for business. So make no bones about it, the technical expertise is an essential part of a successful IP litigation practice.
There are different categories that fall under the umbrella of IP Litigation. These include: patent, copyright and trademark; and some types of breach of contract licensing cases. An IP practice can encompass one single area or a mix of several. Typically, it’s a blend. And the more senior a lawyer gets, the more diverse his/her practice might become. So as you contemplate your practice shift, educate yourself and understand what the different IP litigation areas are all about. This will help guide you towards an effective career strategy and opportunities that will be the best fit.
The current market for IP litigation associates is fairly active, but the majority of these opportunities require a technical degree. Consequently, you will encounter some hurdles in switching practices with a flip of a switch. However, some firms with IP litigation needs may be more willing to consider you as a retool and hire you without the tech degree if your credentials are off the charts and you are coming from a prestigious law firm. But even in this scenario, it will be challenging in today’s market. Despite this landscape, I still encourage you to apply for such positions and see what the market tells you.
Your best bet is to move to a firm where you can leverage your current expertise and receive some IP litigation experience as well. You’ll be more marketable for these opportunities. This practice transition will be more gradual, but it will set you on the right path. When considering such opportunities, make sure the firm has a real and credible IP litigation practice and will support your desire to work on IP cases. Otherwise, you could find yourself staffed on that big insurance defense case that just came in the door.
Your ability to successfully transition your practice will depend on many factors, but it is doable. The current legal market is active so opportunities exist. And while law firms are placing premiums on technical backgrounds, there are circumstances that will allow you to develop your IP practice without one. It won’t be easy, but with an understanding of the practice, a clear strategy and execution, you’ll increase your chances of making a smooth transition.