The Program on IP & Technology Law’s current webinars address the unexpected circumstances associated with the coronavirus. These weekly webinars spotlight areas of the student experience that have changed or become increasingly important as law schools, IP law firms, government agencies such as the USPTO, and courts address the risks and mitigate the impact associated with COVID-19. On Wednesday April 1st, the Program hosted a webinar exploring how firms are affronting these extraordinary times and what students can do to continue to pursue their career opportunities. Carolyn Blessing, a Partner at Locke Lord and a 2008 Notre Dame Law School alumna whose practice focuses on IP Pharmaceutical matters and Hatch-Waxman litigation, shared her perspective, as did Patti McLaughlin, the Assistant Director of the Law School’s Career Development Office. As you continue to network, interview, seek employment opportunities, and speak with firms that have extended offers to you, consider these takeaways from our discussion.
#1 Keep in contact with employers and continue to reach out
Law firms that have hired Summer 2020 associates are continuously in contact with them. Keeping abreast of changes to grading policies and factors that are affecting students’ study routines is important to firms. If you have an offer, keep your firm apprised of your situation and of any changes your law school is implementing to address the coronavirus situation and these extraordinary times. Things are constantly evolving, so open lines of communication with your firm are key. Stay informed on any changes your summer employer may be contemplating and share developments on your end. If the date of the bar exam you had been planning to take changes, communicate that as well, in case your employer has not yet heard the news.
If you are still searching for a summer opportunity or have had to tweak your plans due to the coronavirus, continue to network. As Carolyn Blessing notes, attorneys’ emails may be growing exponentially as the coronavirus affects their practice, but don’t be disheartened if your email is not returned right away. Regular contact with mentees and conversations with students still take place, albeit virtually and following social distancing practices. When you speak with an attorney you admire or whose practice you would like to emulate, best practices of etiquette still apply, even in these unexpected times. Send personalized emails and read the attorney’s bio, gaining information about their credentials, background, interests, and their current practice. Make sure your resume is up to date so you can share it as soon as you receive a reply.
#2 Be open and flexible in the face of challenges
The reality of the current situation is challenging. Some firms may allow their incoming summer classes to work remotely and keep their start dates, while other firms may shorten their summer programs to six weeks. Know that hiring partners are on weekly calls with their recruiting departments and are making informed decisions as the situation evolves, decisions which are not made in a vacuum. Law firms still want their summer associates to have a great experience at their firms and keeping the experience as similar as possible under the circumstances for employers and students is a priority. This is especially important as certain practice groups need students and would struggle without summer and first year associates. With these changes due to the coronavirus, however, compensation may change, especially as firms affront their clients’ ability to pay as a result of these economic times. While, as Patti McLaughlin notes, there has not been a change in the weekly rate of compensation for summer associates, a shorter six week summer program will likely mean only six weeks of compensation. While changes to the summer experience may be challenging and disappointing for you, there are still ways to mitigate and positively react to them. This may even include discovering an expected interest in an area of the law affected by the coronavirus. Art Law, for example, may see an increased importance for bankruptcy law given the current economic effects on smaller art galleries and businesses, an area you may have overlooked by focusing on copyright law.
#3 Continue learning and stoke the fires of your legal passion
In the face of a changed summer schedule and a later start date; courses being offered online; and new grading policies, you may be searching for what you can positively do to mitigate the effects the coronavirus seems to be wreaking on your plans for your legal career. The answer: read and gather all the knowledge you can about the area of intellectual property and technology law that interests you. The quantity of specialized journals, blog posts, and even articles shared on LinkedIn, gives you ample resources to fuel your legal interests. If you have a technical background, consider taking the patent bar as you wait to begin your summer employment. Never has Vitruvius’ observation in his treatise on architecture been more true, “All the gifts granted by fortune are just as easily taken away from her, whereas knowledge, coupled with intelligence, never fails; it stands steadfast to the very end of life.” Your knowledge and particular passion for a subject will help your application stand out when you apply for a position or reach out to employers, especially if you are concerned about only having one semester’s worth of grades. Knowledge will also make you invaluable. Be that summer associate who knows more about recent changes in the law than the partner, making you indispensable on a matter or for a client. No matter when OCI is held, or when you hear back from a contact, your knowledge is there, standing the test of time and providing you with the foundation you need to succeed.
#4 Be bold
These are extraordinary times that are challenging for us all and require reserves of strength we perhaps did not know we had. While IP and technology law matters may still be important for companies long term and are part of companies’ inventive pipeline, some practice groups are preparing to slow down as others, like cybersecurity, healthcare, and labor and employment are working at a fast pace. Be aware of these changes but continue to go after the legal career and opportunities you desire. Reach out to the attorney you want to be in ten years, knowing they might now have more time to speak with you depending on their practice. Take the time to read the journal article you did not have time for before, or research a legal issue that always fascinated you but seemed too complex to delve into previously. If you find this time particularly challenging, reach out to colleagues and mentors and tell them how you are feeling. Boldness in all its manifestations is needed now.