This October, the Intellectual Property Law Society hosted its annual Alumni Panel in which Iowa Law alumni practicing intellectual property law return to discuss their paths through and after law school. This year, the IPLS panelists were Stephen Baird, a trademark attorney with Winthrop & Weinstein in Minneapolis; Alexandra Olson, a patent litigator with Carlson Kaspers; Charles Verhoeven, one of the nation’s top IP litigators and a managing partner at Quinn Emmanuel in California; Allison Kerndt, an attorney with Davis Brown in Des Moines; and Scott Clair, who works in-house at John Deere.

The panelists spoke on a variety of topics, from the work they are doing now to the classes that benefitted them the most in law school to tips on finding a job that’s right for you. Baird, the managing partner of Winthrop & Weinstein’s IP group, explained that he represents companies both large and small, while Olson and Verhoeven, both patent litigators, represent larger firms, as patent litigation is expensive. Kerndt represents mostly Midwestern companies, including several local breweries. Clair took a non-traditional path to law school, working for 10 years as an engineer at Deere before beginning law school. He returned to Deere after law school as an attorney in its patent group.  Several years ago, he moved into the business side of the company and currently works on technology acquisitions.

The panelists also discussed how the work they are doing now differs from the work they did in their first job out of law school. Kerndt found that as she became more experienced, she took on more important roles in the firm. These roles included more client contact and being more involved with the business plan of her clients. Olson noted that, as a newer attorney, you are often the “master of the facts.” There’s one person who needs to know everything about the patent and its prosecution, and that person is usually the younger attorney. It’s important to take this role seriously to make yourself stand out later on. Verhoeven began his career working for a large firm in New York. During that time, he realized that just because you work at a large firm, does not mean you are safe in your career. He realized that it was essential to have your own clients to have a safe and stable career.

In terms of finding a job either for the summer or after graduation, both Olson and Kerndt noted the importance of the Loyola Job Fair for those interested in doing patent work. The Loyola Job Fair is a great opportunity to explore patent law employment options. Kerndt also said that it was important to keep in mind that your career is not just one chapter, but a whole book. She found it best to try not to put pressure on herself to find the perfect place to work.  Instead, she felt that it was more important to find a job that fits well at the right time and can open up future opportunities. Verhoeven stressed that, for post-graduation jobs, students should think both short-term and long-term. He also observed that there’s been a change in many firms’ hiring processes. Many firms are no longer focused on on-campus interviews (also known as "OCI"), so students must be more proactive in looking for potential job opportunities.

Across the board, the panelists found that the most important skill they gained from law school was writing. Each panelist stressed that students should gain as much writing experience as possible while in law school. Clair also found it important to understand the legal systems of other countries, especially as in-house counsel. He explained that in international business practice, issues arise from differences between the laws of different jurisdictions. The panelists also expressed that students should get out there and experience something new in law school. Whether that’s auditing an undergraduate course or taking a unique course at the law school, it’s important to broaden your horizons while in school.