The legal education is arduous and, since there are more law students than traditional legal jobs, the legal education can at times seem overwhelming, at least it seemed that way to me a few times when I was a student. I was a non-traditional law student, in that I started a career and had a family before law school, a factor which has influenced my decision to pursue a non-traditional career and a desire to start my career in Columbia. Despite at one time holding some reservations about my decision to go to law school, I now see that my legal education has enabled me to find a niche – and that might be the greatest value of law school, as it allows graduates to find their niche in a wide range of ways.
My niche is intellectual property, and I work for the University of Missouri supporting the legal and business development aspects of intellectual property generated from university research. I am a patent attorney who gets to contribute to a highly profitable business unit within the university tasked with protecting intellectual property and licensing it to the private sector in return for royalties. Although I do not practice law for the university, my work has allowed me to gain valuable experience in patent law and intellectual property commercialization, and I now use that experience to provide legal advice to a manageable book of clients.
Part of finding a niche is looking at one’s environment and figuring out how to add value in the most productive way. After graduating law school, I looked at my environment in Columbia and decided to immerse myself into what is an incredible entrepreneurial culture. Did you know that according to a Bloomberg Businessweek survey taken in 2010, the University of Missouri System ranked #2 among universities for undergraduate production of CEOs at Fortune 500 firms? Nearly all of these CEOs were from the Columbia or the Rolla campus. We were second to the University of California, where the system is twice the size of the Missouri system and we tied Harvard. Keep in mind the University of Missouri System is not as big as the systems from many other states like Texas and Wisconsin. This entrepreneurial culture coupled with a high tech infrastructure makes Mid-Missouri a prime market for applying an expertise in intellectual property, and it is the niche I have chosen.
Nationally, law degrees have taken some heat lately, but the education has been and continues to be valuable. People describe that value in many ways but I think the underlying benefit is that the legal education teaches students how to learn new subjects and situations in a comprehensive way by spotting the salient issues and making reasonable decisions based on those issues. This skill applies not just to law, where the attorney must learn all sorts of details about his client’s issues while bearing his own legal expertise, but pretty much to any other career that is challenging. And that is why I think legal graduates are so successful, and why they can find their niche in a wide variety of ways.