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Tea on Tuesdays: Intellectual Property

The Office of Development and Alumni Relations inaugurated a new Spotlight event, Tea on Tuesdays, on September 26th with a discussion of careers in the practice area of intellectual property.

The guest speakers were David H. Kagan ’81, Partner at Schulte, Roth & Zabel, and Eric S. Zohn ’92, Senior Vice President of the William Morris Agency.

Mr. Zohn spoke first about the difficulties and rewards of a legal career in the entertainment industry.

Noting that there are a limited number of positions available, he said, “You kind of have to be out there” and advised the students in attendance that internships are “absolutely, positively the best way to get your foot in the door.”

Mr. Zohn began preparing for his career while still in law school. As a student, he also worked part-time for the William Morris Agency. He continued to work there after he graduated and, eventually, when one of the lawyers at the company left, he was hired.

“Most people I know who went to law school got jobs like that,” he said.

At William Morris, Mr. Zohn works with the transactional legal department. A growing number of the agency’s clients own intellectual property, he explained. Mr. Zohn described this new development as “the brave new world” of the entertainment industry. He said his job focused on developing strategies to exploit properties and protect clients.

Mr. Zohn told the students that many entertainment companies have business affairs and legal departments. When both departments exist, it is most common for the business affairs department to make the deals and the legal department to do the drafting. At William Morris, his office handles both functions.

“My advice is to get into business affairs if you can,” he commented.

The second speaker, David Kagan ’81, offered a completely different perspective. Mr. Kagan’s firm, Schulte, Roth & Zabel, is primarily known as a hedge fund law firm.

The firm has many departments that all work together.

Mr. Kagan said he found law school challenging and exciting, but it also was “a time of some trepidation.”

“You have to understand just how competitive the economy is,” he explained to the students.

Mr. Kagan said that it was important not only to get the best job possible, but to “find the job you’re good at.”

Intellectual Property, he noted, requires a skill set the students will need to develop to perform well. Mr. Kagan enumerated some of the needed skills. First, he said, you must be a good litigator because anything can end up in court and “IP law is focused ultimately on that.” Mr. Kagan said he always asks potential IP lawyers to answer a series of questions about themselves: Do you write well? What was the last book you read? What was the last word you looked up? How much do you enjoy legal research? How much are you prepared to carry the ball?

Echoing Mr. Zohn’s advice about the importance of internships, he also urged the students to develop mentoring relationships and added that the students, themselves, should also be mentors.

“It’s a two-way street,” he said. “Ultimately, this is an apprenticeship process. Ultimately, you have to learn from people.”

Mr. Kagan later reminded the students that “networking is not taking peoples’ names. It’s impressing people.”

Mr. Kagan’s second requirement for IP attorneys was a strong background in science.

“You have to enjoy science to be a patent lawyer,” he commented.

“You also better be a good contract lawyer,” Mr. Kagan added, and explained that the work was less about the validity of patents and much more about the validity of contracts.

A strong knowledge of anti-trust laws is also a key factor, Mr. Kagan added, and finally, “you need teamwork skills because patent cases are big. You have to be able to manage people. You have to be able to inspire people.”

Both speakers agreed that networking was very important in building a career in intellectual property, whether in a company or a firm.

“Everything I learned was from the senior attorneys I worked with,” Mr. Zohn said. Networking also can lead to new clients and more jobs, and at a firm, that is critically important because lawyers are expected to bring in business. At a company, Mr. Zohn said, there is no pressure to generate business.

“You have to understand who you are and which skills you want to develop,” he explained.

During a question and answer period, the students asked the speakers about a range of topics, including how to get the experience they need to make a career.

“People go back and get an LL.M. in tax,” Mr. Kagan said. “You can go back and get science credits for the patent bar. You have to really, really try, and the networking is absolutely key. It can be done. You have to have a voracious appetite and desire.”

Mr. Zohn urged the students not to wait for an ideal first job.

“If the job you are offered takes you closer to where you want to be, take it,” he said.

Mr. Zohn added that the corporate environment was less nurturing and provided less mentoring than a large law firm, but that many corporations hired attorneys from large firms.

“Sometimes you go to one to get to the other,” he noted.

In response to a question about how a person might become a talent agent, Mr. Zohn told the students that his agency still has a “legendary” training program in which all potential agents begin by working in the mailroom. Mr. Zohn said the program was a good one if “you know you want to be an agent, but you need to be sure.” It is “very difficult to pick up the law again,” he said.

Mr. Kagan and Mr. Zohn agreed that whether a person wants to be in a firm or work as an agent, they have to not only be very good at what they do, but also be seen as being very good by others.

Both speakers also agreed that hard work and dedication are absolutely essential.

“This is your life,” Mr. Kagan said. “This is your career. You have to be tenaciously persistent.”

Mr. Zohn also urged the students to work hard to pass the bar. While some attorneys who do not practice law feel bar passage is not that important, Mr. Zohn argued that it said a great deal about a person’s ability to make and meet commitments.

“If you can’t finish that,” he said, “you’re deluding yourself.”