by Mark Sincell
The short answer is that this may be the easiest career transition available IF (and this can be a big if) you really like to write about technical subjects. Practicing patent law requires spending many hours a day drafting letters, patent applications, and similar materials. Patent lawyers do virtually no “technical” work, like programming, calculating, setting up experiments and the other familiar tasks of the practicing physicist. If that sounds good to you, then start calling patent law firms and tell them you want to talk to them about working in patent law. Most large firms and many smaller firms are constantly on the look-out for new talent.
Physicists can be very valuable to patent law firms because their expertise can be applied to many different fields and they can work in several different capacities for a law firm. Without any additional credentials, physicists can be hired as technical advisors who assist attorneys in preparing patent applications. Spending a few months studying for (and passing) the patent bar exam administered by the USPTO qualifies you to practice as a patent agent. Agents can prepare and prosecute patent applications before the USPTO, but can’t litigate or become a partner in a law firm. For that, you need a law degree, which takes three years of full-time study in law school or 4-5 years of night school. Even if your long-term goal is to be a lawyer, starting as a technical advisor has many advantages. You will gain valuable experience and in some cases law firms will foot the bill for law school. At the very least, they will be very understanding about the burdens placed on part-time law students and they will likely hire you as an attorney when you are done.