Hands up, who did a law degree?IP practitioners in England and Wales, which is this blogger's home turf, are already educationally and professionally diversified to a remarkable extent. There are conventionally legally-educated qualified solicitors and barristers, then there are cross-overs who start as one and end up as the other, taking with them not only the education that led to their earlier qualification but also the attitudes and hang-ups. Less conventional are those who studied another subject at university first, tacking law on as an uncomfortably intensive afterthought. There are also patent attorneys, with what should be an in-depth scientific background, and trade mark attorneys (the mongrels of the IP world with no discernible common ancestor or pedigree). But this fairly diverse scene is only the beginning of the story: there are private practitioners, in-housers -- drawn both from the ranks of those mentioned in the previous paragraph and from those who have worked in the granting and challenging of IP rights, being patent or trade mark examiners.
We spoke to four 'career changers' over the summer, including former Blur drummer David Rowntree who is now a solicitor with Kingsley Napley and former A&E nurse Jennifer Bethlehem who is currently working at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, to find out how they got on after choosing law as a second career.
Little did we know what a hornet's nest we had wandered into. TheLawyer.com has been flooded with comments, some of you are outraged that you can become a lawyer without first doing a law degree.
One commentator opined: “Lawyers seem to be allowing for the destruction of their own profession by allowing any old person to come along and proclaim, indeed be, a lawyer.” Another suggests career changers must be interested in the law itself rather than “money, prestige and ego”, if they are going to be successful.
We've also heard from mothers who have taken career breaks before converting to law at a mature age and encountered no difficulty in making the change or indeed landing a job.
We have a shrinking profession attempting to be more diverse in its makeup. Is the biggest hurdle to diversification lawyers themselves? Let us know what you think.
I'm pretty certain that IP lawyers are not the biggest barrier to their own diversification. If there is a barrier at all, it might be provided by client expectations that the professional representative of its choice will conform to a stereotype that may be unrealistic and may indeed no longer exist.