Patent Lawyering in a Big Law Firm: An Interview with Patrick O’Rear, NDLS 2015

KMB: What made you decide to go to law school?

PO: I worked when I was in undergrad and majored in engineering. I worked at a couple of different engineering firms, GE, and a smaller defense contractor. I got a flavor for what engineering work was like. It wasn’t terrible but I could see it wasn’t for me long-term. It was very 9-5, clock in, clock out. It feels like you get lost in a big organization. Everything is very isolated. Lawyers are in my family. I kind of always thought I’d go to law school and just didn’t know when. After experiencing life in the engineering world for a few semesters, I realized if I am not going to do this long-term, just go to law school. Why delay?

KMB: Why did you choose to attend Notre Dame for law school?

PO: My wife was in medical school at IU when I was applying to law school, and I knew that she could likely transfer to any campus throughout the state. I knew I didn’t want to go too far away so I focused on schools in the Midwest, hoping for Notre Dame so that she could transfer her studies to the IU campus in South Bend. That was a driving factor. Notre Dame’s great reputation didn’t hurt either.

KMB: Did you know you wanted to do big law when you went to law school?

PO: No. When I was thinking about going to law school, people said it would be good to do IP because it was consistent with my engineering background. But I didn’t know anything about the work, and I wasn’t sure it would appeal to me. And I wouldn’t say I wanted to do big law. That took some figuring out. There’s obviously a difference between thinking you know something and actually knowing it. You can’t anticipate what something will be like until you’re actually doing it. That was true for me entering law school. I didn’t know what life in a large law firm would be like.

KMB: How did you figure it out?

PO: I talked to people. I have family who are lawyers. None of them are IP lawyers but they had worked in large firms. They put me in touch with people who did IP and who had experiences in other practice settings. After talking to those attorneys I found myself drifting in that direction, and I got firsthand experience while working as a summer associate.

KMB: Why did you choose Jones Day?

PO: Jones Day always impressed me, especially while a student at Notre Dame. Attorneys from Jones Day always show up at Notre Dame events in droves. I also had known some folks who worked for Jones Day.

I also had a great interview experience with Jones Day.  I interviewed during the Loyola Patent fair, which is a job fair focused on IP candidates. Everyone there naturally assumes you’re there because you want to do patent work, but I wasn’t so sure. The Jones Day folks that I interviewed with were the only people who told me “we don’t hire to specific practice groups so you’ll come in and do the new lawyers group and see where you end up.” I wasn’t pushed in the direction of IP and was allowed to try things out. That opportunity appealed to me the most.

KMB: What was your summer at Jones Day like?

PO: As a summer, I got to explore several different practice areas. But more important than the substance of the work was the opportunity to work with many different practicing attorneys.

KMB: What makes Jones Day unique?

PO: The New Lawyers Group, which gives new attorneys the chance to try different practice areas, is invaluable. If you’re given the chance to explore different practice groups as a summer associate, which most firms let you do, it’s great but it’s not a realistic experience. You won’t know what it’s like to be an associate in that practice group based on your summer experiences alone. So having the opportunity when you’re just starting out to work on real projects with real timelines and demands is very helpful in finding the best fit.

Jones Day’s structure also appealed to me. There isn’t any single headquarters for the firm, and there is a lot of cross-practice, cross-office work.

I’ve also enjoyed the personalities. Like any large law firm, the hours can be challenging. But those hours are more bearable if you enjoy the people you work with – and that’s been my experience at Jones Day.

KMB: Do you have advice for law students about to go through the recruiting process?

PO: Study the firms you’re interested in. I think most students tend to send their resume to every firm that is coming to Notre Dame to interview. But once you actually get your interviews, you have to know what the firms are about. Learn what their summer program is like and what practice groups they have. Show you’re taking the interview seriously and that will make you an appealing candidate.

KMB: Is networking over summer important in the recruiting process?

PO: Absolutely. In my experience, associates at many firms play a large role in recruiting so it’s great to network with recent grads as well as more experienced attorneys. Partners will often listen to the advice of junior associates when it comes to hiring decisions because those associates went through the recruiting process recently or they know of strong candidates. So networking with those recent graduates over the summer is important.

KMB: How do you grades impact the recruiting process?

PO: It depends on the firm. For many firms, grades don’t matter past a certain threshold. If there is a candidate with a lower GPA but a great backstory and personality, they are more likely to be hired than the 4.0 student who can’t carry on a conversation. Grades get your foot in the door but after that, other factors become more important. A resume with prior work experience, law review, moot court, or other activities can go a long way in making up for bad grades.

KMB: What advice do you have for law students about how to get the most out of their time in law school?

PO: Get involved with student organizations. Take up your professors on their offers to go to office hours. Professors can be a great resource for learning things in law school or making connections for things like clerkships. Make yourself known to professors so they can help you.

The other advice I’d have is to try to stick to a routine or schedule during the semester. It’s not like you’re in undergrad where you have mid-terms or a paper due every couple of weeks and you’re getting feedback throughout the semester. It’s a different experience. You have to work throughout the semester so that you don’t get trapped into learning a semester’s worth of material at the last minute. No one is perfect in staying on schedule but the earlier you can figure out the ebbs and flows of the law school semester, the better off you’ll be.

Patrick is happy to be connected with students and is especially eager to speak with rising 2Ls interested in Jones Day. Get in touch with me for his contact information.

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