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Career Spotlight: Lawrence M. Sung

Partner (Schwartz Sung & Webster); Professor and Intellectual Property Law Program Director (University of Maryland School of Law)

 

Law School Professor

 

Basic job description:

Legal Representation of Biotechnology, Pharmaceutical and Medical Device Clients in Patent Counseling, Licensing and Litigation
 

Type of Education/Training Required:

Science or Engineering degree plus Law degree; registration to practice before the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office

 

Special Talents or Skills that Contribute to Career:

Research and Writing Proficiency; Annoying Curiosity; Ability to Shift Intellectual Gears Quickly
 

Salary:

First Year Law Firm Associate $125,000; Law Firm Partner $400,000+
 

What is your educational background?

B.A. Biology (University of Pennsylvania; Ph.D. Microbiology (U.S. Dept. of Defense – Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences); J.D. (Washington College of Law, American University); Judicial Clerkship, Judge Raymond C. Clevenger, III, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit; Registered Patent Attorney

 

Why did you choose this career?

I am one of those cautionary tales that if you are not careful, your career can choose you. My professional life has not been by design, but by happenstance (I feel lucky indeed). Had the GMAT testing date been before the LSAT testing date during my last year of graduate school, I probably would have earned a business school degree instead. Rather, I attended law school, being entirely ignorant of patents, thinking that I would pursue a science policy advisory position with a federal agency in Washington, DC. The summer after my first year of law school, I was hired by an intellectual property law specialty firm, most likely having little to do with my law school performance, but because my graduate work involved technology pertinent to a multimillion dollar patent infringement case with which the firm was engaged. I owe the course of my career to this fortuity – my first experiences in this profession were excellent.

 

What steps did you take to obtain your current position?

Having the opportunity to work with smart and creative individuals, both scientists and attorneys, has been the driving force in a rewarding career. Being willing and able to accept career risks has also been a defining factor – an invaluable piece of advice for me was to seek tasks where you will keep you hands in your pockets (to hide the fact that your hands are trembling for fear that you do not know what you are doing) – the challenge is the reward. At the end of the day, being in the company of kind, generous mentors is the key.

 

What suggestions do you have for others who would like to break into this field/position?

Biotechnology Patent Law is a field comprised of professionals that each come with different backgrounds and experiences. There is no one, preferred path or correct formula to a successful career in this field, so take others’ advice as a mere composite to fit into your personal choices. As with any profession, solid academic credentials and an engaged, enthusiastic approach to life are great starts that employer recognize immediately.

 

What is involved in a typical workday?

Biotechnology Patent Law is a field comprised of professionals that each come with different backgrounds and experiences. There is no one, preferred path or correct formula to a successful career in this field, so take others’ advice as a mere composite to fit into your personal choices. As with any profession, solid academic credentials and an engaged, enthusiastic approach to life are great starts that employer recognize immediately.

 

What do you like the best about your work?  The least?

Every day is different (tied for best and least).

 

What are your career goals?

To provide value to clients and colleagues in daily interactions while preserving the personal spirit to enjoy a meaningful life outside of work.

 

Do people tend to stay in your field for a long time or is there a lot of turnover?

Because this profession allows the luxury of structuring your work life in different ways (i.e., sole practice versus big firm, law firm versus corporate versus government versus academic) almost without geographic limitation, I am not sure I know of anyone that has “left” this line of work.
 

In what ways does your degree help you with this job?

For most biotechnology patent law positions, in addition to a J.D., an undergraduate science degree is a must, a graduate degree is preferred, and a Ph.D. is most preferred. Whether deserved or not, the doctorate provides instant credibility with clients. From a substantive standpoint, few matters demand advanced technical training, but almost all matters benefit from the advocacy skills of a good attorney.

 

How does your current position compare to working in other settings, like academia or industry?

I appreciate confronting cutting edge issues in representing leading clients in private law practice and revisiting the fundamentals on a constant basis in law teaching.

 

September 2006

 

The American Society of Human Genetics, Incorporated

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