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Choosing an Alternate Path: Using Your Law Degree Without Practicing Law

JD Suffolk University Law School

I think it’s fair to say that most people who have a law degree practice law in some form. I was one of those people until about a year into my first legal job, when I decided to veer off the expected career path. (I am happy to say that I rarely look back.) It can be a scary decision because you may question why you went through three (or four) years of schooling with little free time or social life and have tens of thousands of dollars in debt for a degree that you aren’t using. But there are many jobs that allow you to use your law degree without practicing law. Mine is one of those.

I work for Alvarez & Marsal Global Forensic and Dispute Services in Boston. A&M was started in 1983 as a boutique restructuring firm. (One of the most notable restructuring assignments has been the Lehman bankruptcy.) Since then different service lines have been created, one of them being Global Forensic and Dispute Services.

The majority of my job focuses on dispute services, that is, litigation support. In a nutshell, this means that I assist in the financial valuation of the liability and damage phases of a dispute. Most of the disputes involve intellectual property: patents (mostly), trademarks (sometimes), and copyrights (rarely). As an example, when a patent infringement lawsuit is filed, we’re hired by either the patent holder or the alleged patent infringer to determine what the damages would be if the alleged patent infringer is found to be infringing.

In patent infringement cases, the specific technology involved varies greatly. I’ve worked on cases involving cordless butane curling irons, semiconductor inspection systems, and snowplows, to name a few. One of the most interesting and challenging cases I worked on involved altitude determining device software in airplanes.

Trademark infringement cases, while not as frequent, are, in my opinion, more interesting than patent infringement cases. With patent infringement cases, there are specific guidelines that must be followed to determine damages. Determining damages for trademark infringement cases, on the other hand, tends to be more qualitative than quantitative. The trademark infringement cases I’ve worked involve the industries of financial services, automobiles, manufacturing, and hospitality.

In general, I enjoy dispute services matters because they are analytical, allow me to use my finance background from college, and prove my law school experience to be invaluable.

In addition to dispute services, I also work on non-litigation matters such as licensing advisory and compliance and intellectual property valuation. With the former, these matters are typically royalty audits. In a royalty audit, we’re hired by the licensor (patent holder) to review the royalty records of a licensee to determine if the licensee is correctly paying royalties to the licensor. This work goes far beyond traditionally ticking and tying (as you would expect with an audit), and involves interviewing certain personnel at the licensee, a thorough review of records and documentation, and correctly interpreting the complex license agreement between the parties.

Intellectual property valuation is fairly self-explanatory: we’re hired to value a company’s IP, either patents, trademarks, or both, as well as IP license rights. Typically the valuation is a result of a bankruptcy where all of assets of the debtor (the company who files for bankruptcy) must be valued. I’ve valued IP in industries such as ultracapacitors, casinos and resorts, and GPS technology.

So that’s what I do day-to-day at work, although I could never describe a “typical” day because there’s no such thing when you work for a consulting firm. If you are interested in work that does not entail practicing law, I would recommend research and networking: Talk to career services at your law school. Reach out to local alumnae. Maybe even check out the local bar association services. Do your own research for companies that might fit the bill. In any case, think outside the box and keep an open mind. What you find may surprise you.

The views presented are solely that of Gayla Langlois and do not reflect the views of A&M.

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