Intellectual Property Paralegal
So you think you might like to become an intellectual property paralegal? As an intellectual property paralegal, also referred to as an IP paralegal, you'll assist attorneys with legal duties related to patent, trademark, trade secret, and copyright law. You might perform several tasks that might otherwise be done by attorneys, including researching and drafting legal documents; preparing for trials; and filing patent, trademark, and copyright registrations. Your work will be done under the direction and supervision of an attorney, and you won't be permitted to provide legal advice to clients.
In this profession, you'll likely work for an IP law firm or in the legal department of a company that has to manage its intellectual property. Your job might require some overtime when you're working under a deadline.
So what are the career requirements? Starting with the right education is important.
|Degree Level||Paralegals typically complete associate's degree or certificate programs|
|Degree Field(s)||Paralegal, legal studies, or another law-related field|
|Certification||Certification is voluntary but may be preferred by employers|
|Experience||1-5 years' intellectual property experience preferred|
|Key Skills||Strong reading comprehension; excellent oral and written communication skills; good research and organizational skills; experience with word processing software (Word or WordPerfect), Adobe Acrobat, database programs, job and time tracking software, and legal software tools; proficiency in court online filing systems and online legal research services|
|Salary||$48,810 yearly (median for all paralegals and legal assistants)|
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net OnLine, CareerBuilder.com Job postings (July 2012)
Step 1: Acquire Paralegal Training
Some employers, especially smaller law firms, will hire applicants who do not have a paralegal degree or certificate, but who do have appropriate experience. However, applicants who have a paralegal degree or certificate are preferred by most law firms and legal departments. Associate's degree programs are 15-24 months long and provide comprehensive training in criminal and civil law, procedures, litigation, legal writing, and research. Candidates who have a bachelor's degree can obtain a certificate in paralegal studies in less time, usually around 14-28 weeks of full-time study.
- Attend an approved program. There are many paralegal programs offered, but most employers prefer applicants who have attended a program that is approved by the American Bar Association. Students should verify that the school they plan on attending is ABA approved.
- Focus on intellectual property coursework. If the student plans on specializing in intellectual property, he or she may wish to select a degree program or choose coursework that features the law in this specialty. Some paralegal study programs don't offer IP courses, so the student will want to find a program that features IP law.
Step 2: Obtain Certification
While certification is voluntary, paralegals who hold certification from a recognized professional paralegal association are often preferred by employers. There are two nationally recognized paralegal organizations that certify paralegals who meet their educational, experience, and skill requirements: the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA). There are also regional associations that offer paralegal certification. Obtaining certification is a good way for job applicants to let employers know that they are qualified for the positions they are seeking.
- Follow regional trends. Aspiring IP paralegals can follow the trends of the community where they intend to work. This research can help them decide which certifications to pursue. A quick review of job postings will provide some insight into the certifications local employers prefer.
Step 3: Gain Experience
Many paralegal programs do not feature coursework in IP law. If they do, the program usually does not offer in-depth education in this legal specialty. Consequently, the graduate may have to learn this area of law on-the-job. The paralegal may have to accept a job in a company that practices in a variety of legal areas, just to gain enough paralegal experience to get into an IP law firm or legal department.
- Find IP work. While gaining on-the-job experience, the paralegal should take advantage of every opportunity to work on IP cases and develop his or her own IP law expertise in the process.
Step 4: Continuing Education
Taking continuing education courses is a requirement to maintain paralegal certification. Even if the paralegal is not certified, there are many continuing legal education courses offered by bar associations and paralegal associations in IP law. Successfully completing IP law continuing education courses will help develop the paralegal's specialty in IP law as well as provide valuable credentials to include on a resume.
Acquiring paralegal training, obtaining certification, gaining experience, and continuing education are great steps to follow to make the most of a career as an intellectual property paralegal.