News from Cubbie

Just had a long day.

I took a test. Not just any ordinary test, but one that might be just as important to my future as the bar exam I took back in 2006.

The test, you ask? Officially, it’s the Examination for Registration to Practice in Patent Cases Before the United States Patent and Trademark Office. More often, it’s called the “patent bar”. If you want to represent someone who is applying for a patent, you have to pass this exam. (There is no analogous “trademark bar” exam, by the way… any licensed attorney in the US can represent clients before the trademark side of the PTO.)

Although it’s called the “patent bar”, you don’t have to have a law course, much less a law degree or law license… but you do have to have a hard science background. It’s 50 multiple-choice questions in a 3-hour morning session, and 50 more in an afternoon session of the same length. It used to be strictly a pencil-and-paper exam, but the default testing mode is now completely computer-based. You sit at a terminal, and you have an electronic version of the manual from which the questions are drawn.

How hard is it? Well… even though everyone who takes it has to have enough brains to get a hard-science or engineering degree, and many are also law graduates, AND everyone who takes the test has access to the main reference material at their test station, less than 60% of the people who take it pass. I know some law school classmates of mine who took it two and three times before passing. (Just as an aside, Bravo Whiskey—that’s Kilo Mike’s sister, whom I talked about in a couple of earlier posts—passed on her first try.)

So, I’m sure you’re all waiting for me to tell you how I did. Well, I have good news and bad news. First, the bad news. I didn’t find out what my score was.

As it turns out, that’s also the good news.

When you’re finished with the test, they only give you your score if you failed.

In short, barring some completely unforeseen snafu, I PASSED!!

Diversity is Strength! It’s also civil war!

The Brits have stood up to the plate with us against the Islammunists in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unfortunately, they’re now finding themselves in a civil war in Afghanistan. No, I don’t mean Afghan versus Afghan… I mean Brit against Brit.

Several thousand British-born Muslims have gone to Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban. The British Army has intercepted Taliban communications in which jihadists were speaking with West Midlands accents.

Lesson? When you bring in people from all over the world and make no effort to make sure they conform to your culture, be prepared for some nasty blowback.

HT: Allan Wall at

Cubbie: SAHM vs. Law (Part 2)

Sorry for the delay in posting Part 2, but I’ve been kind of busy getting accustomed to my new job!

In Part 1, I showed how the “Big Law” route mixes with full-time motherhood, which is to say not at all. I promised to tell you what’s going on in the world outside Big Law. Well, here it is… and if you thought Big Law was bad, the rest of the profession is even worse.

If you’re comtemplating a career in law, you NEED to see this chart… YESTERDAY. This is the distribution of full-time salaries for all JD graduates in 2006 (incidentally, the year I graduated from law school) who reported income data to their schools. The chart is based on reports from over 22,500 graduates, slightly more than half of all JDs awarded in the country that year. It would also be helpful to read the blog post in which this chart was discussed.

The median salary for newly minted JDs in 2006 was 62K, which doesn’t sound too bad. However, there is very little clustering around that median. Slightly over a fourth of all graduates who reported income data made over 100K, while a virtually identical percentage made between 40 and 55K. (By the way, I made noticeably less than 40K as an attorney.)

The problem is twofold:

(1) The average debt for a newly minted law graduate is now around 85K, and is quite often higher (as in my case, though not outrageously so). That level of debt is manageable if you get a Big Law job making 100K and up. It’s all but impossible if you’re in or below that 40-55K zone.

(2) The chances of your getting one of those highly lucrative Big Law jobs goes down exponentially as you go down the law school food chain. According to this article, once you get outside the top 25 or so in the US News and World Report rankings, you have less than a one-in-five chance of landing a position at a large law firm. To see charts of employment outcomes at all law schools accredited by the American Bar Association, see the “Charts By Region” links at this page.

Basically, if you’re a young woman who would like to stay at home and raise a family, you won’t be able to do it if you have to service a debt load that can easily run to twice your annual salary. Also, a lot of guys would think more than twice before marrying a woman with that kind of debt load.

I also promised I would tell you how Bravo Whiskey–that would be Kilo Mike’s sister–managed to combine a law career with being a mother. (As a reminder, she has three daughters.) Here’s how…

(1) Bravo was able to get into a law school that’s ranked just outside the “Top 14” (the 14 schools that have occupied the top 10 places in every US News ranking to date).

(2) By itself, that would have helped her greatly in landing a Big Law job. I won’t give the percentage of students at that school who landed Big Law jobs, since it might ID her law school… but let’s just say that it’s several times higher than where I went. However, she had another unique credential:

(3) She got her BS in electrical engineering. (It runs in the family; Kilo has a BS in chemical engineering, which is the same bachelor’s I have.) That’s especially important because…

(4) …she could then qualify to take the examination for registration to practice before the US Patent and Trademark Office, popularly known as the “patent bar”. Practice before the USPTO does not require a law degree, but you have to have a bachelor’s degree, extensive course work, or in rare cases extensive work experience in a “hard science” (engineering also qualifies) before you can sit for the patent bar. If you pass that exam, you become a “patent agent” if you’re not admitted to a state or territorial bar, and a patent attorney if you are.

(5) Because the overwhelming majority of attorneys do not have the scientific background needed to qualify to sit for the patent bar, this makes patent attorneys a fairly rare commodity. While pretty much everyone agrees there’s a glut of attorneys, there’s no glut of patent attorneys–instead, there’s a real shortage. With the patent bar and a state bar, she could pretty much write her own ticket.

(6) Bravo also married well. Her husband was a law school classmate and has been practicing ever since.

(7) Finally, because there is such a shortage of patent attorneys, she was able to ratchet down from a full-time practice to part-time once the girls started coming. It’s often said among lawyers that a part-time lawyer works 40 hours a week, but that’s NOT the case if you’re a patent lawyer. Bravo now works somewhere between 10 and 15 hours a week, and still manages to make a salary that most people would kill for.

My point here: Bravo was able to combine full-time motherhood and law because she had a unique background that qualified her for what may be the only legal specialty which has a legitimate shortage of practitioners. Someone without that background would probably not be able to combine the two.

The final verdict: If you really want to be a lawyer, more power to you. But you really need to count what the cost can be: debt, long hours, deadlines… and if you’re a young woman, possibly your dreams of devoting yourself to a family.

Cubbie’s Favorite Finishes, Part 3

Here’s a story of perseverence… and the most unbelievable luck in the history of mankind.

Steven Bradbury was a short track speed skater from Australia. Going into the 1994 Winter Olympics, he was favored in the 1000 meter event, but crashed out after colliding with another competitor, which is a constant danger in that sport. He did win a bronze medal as part of a relay team later in the same Olympics.

However, not long after the Olympics, he nearly died after a competitor’s skate sliced through his thigh in a crash. He recovered to race again… but in 2000, he broke vertebrae in his neck in a training accident.

Now, fast-forward to the 2002 Winter Olympics. He’s entered in the 1000 meters again.

First heat: He finishes third. Only the first two go on to the semifinals. But wait… one of the men who finished ahead of him is disqualified, sending Bradbury through to the semifinals.

Semifinal heat: Bradbury enters the final lap in last place, well off the pace of the other competitors. Then, three skaters crash out in front of him. He finishes second, and goes to the final.

The final: Again, Bradbury stays off the pace. Going into the final lap, he’s in last place again. Around the first turn… still in last. Going into the final turn… still in last.

Lightning strikes AGAIN.

For the first time, the Southern Hemisphere has a Winter Olympic gold medalist.

Cubbie’s Favorite Finishes, Part 2

Here’s another of my favorite finishes. For 20 years, he toiled in Boston, establishing himself as one of hockey’s all-time greats, but never got to lay his hands on his sport’s biggest prize–the Stanley Cup.

In 2000, he asks for a trade to a Stanley Cup contender. He gets his wish, going to the Colorado Avalanche. They lose in the conference finals in 7 games.

In 2001, the Avs make the Stanley Cup finals against the cup holders, the New Jersey Devils. He has already decided that win or lose, this will be his last season. The series goes to Game 7. The Avalanche win. Then, the Cup ceremony. Traditionally, the captain of the Cup winners is the first to hoist the cup. Not this time.

Joe Sakic receives the trophy from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman… and skates it over to our hero. As he prepares to lift the Cup, Gary Thorne on ABC makes a call that still gives me goosebumps:

…and after twenty-two years, RAYMOND BOURQUE!

Cubbie’s Favorite Finishes, Part 1

Since Amir blogged on his favorite sports finishes, I figure I might as well add a few of my own. Some of his posts would make my list, but I’ll stick to ones he hasn’t listed.

Number 1 on the list will require a little background, since it deals with a sport not all that familiar to most Americans… soccer (“football” in most of the rest of the world). In European soccer, clubs participate in multiple competitions in each year. First, they play in their respective domestic leagues… typically a home-and-home double round-robin, with no playoffs. Each country also has a cup competition–a knockout tournament running in parallel with the league, with the ultimate winner receiving a separate trophy. The top teams in each country also participate in one of two major continental competitions, with the biggest being the UEFA Champions League, featuring the winners of every league in Europe plus other high finishers from the top European domestic leagues. The Champions League also runs at the same time as the domestic leagues and cups. Win one and your season is a success (unless you win the cup and get relegated… but that’s for another time). Winning two is historic. Win all three and your team will be remembered as long as the game is played. Now that I’ve set the stage:

May 26, 1999. Camp Nou, Barcelona. The UEFA Champions League is down to two of the most storied teams in Europe. In corner number 1, we have Manchester United, indisputably one of the biggest clubs in England and arguably the most widely followed team in the world. Going into the Champions League final, they had already won the Premier League title and the FA Cup. In corner number 2, we have Bayern Munich, the most successful club in German football history. Like United, they had already won their domestic league, in this case the Bundesliga. They would go on to win the German Cup the next month. Presiding over the game is Pierluigi Collina, perhaps the most famous referee in history and certainly the most recognizable.

On to the game. Six minutes in, Uniited fouls Bayern just outside their own penalty area. Bayern lines up the free kick, and Mario Basler curls it in, with United’s goalkeeper having no chance to stop it. Bayern 1, United 0.

Although both teams have several good scoring chances, the game remains 1-0 to Bayern at 90 minutes of play, when the fourth official on the touchline (sideline to Americans) signals for three minutes of added time.

And then comes the madness.

United’s two second-half substitutes strike. First, Teddy Sheringham equalizes. Then, Ole Gunnar Solskjær etches his place in football lore by putting in the winner. Man United enter football immortality, while Bayern are stunned.

Cubbie: SAHM vs. Law (Part 1)

As Amir promised, here’s the first part of my post on why I believe the career/kids tradeoff may be even more daunting for prospective lawyers than for aspiring physicians.

It just so happens that our mutual physician friend, Kilo Mike, has an older sister who’s an attorney with three girls of her own. We’ll call her Bravo Whiskey. I’ll be referring to her throughout my post.

At first glance, it would appear that law requires fewer tradeoffs than medicine.

  • Law school is three years after the bachelor’s, compared to four for med school.
  • While lawyers have to pass a bar exam (with a couple of rare exceptions I won’t go into here), they are generally not required to have any additional training before being admitted. (Although most states require annual continuing education for attorneys, it’s a condition for keeping a license, not for initial admission.) Physicians, on the other hand, typically have anywhere from three to seven or more years of residency after the MD.

To give these numbers a human face, I’ll compare Bravo and Kilo. Bravo was 22 when she started law school, while Kilo was 23 when she started med school. When Kilo reached age 30, she still had a little more than a year of residency left. When Bravo hit 30, she’d already been licensed to practice law for more than four years.

However, as the cliche goes, the devil is in the details.

Press reports on job prospects for new lawyers have, at least until very recently, generally focused on the high starting salaries for big-firm lawyers in large legal markets. Starting salaries for these attorneys are now up to 160K in some cities. What these reports don’t tell you is this:

  • Starting salaries north of 100K, with rare exceptions, are found only in large firms in VERY large markets,
  • Most firms that pay such salaries have very high billable hour requirements for their associates. It’s typical for a large firm to demand 2,000 billable hours a year from its associates, and 2,100 or 2,200 is not unheard of.
  • Using 2,000 to simplify calculations, that works out to 40 hours a week for 50 weeks, allowing two weeks off. That doesn’t sound too bad, BUT…
  • …as an associate, you’ll have required meetings, seminars, and assignments that can’t be billed to a client. Also, it’s quite common for managing partners to make cuts in the hours that their associates report, for a variety of reasons.
  • Because of all this, it’s a rule of thumb that an associate has to work at least an hour and a half in order to generate one hour of billable time. Sometimes it can be closer to two hours.
  • In turn, this means that a typical big-law associate can expect to work at least a 60-hour week…
  • …until the partnership decision is made, or until she decides she wants to get out of the rat race, whichever comes first. These days, firms generally make partnership decisions after seven years, if the associate stays that long.
  • Making partner may be the holy grail for a lawyer, but it’s not the end of long hours… not by a long shot. As a partner, you’ll generally have to oversee at least some associates, do your share of rainmaking (bringing in new business), and perform other management duties. You can easily find yourself just as busy as you were when you were an associate.

What all of this means:

If you’re a young woman thinking you’ll establish yourself in a legal career and then have plenty of time to have kids, think again. If you’re 22 when you enter law school, you’re looking at being around 32 before you can make partner… and even then, you probably won’t be able to ratchet down, since your responsibilities on the job will have entered another universe. And there’s no guarantee you can even have kids then. As Amir mentioned in an earlier post, Kilo had her one biological child at 30, and then her fertility went.

And that’s IF you can get a big-law job. If you think the story I just painted for you is bleak, wait until you see Part 2. I’ll tell you what’s going on in the world outside of Big Law. You’ll also find out how Bravo managed to have time for three kids while practicing law.

(Note from Amir: Due to technical/server issues, prior comments on this post have been lost, and I had to re-post it.)