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Law schools don’t typically pride themselves on being hip or even current. The favored teaching technique still dates back to ancient Greece. First-year offerings are universally the same as they were depicted in “The Paper Chase.” Clinics — courses that actually teach students what lawyers do — exist only at the margins of most law schools. But schools everywhere are getting in step with the intellectual property craze. In the past decade, nearly half a dozen law schools — including the University of Houston, Santa Clara University in California, Yeshiva University’s Cardozo Law School in New York, Washington University in St. Louis and the Franklin Pierce Law Center in Concord, N.H. — have launched master of laws (LL.M.) programs in IP. And more are on the way. Virginia’s George Mason University and the University of San Francisco will roll them out this fall. And Stanford University will launch a fourth-year program in “Law, Science & Technology” with a handful of IP courses. The programs challenge the IP bar’s conventional wisdom, which is that the surest path to success is to win admission to the best law school possible — and learn on the job. But maybe a year in the classroom can’t hurt. Traditional LL.M. programs are geared toward international students who want to bone up on the American legal system. And, in fact, many of the new intellectual property LL.M. programs also cater to European or Asian students looking to learn American copyright or patent law. But most of the new programs — much like New York University’s established tax program and George Washington University’s program in patent law — also allow American students to burnish their resumes by returning for a fourth law school year in which they are able to concentrate on one subject. In most of the programs, students spend the year taking the same intellectual property courses offered to the regular law students — and then some. Santa Clara, for example, offers a range of specialized courses, such as “Biotech Patent Prosecution,” “International Trademark Practice” and “ADR in Patent Cases.” Washington University suggests that its LL.M. students take a handful of “skills courses,” in which students learn how to draft licensing agreements, prosecute patents, and the like. “[Our program] is a tight collection of courses that teach both the law and skills,” says Charles McManis, the program’s director. “It’s our philosophy that students need to do both to be successful IP lawyers.” U.S. News & World Report has published for several years rankings of the overall top intellectual property programs. So, for places that lack the reputation of the law schools at Harvard University or the University of Virginia, carving out a niche in intellectual property represents a way to lift their stock and gain visibility. This year, among the top ten schools in the IP ranking are Franklin Pierce, Santa Clara and Cardozo. The programs are also a way to add revenue. A private school charging $30,000 in annual tuition to 20 students stands to bring in $600,000. “If you’ve got the faculty in place, it’s very cheap to start one of these programs,” says Barry Currier, the American Bar Association’s deputy consultant on legal education. “They’re designed to provide budget relief for law schools. And most of them do.” The schools hope to enroll 50 students or more in the programs. But they’re not there yet. Washington University started its program last year with about a dozen students. University of Houston has 25 students; Franklin Pierce’s program, begun in 1999, has close to 30. Will these programs succeed? The schools say that applications are flowing in. But will their students fly out and land softly at firms and corporate departments? Palo Alto, Calif.’s Fenwick & West hasn’t hired any LL.M. graduates but may in the future. “A lot of times, we’re looking for a marker indicating that a candidate is truly committed to intellectual property,” says John Steele, the hiring partner. “There’s no question that [an advanced degree] is something we would look favorably upon.” For some students, an LL.M. can make up for a lack of the sort of pedigree that top law firms expect. Timothy Nielander’s alma mater — Ambassador College of Big Sandy, Texas — went out of business in 1997. His law school, Mississippi College of Law, is not well known in IP circles. Nielander set his sights on being an intellectual property lawyer. He enrolled in Houston’s LL.M. program. He impressed copyright guru Raymond Nimmer, who put Nielander in touch with Preston, Gates & Ellis, one of Seattle’s biggest law firms. Bingo! Nielander landed the job in 1997. “For me, [the LL.M. degree] opened a lot of doors,” says Nielander, who has since done work for Microsoft Corp., 3M Corp., and DaimlerChrysler Corp. Now meet Lisa Westfield. She studied biology as an undergraduate. And she worked on her law degree at St. Louis University while employed as a research assistant at Washington University. But after she finished, in 1996, Westfield didn’t find the right job in law. A couple of years later, Westfield heard that Washington University was starting an LL.M. program. “I thought I could make myself more attractive by getting the degree,” she recalls. Westfield finishes this spring. Still, at press time she didn’t have a job practicing law. “It was a calculated risk,” she says, “and I’m still hopeful. If it pays off, the upside is tremendous.” Who is more typical — Nielander or Westfield? “When it comes to the big firms, an LL.M. degree might give you a slight edge over equivalent students,” says Martin Adelman, the director of the intellectual property program at George Washington. “But it can’t cure all of your ills. There’s still no substitute for being president of the Harvard Law Review.” James Elacqua is the head of the intellectual property department at San Francisco’s Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison. Elacqua says that last year several Brobeck lawyers transferred from the firm’s overstaffed corporate department into the IP group. “None of them had studied much intellectual property,” he says. “But they all picked up the trade on the fly. And all of them are proving to be excellent intellectual property lawyers.” “We’d much rather hire someone who has a technical undergraduate degree or some real-life litigation experience,” adds Peter Vogl, a co-managing partner at New York’s Pennie & Edmonds. The degree is likely to be an even tougher sell at big in-house departments. Sean Johnston, vice president of intellectual property at South San Francisco’s Genentech Inc., says that the company rarely hires lawyers fresh out of school. The same is true at Intel Corp. “Typically, we hire experienced lawyers who have electrical engineering or computer science backgrounds,” says Janet Craycroft, a senior litigation attorney at Intel. Craycroft focused on intellectual property as a law student at Santa Clara, before the school offered an LL.M. degree. But she joined Intel only after she had made partner at Palo Alto’s Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich. Law schools are also selling the programs to practicing attorneys. In 1994 Irene Kosturakis, an in-house attorney at Compaq Computer Corp., decided to enroll in the University of Houston’s night program; Compaq agreed to pick up the tab. “I thought it would be helpful to go back and pick up certain courses that I didn’t take in law school,” she says. The program took Kosturakis three years and didn’t lead to a job promotion. “But it was wonderful,” she says. “And if I have to find another job after the merger [between Compaq and Hewlett-Packard Co.] goes through, I’m confident I’ll have an extra edge because of the degree.” Many IP lawyers, like Marc Reiner, a senior associate in Dorsey & Whitney’s New York office, aren’t sold. Reiner took a few intellectual property courses in law school. But he doesn’t rely on his book knowledge in his day-to-day work. “The truth is that a lot of intellectual property law just isn’t that complicated,” he says. “It’s not like tax. Most cases just come down to who does a better job of arguing the facts.” And for better or worse, there’s no LL.M. degree in that.

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