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Ten Interviewing Tips for Intellectual Property Applicants

Kristopher R. Davis

Ten Interviewing Tips for Intellectual Property Applicants
Warchi via Getty Images

1. Understand the Basics

Intellectual property cases can involve a wide range of legal rights, including patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets. You do not need to be an expert, but learn the differences between these categories of IP (e.g., what each right covers and how rights are obtained). It is also helpful to know how IP law develops. For example, all patent laws are federal laws enacted by Congress.  Patent-infringement cases take place in federal district courts, and the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has exclusive jurisdiction of all appeals from patent cases.

2. Consider Your Audience

If possible, try to learn a bit about your interviewer. If you are interviewing with an attorney, try to learn from their profile what areas of law their practice covers. Many IP attorneys tend to focus their practice in particular industries (e.g., telecommunications, pharmaceuticals, automotive), which may help you understand their experience and interests. If you are interviewing with a judge, see what you can find online about their background. You may learn about when the judge joined the bench and what he or she did professionally prior to becoming a judge. Don’t feel the need to tell your interviewer everything you’ve learned about them—just use the information before and during your interview to present yourself as effectively as possible.   

3. Identify Your Selling Points

What helps set you apart from the other applicants interested in IP internships?  Think critically about what impression you want to leave with your interviewer, and then consider what evidence you have to support that impression. If one of your selling points is that you have a very strong technical background, be sure to convey that during your interview. As other examples, if you have prior legal work experience, excel in legal writing, or have taken numerous IP courses in law school, plan to work those selling points into your interview answers. 

4. Demonstrate Knowledge

Be sure to emphasize whatever knowledge or training you have that would make you a great IP intern. IP cases often involve complex, technical subject matter, so judges seeking IP interns want someone who is comfortable learning about new technologies or scientific subjects. Talk about any relevant courses you’ve taken or work experience that demonstrates knowledge of IP law or technical subjects.  If you are interviewing with a judge, consider researching what types of cases he or she typically hears using resources like LexisNexis CourtLink. 

5. Express Interest and Enthusiasm

Show that you are interested in the intern position and in IP law. If you have participated in moot court or loved trial advocacy class, be sure to talk about those experiences with enthusiasm! If you read IP-focused blogs, wrote a journal article/note on an IP topic, or participate in an IP-oriented student group, use this as evidence of your interest in IP law. Speak enthusiastically about your interests and your desire to work on IP cases as a JIOP intern.   

6. Anticipate Likely Questions

There are many different approaches an interviewer can take, but you should try to anticipate some of the questions you are likely to be asked. For example, what interests you about the IP intern position?  Have you had any exposure to IP law?  If you have a technical background, be prepared to answer why you decided to go to law school. Many interviews also cover more general topics, such as your strengths and weaknesses, your experience being a self-starter, or your ability to work with a team.  Remember to review your résumé and other application materials, and be prepared to talk about anything listed in those documents.  In addition, try to identify evidence that demonstrates the point you’re trying to convey. For example, if you’re asked about your exposure to IP law, be ready to explain that you’ve taken three IP courses in law school, participated in the IP moot court competition, or wrote a journal article/note about an IP topic. Some judges approach the interview as a general conversation to determine whether you are a good personality fit for the judge and his or her staff. Such a conversation might touch on your interests outside law, where you grew up, your reasons for going to law school, or your future career plans.        

7. Have Questions for Your Interviewer

Some interviewers like to put candidates on the spot, so be ready with thoughtful questions. For example, you could ask about how often you might have the opportunity to witness trial proceedings, the judge’s typical process for drafting opinions, what types of duties you would have in assisting the judge, what qualities make for a successful intern, or what types of IP issues are typically presented to the court.   

8. Learn from Others

In preparing for your interview, don’t go it alone! Reach out to your professors, classmates, career services staff, and alumni for advice. Most of your professors have clerked for a judge, and some of your classmates have interned for judges in the past or know someone who has.  Talk to them about their experiences and what types of questions you should expect in an interview. Your career services staff will also have resources for you and may even be able to put you in touch with a current or past student who previously worked with your judge. If you ask around and start early, you’ll be surprised by how many people will have great advice for you.

9. Act and Dress the Part  

Remember the basics of effective oral communication and advocacy. Speak confidently, dress appropriately, sit up straight, and strive for good eye contact. Don’t rush through your answers, and try to make the interview conversational. Keep in mind that public speaking and effective interviewing are skills.  Knowing that you should speak confidently is not enough—you need to practice! 

10. Follow Up

Attorneys and judges are very busy people. An attorney interviewing you has volunteered his or her time because they support JIOP and want you to be successful. Similarly, JIOP judges review applications, interview candidates, and help train selected interns because they value JIOP’s mission.  After your interview, take the opportunity to show your appreciation and reiterate your interest in the intern position by sending thank-you notes. Also, remember that the legal community, especially the IP legal community, is smaller than you think. Consider your interview a networking opportunity, and keep in mind that you could be meeting a future colleague, opposing counsel, or potential client.