Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Year One

Technically, my one-year mark came up towards the beginning of this month. That is, I've been with this patent firm for one year now and I wanted to write a post with some of my reflections and thoughts.

I found my current job by sending a mass mailing to almost every patent firm in Connecticut. This is the second time I've done such a mailing in search of employment (the first being Winter-Spring of my first year in law school). This is also the second time I received one response that led to an interview. And this is also the second time that the one response and one interview has led to gainful employment.

Technically, I think that means I have about a 2.5% interview return on the mass mailing (around 40 pieces mailed each time), a 100% success rate on interviews and a 100% success rate on locating employment.

I will be the first to admit these figures and employment opportunities were fantastic coincidences of luck and skill. Which played a larger role is a question I will leave to the historians.

I was hired at my current firm to draft and prosecute (i.e., get issued) patent applications. This was something with which I had absolutely no prior experience. Furthermore, since my background is in Physics (B.A.) with a side interest of computers (a C++ course in college and general life-long interest), I had no prior experience with telecommunications systems and equipment.

Translation: I had a lot to learn. (And I mean a lot.)

But that was why I was hired – to learn. The position was billed as a learning position with possibilities of advancement and growth depending on how everything worked out. The partners at the firm, as with every other associate, would review my work and approve of things before they went out to the client and/or were filed. There are two primary partners and I was told I could expect to mostly work with Partner A though I would also probably have cases with the other partner (Partner B).

And so it began.

I spent the first few months (1-3) learning what things meant and how they worked. Patent prosecution (i.e., working on patent applications) is a whole other area of law. It has its own rules, its own practices, its own conventions, its own qualification exam (the patent bar). A lot of what we do, at least with respect to the mechanics and conventions, is particular to the field and completely useless elsewhere.

But I learned. I learned by drafting things and getting them returned to me covered in red ink. I learned by sitting down with one partner or the other to discuss something I had drafted. And I learned by looking up the answers when I could or asking a friendly associate when I couldn't. Over time, the number of drafts for a document diminished. The art of claim drafting (and truly it is an art) became more apparent and easier to grasp. I learned to regurgitate important language and phrases that improved the applications. It truly was a slow task that required inordinate amounts of patience from everyone – the partners, myself and the friendly associate. Looking back, it's borderline amazing that everything worked out as it did given how many mistakes and errors it took for me to learn.

But it worked. In the end, nowadays, I feel confident about what I'm doing. I can take an invention report and draft a (presumably good) patent application covering the invention. I can take an Office Action on a file I've never seen and figure out what a good course of action is. Are claim amendments necessary? Will argument suffice? Does the cited reference read on our invention? I can take a scenario involving patent law and generally have a good idea of what to do. Granted, this is all limited to drafting patent applications, filing them and getting them issued (what we call "patent prosecution"; "patent litigation" refers to the trial end of things), but it's still a lot to have learned.

I had some problems this year. My health was an issue for a long time, as evident by a week spent in the hospital in January-February. Prior to and subsequent to the hospitalization, I was working part time. I also had some issues learning how to manage cases (i.e., my own docket). At one point, I got behind on quite a few items. In addition, and at least partly due to my health, my billable hours were low this year.

But I learned from these. I'm on different medication for my health issue (stupid ulcerative colitis!) and I've learned to stay on top of my workload. These days, I have a very good handle on when things are due and when they must be done. I've also brought my billables up to a better level. All of these are things that I am still constantly aware of and working to improve and, so far, with which I have been successfully improving.

This post is focusing on work so I won't say much about living at home. I will note that there are tremendous advantages to living only 15 min. from work. Some other employees here live over an hour away (e.g., Manchester, Hartford). It's easier to be flexible when I spend one-fourth the time commuting that they do.

Dealing with clients hasn't been an issue for me. I generally have good communication skills and I like to think before I respond (though in my private life I don't do nearly as much of that as I should). I'm generally well-spoken and well-written so communication is easy for me. Though I do reread every e-mail I send.. twice, I also reread the papers I draft.

Recently, I've been getting more comments from inventors about the applications I write. Comments along the lines of "nice job" and "excellent work," that is. So I think I'm doing pretty well in drafting quality applications that reflect the invention. As noted elsewhere, that's the best comment a patent agent/attorney can receive – praise from an inventor for a first draft.

I'm also sensing greater levels of confidence from my supervising partner. Sometimes he only gives cursory looks at my work, presumably because he has confidence in it. Other times he gives it a quick-but-thorough reading, often finding about 1-6 minor errors. (I'm amazed that based only on a brief review he can find minor corrections I should have spotted.) Some of my recent applications (provisionals and nonprovisionals) have received no comments or edits from the partner (Partner A) who reviews them. I'm also getting more urgent cases from him, such as provisional applications with draft deadlines of 1 week or less. All in all, I think my improvement is evident and that the partners are aware of not only how much I've learned but that I produce quality work product.

In other words, I'm doing good work and the partners know it.

So what do I think is in the works for the next year? (After all, that's the real question, isn't it? In light of what I have learned and experienced, what will next year bring and what changes should be made?)

Well, I don't think much is going to change. My overall goal is going to be to keep on track with my billables. That has been a problem for portions of this year and although I'm currently doing immensely better with it, it's something of which I am constantly aware. For me, staying on track with them is really an effort. Add to that the fact that this firm's billables requirement is at the absolute low-end of law firms and that's not a good sign. But I'm working on it, successfully, so it's just a matter of effort and focus.

I'm constantly learning. That is, I'm constantly trying to improve my output and learn from my mistakes. I don't think that will ever change. It's part of my nature, really. I'm often reviewing what is in my past and attempting to glean new nuggets of information or insight or discoveries from my memories. 20-20 is a bitch.

I doubt I'm going to move out of home any time soon, for reasons previously stated. When do I think I will move out? (Good question, especially since this time last year I thought I'd be out within a year.) I honestly don't know. I want to save up some money. I want to help out my mom. But I also want my own life. And I know I can have all three even given living at home, it just makes the third one a little more difficult.

I truly believe I can overcome almost any problem by suitable application of thinking and willpower.

And I think it may be a "simple" matter of honestly working on having a social life.

That is one of my goals for next year – to honestly meet women and go on dates. I'm still only giving it a half-effort, which is approximately 50% too little. If I'm going to do it, I better really try, otherwise it's just not going to work. And this is what I keep thinking and not doing. It can be difficult to change one's ways.

It would also be good if I exercised a bit more, got a little bit healthier. Tennis once a week was an excellent start, these past few months. When I started, I felt as though I wasn't even in shape to get in shape. A little jog up the front walk would have my heart pounding. But now, I'm much better. That same jog is nothing to me now. So it's time to up the ante and do more™. Again, it's a matter of focus, willpower and choice.

It's all a matter of will for me.

I may simply try to up the tennis count from once a week to 2-3 times a week. That's probably my preferred avenue. Like I've said to others, if I could, I would play tennis every day of the week. And there's the rub. I probably could do that if I really wanted to. But instead, I spend my time as I do. And so it goes.

It could be amazing to see what would happen if I really tried to do something, anything. I'll have to think on this more.

As for game-playing, something I often spend my off-time doing, World of Warcraft's Expansion, The Burning Crusade (TBC), comes out in a month or two or so. It's a very good thing that I stopped raiding in WoW. It was eating my life alive. For some reason, my drive was captured by the raiding and it consumed my life. Literally and seriously. Stopping raiding was one of the best things I did this year. I miss it terribly sometimes, but I am immensely better off for its absence. I love MMOGs but I'm not truly convinced I can handle the engaging nature of them. To me, they can be like crack (or at least what I presume crack to be like, i.e., the effects of regular partaking thereof).

But I will probably get TBC and play it. As it is, I'm currently sort of getting into PvP with my 60 Paladin. I just have to stay away from regular raiding and integrate the fun playing with the not-so-fun working. Then again, maybe I'll try to drop the whole thing. It really is one massive hamsetr-wheel.

2007 will probably see me spending more money on CDs and music. Since I listen to my iPod at work, fresh music is cool. I may even end up getting a good iPod speaker system instead of the tinny iHome 2go that I currently have. It costs more money but the tinny-ness is grating, oh so grating, at times.

I need to read more. Only of late have I truly focused on this enjoyable interest of mine. It would be good to further focus on it. I love reading. And I should then be reading more. And more.

Although I had originally envisioned getting a new car (a Shelby Mustang Cobra GT500) after this Winter, I doubt I will. No need, not yet, and I would rather save some money.

I still need to sit for the CT Bar Exam (again). I had contemplated sitting for it in February 2007 but I don't think I will. I'm not ready yet and I don't want to get ready in time. I'd rather work on getting my hours up for the first few months of 2007 and relaxing a bit, enjoying myself. Maybe go skiing, maybe do more, maybe find a date or two or seven.

One other thing to do in 2007. This year, I barely connected with friends and, more or less, only of late. I need to see them more. There's no good reason not to and plenty of excellent reasons to do so.

Oh yes, in August 2007, my friend The Lawless One gets married. Major goal will be to have a date at least by then. I better.

Otherwise, that was 2006 and those are likelihoods of 2007. 2006, thank goodness, is nearly over. 2007 heralds a fresh slate upon which I shall seek to write the next chapter of my story. I think it's time I tried some different things. Minor ones like dating and getting out of the house at least once a week and living my life. Time's a-passing and I haven't progressed much in the past year. "The future is now." (The Hudsucker Proxy)