Becoming a Copyright Lawyer: Careers, Salary Info & Job Description

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A copyright lawyer may earn an annual average salary of $133,000, but is it worth all the training and educational requirements? Get the real job description and see the career outlook to find out if becoming a copyright lawyer is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Copyright Lawyer Career

A copyright lawyer is a client's legal counsel when they need their intellectual property protected from distribution or reproduction. Check out the below pros and cons of this career to see if it's right for you.

Pros of Being a Copyright Lawyer
Help clients with major business or product decisions*
Learn new information concerning copyright*
Advocate for the authorship of a work**
Helps a client receive revenue from and control over a work**

Cons of Being a Copyright Lawyer
Court cases may be intimidating to some lawyers*
Long and irregular hours to study and review for a case*
High amounts of travel to see clients, research or be in court*
Broad definition of copyright and changes to law pose difficulties**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **U.S. Copyright Office.

Career Information

According to the U.S. Copyright Office, a copyright lawyer is a lawyer who represents a tangible form of expression, such as art, by stating a client is the original author of that expression (www.copyright.gov). The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) considers a copyright lawyer to be a specialized type of lawyer who works within the realm of intellectual property by protecting a client's claim to something, in this case a form of expression (www.bls.gov). The benefits of a copyright, as determined by the U.S .Copyright Office, is to give that author the right to reproduce, distribute, establish financial securities and perform or show the art publicly.

Job Growth and Salary

Although a copyright lawyer is a specialized lawyer, one can highlight the general data found for all lawyers in terms of their salary and career prospects. According to the BLS, the annual average salary of all lawyers was about $133,000. The median annual salary of a lawyer was about $114,000, with the bottom-earning 10th percentile earning $55,000 and the top-earning 75th percentile earning above $172,000. The BLS further stated that general employment growth for all lawyers was expected to grow by 10% between 2012-2022.

Education and Licensing Requirements

According to the BLS, all lawyers require a Juris Doctor (J.D.), a degree one receives after a postsecondary education. The J.D. program is found in law schools, which need to be accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). After you complete a postsecondary degree program, you must take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) to qualify for admittance in a law school. A J.D. program lasts around three years, with the first year covering the basics of law and the next two years providing training opportunities to argue and interpret law.

Once you hold a J.D., you need to take a bar exam. A bar exam is a licensing examination administrated by the state in which you wish to work. Passing this exam gives you the license to practice law in that state. However, not all states accept the bar examination results of another state. In fact, certain jurisdictions, which can be regional or within a state, might have different bar requirements. Some of these regions might accept the results of a bar examination from another area, but you would need to double check with the jurisdiction requirements.

What Do Employers Look for?

With competition high, many potential employers are turning to individuals who have experience in intellectual property. In addition, the employers are more interested in the copyright dimensions of products such as software. Some recent job postings found in March 2012 include:

  • A Detroit, MI, law firm needed an intellectual property lawyer to help with various legal cases, including copyright. The position focused on software protection and required the candidate to have 4-9 years of experience.
  • A Newport Beach, CA, law firm needed an intellectual property lawyer to help with technology litigation. The law firm preferred a candidate who had academic attainment or a degree in engineering or computers from undergraduate, in addition to 4-6 years of experience.
  • A San Francisco, CA, publishing company posted an opening for a copyright lawyer to consult with firm about contracts. Specifically, the lawyer needed to help determine how copyrighted ideas from the company can be used in products in marketing. The company preferred a candidate with 3-5 years of experience.

How to Beat the Competition

The BLS strongly recommends that a copyright lawyer, along with other lawyers, be willing to relocate to where demand is located. Although this may mean taking the bar examination again if the state does not accept your old one, you are applying very competitive positions. Being prepared to move and taking a bar examination that can be accepted in other states allows you to enter any job pool with your credentials.

Career services and insight provided on the ABA website stress the importance of your law school years in your professional career. A recent newsletter associated with the ABA stated that networking, which is mostly done in law school, is probably the greatest factor influencing a first hire (www.americanbar.org). The ABA states that networking with fellow students or graduates from your law school may help you make connections with potential employers, find your marketable strengths and allow you to get involved in copyright circles and issues.

Other Careers to Consider

If you want to lead in copyright research, but do not want to work in law, you may want to invest in a postsecondary teaching career. Working as a professor at a college or at a law school gives you the ability to teach copyright law to a new generation of lawyers. In addition, you are given the opportunity to research issues in copyright, discuss copyright in academic seminars and become a consultant for legal theories and issues for lawyers or judges. According to the BLS, job growth is higher for postsecondary teachers compared to lawyers, with a 17% growth rate between 2010 and 2020. However, postsecondary positions are typically competitive and the time spent to attain a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) is typically a time span of ten years when you include your undergraduate years. In addition, the stress of research projects, teaching and grading students may be hard on some people.

If you want to decide law instead of advocating law, then a judicial career may be an alternative to being a lawyer. A judge, according to the BLS, applies existing law or precedent to decide cases, potentially including copyright cases. A judge needs to attain the same academic experience as a lawyer, typically holding a J.D. to serve on the bench. However, job growth for judges is projected at seven percent from 2010-2020 according to the BLS. This is due to the fact that most judges are appointed to their positions by government officials or they win local or jurisdiction elections.

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Penn Foster High School

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