There is a single, substantial reason you should not wait until after law school to take the patent bar exam: stress.
After law school, you will need to pass the regular bar exam. That alone will garner you a number of sleepless nights. You will also be under immense pressure to find a job, after having spent all the time, hard work, and money required to get your law degree.
Adding the patent bar atop all this pressure, worry, and responsibility can really cause problems for a number of people.
I have known people who were finally finished with law school, unemployed and facing decades of repayment on outrageous student loans. Oftentimes, amidst all that uncertainty, they were also trying to pass both the patent bar and the state bar—and failed one or the other.
There’s nothing wrong or embarrassing in failing the patent bar or the state bar the first time you take them. Many people do. But when you find yourself in this situation, having failed one of these exams, a mountain of self-doubt arises. It becomes 10 times harder to focus, prepare, and keep your cool when you go in to retake either exam.
On the second go-round, you face both the pressures of the exam and those of your own overwrought feelings—disappointment, fear, anger, and resentment, among others—which can only further cloud your thinking.
There are people who spiral out of control in this very situation. So, the best advice to take is to not get into this situation in the first place.
With rare and/or difficult exceptions, you can’t take the bar until after you finish law school so you have little choice there.
But you can take the patent bar at any time, even before or during law school, as long as you meet the requirements. The patent bar requirements essentially include a degree in science or engineering.
If patent law is your choice of specialties, you will probably complete your degree in science or engineering before you ever start law school. After that science or engineering degree is completed, you can start the process of applying and studying for the patent bar.
It’s suggested you review the requirements first, and then start studying for the patent bar. When you’re closer to being fully prepared to take the exam, you should apply to trigger the 90-day window within which you must take the exam. 90 days of study is not enough for everyone. It just depends on how much time you can devote per week to study and how quickly you grasp the material.
If you’re taking any patent law courses in law school, then they may help you learn some of the material. But don’t substitute this for an actual patent bar exam course; at the very least, designate exclusive time to study just for this exam.
The patent bar tests on the manual of patent examining procedures (MPEP) and USPTO supplements—which are not always the same as what you’ll learn in a law-school classroom setting.
You might want to prepare for the exam after you take a patent law course. But if that happens later in your school’s curriculum, you can always prepare sooner. If you prepare for and pass the patent bar beforehand, you’ll have a good chance of acing that class, too. And you’ll certainly have a leg up on your peers, in knowledge, status, and confidence.
Focus & Timing
Summer is a good time to devote to concentrated study for the patent bar. Alternatively, some students might plan to spend an entire year in preparation while also in law school, only taking time to study during breaks. This is perhaps not the most enjoyable way to spend your holidays, spring break, or summer break, but it will be immensely helpful to have this exam under your belt before you graduate. While it may not be the most fun you’ll ever have, it’ll pay dividends when you can calmly and confidently focus on the bar exam alone after achieving your JD.
Other students prepare for and pass the patent bar before they’ve even started law school. This route is probably the ideal one to take. With an engineering or science bachelor’s degree, you can become a patent agent simply by passing the patent bar exam. From there, you can then decide to go to law school to become a patent attorney. While it is not the only possible path, this is a great roadmap for the field of patent law—with or without experience as an engineer or scientist. However you’d like to begin your career in patent law, just be sure you take the patent bar exam as early as possible.
If you must take it after law school for whatever reason, give yourself ample time to prepare. Try not to put yourself in a position where you’re studying for both the patent bar and the regular bar at the same time. Each test is difficult and deserving of your full attention. Start with one, and then move onto the other.
In this scenario, taking the bar exam first, right after law school, is probably the wiser move. Then, once you’ve passed the bar, take the patent bar.
Taking both exams after law school may call for some sacrifices to be made. If it means you need to move in with family or get roommate, so you can take time off work and knock these exams out, do so. It’ll be worth it in the end.