Chicago Law Trek: Exploring Patent Law

Author: Ashlee Fu, Class of '21

Notre Dame students visit Irwin IP at the first stop of their Patent Law Career Trek.

  After a competitive selection process, extensive research on legal firms, and preparation, I was riding an early morning bus to Chicago with five other students on the Patent Law Career Trek. We all came from science or engineering backgrounds and were drawn to the practice of law due to different reasons. Still at a career exploration stage, we were eager to learn what intellectual property law, an exciting area at the intersection of law and sciences, looks like.

  Irwin IP was our first stop. Mr. Barry Irwin, the founder of the firm and a double Domer with a B. S. in Aeronautical Engineering and J. D., warmly welcomed us. It was an absolutely intriguing experience hearing about Mr. Irwin’s story of how he became the leader he is today. He dreamt about becoming a pilot, navigated through the high-stakes intellectual property litigation, and served as the equity partner of the most successful general practice firm, Kirkland & Ellis, for a decade. Hearing about Mr. Irwin’s ambition for chasing excellence, I came to appreciate the mentality of always willing to take initiative and make a change. Mr. Irwin give us valuable advice on how to become an associate, a non-share partner, an equity partner, and an entrepreneur daring to innovate to solve problems for clients. Manon Burns, a Notre Dame Law School alum, also shared how she found commitment to IP law and continued to strive hard as her career set sail. Having two perspectives from a established and young professionals we realized once we commit to law we need not only intelligence but also to take ownership and work hard. We were lucky to have these essential qualities constituting a good attorney clearly outlined to us.

  Leaving Irwin LP quite inspired, we went to Notre Dame Law in Chicago where Sarah Goodman, IP attorney at the “Big Law” Brinks Gilson & Lione, and Ryan Truesdale, partner of Corridor Law joined us for lunch. We dived straight into Q&A and learned a great deal about the daily work as well as joys and challenges of being an IP lawyer. We started to discuss the different areas of IP focus and the distinctions even within Patent Law. These surprised me! An attorney’s work and life can differ drastically with practice areas, prosecution vs. litigation, client bases, and large corporates vs. startups.

  As the world of IP Practice continued to expand, we came to Banner & Witcoff where we gained more detailed understanding of IP Law from the well-structured presentation by Ben Ingvoldstad, Kim Devine, and Maurine Knutsson. We expanded on trade secret, patent, copyright, and trademark, and explored nuances within each sector. Because of Banner & Witcoffs’ global coverage we were able to learn about how an IP Lawyer might work with foreign companies and even be proficient in different legal systems. The collaboration and interaction in the Patent Law world is dynamic and exciting. I was personally amazed by Ken, Maurine, and Kim’s excitement talking about inventions they worked on and how they creatively maneuvered through complicated situations. They talked about their decision-making process and seeing their passions for Patent Law; this further convinced me that it is a career I would enjoy extensively.

  Upon completion of this one-day trip we were all inspired by the people we interacted with and the sincere opinions we heard. We were grateful for this wonderful opportunity provided by the Center for Career Development and the Notre Dame network.


- Ashlee Fu, Class of '21