Engineering a law degree
Professors, students and advisors from the Moritz College of Law discuss the advantages of engineering students attending law school
In the past, the path from undergraduate studies to law school usually involved majoring in political science or English. Admissions officers sought applicants who were well versed in the arts of rhetoric and persuasion.
However, as the technology industry has boomed, the number of lawyers with the expertise to handle cases involving technology has not kept pace. The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, with the help of the College of Engineering, is attempting to change this.
On January 24, undergraduate engineering students were invited to an information session in Hitchcock Hall to speak with law faculty, students and advisors about the benefits of pursuing a legal career as an engineer.
Many describe studying law as learning a second language. For Assistant Professor Bryan Choi, whose undergraduate degree is in computer science, it was like learning a third language after learning to code.
Choi, who has a joint appointment in the Moritz College of Law and Department of Computer Science and Engineering, said at the event that there are more similarities between the two disciplines than people may realize.
“Law and engineering intersect in so many ways. Any time you have any sort of regulatory body, like the Federal Aviation Administration, transportation, environmental, the Food and Drug Administration, all of these things require some level of technical expertise. And oftentimes the people who are lawyers and judges and regulators don’t have the formal training,” Choi said. “Part of the challenge is, how can we get more people with training in both engineering and law so that we’re getting better informed decision-makers?”
One area where the two intersect is patent law. Patent law is a form of intellectual property law that offers exclusive legal protections for new and useful inventions.
Courtney Kasuboski, a third-year law student who received her undergraduate degree in industrial and systems engineering from Ohio State, also shared her experience and insights with engineering students. She said that while patent law seemed like a natural career choice for her, she was hesitant at first.
“Everyone told me that patent law was really boring and I thought I didn’t want to do it,” Kasuboski said. “Then I took an internship and I thought it was fun because I learned about all these different types of inventions.”
Upon graduating and passing the bar exam, Kasuboski will start work at a law firm that specializes in medicine and medical technology. She explained that when working in patent law, it’s important to be able to talk to clients about their inventions.
“I don’t really know how semiconductors work. I know a small amount about it, but you have inventors there who are experts in it and they can explain it to you,” Kasuboski said. “You have to remember that anything you work on is an invention—it’s new—and you are not expected to know how it works.”
Having inventors as a resource is especially helpful when working in patent law, said panelist Steve Grant, who received a chemical engineering degree from Ohio State and now specializes in patent law with the Standley Law Group in Dublin, Ohio. He said that inventors are usually more than happy to share information about their work.
“One of the things you learn very, very quickly in working with an inventor is do not be hesitant to say, ‘Can you explain that to me one more time?’ That invention is their baby,” Grant said.
The engineering mindset of wanting to figure out how things work is why engineers are so successful in law, especially patent law. However, Choi said that patent law isn’t the only avenue.
“We don’t need to steer everyone to patent law,” Choi said. “Engineering—that mindset—is useful for any legal discipline because it teaches you to bring a certain rigor to your reasoning.”
Other law fields that Kasuboski referenced as good fits for engineers were transportation law, tax law, environmental law and corporate law because they all involve thinking critically about a problem and trying to find a solution to it.
Additionally, the combination of engineering and law degrees can be especially useful for those with management aspirations.
“There are a lot of executives in major corporations who are both engineers and attorneys,” Grant said. “With the regulatory environment, a lot of CEOs need to be at least cognizant of the law and of engineering.”
For those interested in applying to law school, students’ GPA and LSAT score are two of the biggest factors for law school admission. Choi said to focus heavily on the LSAT—a test that measures potential success in law school—if one is worried about a lower GPA.
“The LSAT is something that you can study for. You can take practice tests. You can get better at it. It’s not a fixed thing that you take once and then you’re done,” Choi said.
For more information on the application process to the Moritz College of Law, visit moritzlaw.osu.edu/admissions/jd.
by Zach Konno, College of Engineering student communications assistant