As chemistry students most of us imagine a future working in a laboratory and/or teaching. However, many chemists end up in quite different careers, including the legal professions. Some examples of chemists who made the transition from laboratory to law follow. All retain their love of science although they are not in traditional science careers.
While there are no figures on how many chemists have careers in the legal world, about 1150 are members of the ACS Division of Chemistry and The Law (CHAL). Of these, the most common specialty is patent law or intellectual property (IP).
Sandra Thompson is one of two patent attorneys at a general practice law firm, and her work involves a lot of writing. “I am kind of a chemist that happens to be an attorney. The attorney part of my job comes in when I advocate for my clients before the Patent Office.” Does she argue cases before a court? No. “That is one of the nice things about my job. I never have to go to court – some patent attorneys do – I’m on the transactional side, not the litigational side.” The patents she handles include “semiconductors, chemical intermediates, fibers – a little of everything – mostly on the chemical side of the business.”
IP is not the only field for chemists in the law, but it often makes up part of their work. If you or your company were sued for damage resulting from a chemical spill – a toxic tort case – you might hire Jim Carver to defend you. This PhD chemist with a law degree is part of a general law firm, but because of his chemistry background, he often handles the firm’s toxic tort cases. “When science and chemistry are a fundamental part of the case, I can translate the science into legalese. I work with experts, not just chemistry experts. I can talk to physicists, doctors, and others. I try not to tell the experts that I am a chemist. That way I can catch them off-guard.”
While Carver works primarily on toxic torts, he is also involved in the environmental regulatory field. His environmental work includes both regulatory work, such as permitting, and lawsuits.
Gianna Arnold is a business attorney whose practice includes IP work. “Primarily, I work with companies whose business is technology focused.” She often works with start-up companies who need legal help; for example: “When they are ready for acquisition, I make sure that their assets are protected properly, the agreements are in place, everything is lined up so their value is as high as it can be.“ “I may also work for another entity that is interesting in acquiring a company. Then we do due diligence.”
As the Central Science, chemistry makes an excellent background for a lawyer. Some chemists study law after completing a PhD. Carver switched careers when his former employer was downsizing. Thompson made her decision while she was studying for a PhD at North Carolina State. However, a PhD is certainly not required for a chemist who seeks a law career. Arnold was a bench chemist while her husband was a graduate student. “When he finished his PhD, it was my turn. I started my JD then and later did an MS in Intellectual Property.” Arnold explains that unlike chemists, lawyers study for master’s degrees after they complete their doctorate of law (JD). In addition to the master’s in IP, Arnold later obtained an MS in biotechnology. “Science keeps marching on, so I went back to learn biotech which has been exploding.”
Anne Kuhlmann Taylor, PhD (ACS ’67), is a consultant and technical writer based in Baton Rouge, LA. Previously, she was an analytical chemist in the pharmaceutical industry. Working with CTD Quality Consulting, she writes, edits, and critiques documents for the pharmaceutical industries. She is Councilor from the Baton Rouge Section of ACS and serves on the Committee on Community Activities.