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Tactics and Teamwork

Chris' Placement at Woodcock Washburn

The following first appeared in the Winter 2011 issue of The Docket, the law school's biennial newsletter.

Having worked as an engineer before starting law school, Chris Ricciuti knew he wanted to launch a career in intellectual property law.

He didn't know how interesting – or how much fun – it could be.

ChrisAs a mechanical engineer for DuPont and Air Products and Chemicals, Ricciuti became intrigued by the process of scientific discovery and the idea of helping inventors commercialize their innovations.

So when Ricciuti came to the law school, he sought firsthand experience in intellectual property law. And he thought he knew what that would entail. But the very first day of his co-op placement with Woodcock Washburn in Fall 2010 opened Ricciuti's eyes.

"I got to the office, and they were waiting for me at a team meeting where they were discussing a patent lawsuit," the 3L said.

Ricciuti isn't sure if he was more surprised to find himself in the midst of litigation so quickly or to discover the adrenaline-pumping effects of a strategy session.

"It's almost like being a member of an athletic team," Ricciuti said of the meetings of attorneys, as they weigh the merits of potential legal strategies.

The strategy sessions also introduced Ricciuti to a key difference between studying the law and practicing it.

As a student discussing and learning about legal principles, Ricciuti often had the impression that decision-making would be straightforward.

"It seems like everything is very crystal clear," he said. "If X occurs, here's what you do."

But in practice, he realized, things are far less simple. And the best path to follow for a client is hardly obvious.

"Sometimes the law is not in your favor," he said. "That's something you gain a sense of in class, but it comes through so much more powerfully in legal practice."

And so, Ricciuti said, attorneys focus intently on exploring the benefits or potential risks of different legal strategies, asking themselves "are these winning arguments?"

Attorneys must tailor each strategy to address the unique needs and expectations of each client, which makes the process more complex and even more interesting, he said.

"That's the fun part of practicing law," Ricciuti said.

Through his co-op placement, Ricciuti handled two patent applications start to finish, in addition to working on two lawsuits. While it was gratifying to help inventors secure patents, Ricciuti discovered through the placement that he enjoys the litigation process most of all.

"I really enjoyed strategizing to reach an end goal – making sure you achieve what your client is trying to get out of the process," Ricciuti said.

After he graduates in May, Ricciuti will gain even more experience in patent litigation, along with fellow attorneys at Oblon, Spivak, McClelland, Maier & Neustad in Alexandria, Va., where he's already been offered a job.