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Consider a Legal Career in Health or Intellectual Property

Law students specializing in healthcare or intellectual property law may see more job openings.

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Where there are new laws, there will be new lawyers. Openings in the legal field aren't exactly plentiful, but recent legislation on healthcare, patents, and financial services will inevitably mean work for the legal minds who put regulations into practice by, say, guiding commercial transactions or helping banks comply with consumer protection laws.

[Explore the U.S. News Best Law Schools rankings.]

Consider two areas that should keep generating work:

1. Healthcare: As the healthcare system is transformed in coming years, there will be lots of work for all the attorneys representing hospitals, nursing homes, insurers, pharmaceutical firms, and government agencies that are scrambling to make sense of the changing landscape.

"Healthcare law isn't getting any simpler, so the demand for healthcare lawyers is relatively strong," says Kevin Outterson, an associate professor at Boston University School of Law and codirector of the health law program.

In addition to gaining some healthcare experience, prospective health lawyers might want to consider a health law concentration or certificate program. The concentration at Drexel University's Earle Mack School of Law in Philadelphia attracted Patrick Egan, 34, who worked for six years in health administration before law school.

He thinks the specialized coursework, as well as a health issues-heavy co-op experience with the University of Pennsylvania general counsel's office, definitely helped his job hunt. After graduation in 2010, Egan became a compliance officer at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, where he monitors and resolves patient privacy issues and identifies potential conflicts of interest in the medical researchers' work.

[Read about law school trends in 2012.]

2. IP practice: Even before Congress passed patent reform legislation in September, intellectual property lawyers were a lot better situated than many of their peers.

"What often happens during weak economic times is companies go back to innovating," says Jennifer Bailey, a partner with IP firm Hovey Williams of Overland Park, Kan., which typically hires about two patent practitioners a year for its staff of 25; last year, the firm hired four.

The work generally entails filing and licensing patents and trademarks or litigating copyright disputes. IP issues crop up frequently in the rapidly changing music and book publishing businesses, too.

[See why law schools are urging students to be proactive in the job hunt.]

And the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office plans to hire at least 100 new attorneys by fall for its patent appeals board in response to the new law, which is meant to make the patent application and filing process more efficient.

A science or technical background is a must for patent attorneys; to be licensed by the USPTO, you must pass an exam administered only to those with a qualifying bachelor's or work experience.

Newly licensed patent attorney Carlos Rosario, 29, who graduated in 2011 from Santa Clara University School of Law in California, earned his undergrad degree in computer engineering and worked at an aerospace company for five years, picking up a master's in computer science before enrolling in law school. He was snapped up before graduation by a patent firm near San Jose.

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