Make sure to be conscientious of keeping in touch with and communicating with clients. The biggest problem that clients have with attorneys is lack of communication. It’s very important to maintain communication with your clients, even if it’s just calling to say “hello, how are you doing?”
As a part of my series about “5 things I wish someone told me when I first became an attorney” I had the pleasure of interviewing Ira Domnitz.
Ira Domnitz is an attorney who brings big firm experience to his clients, without the big-firm cost. Ira worked for many years at some of the larger firms in Texas and on the national stage. Now, he brings this experience to the more intimate setting of the law firm Stephens | Domnitz | Meineke PLLC. Ira has practiced law before the Eastern, Northern, and Southern Districts of Texas as well as represented clients before the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals with a case marked as precedential (560 F.3d 1317). He has co-headed large, high-stakes patent litigation matters and has first and second Chair Trial experience with favorable results obtained for patent litigation and trade secret matters. Ira has experience in drafting patents, patent opinions, and opinion letters, and has also worked on copyrights, trademarks and trade secrets for clients on transactional and litigation matters.
Ira is a graduate of Boston University School of Law, with a specialization in Health Law. He also completed the pre-med curriculum, emphasis on Chemistry, with over 40 credit hours in hard sciences.
Outside of his law practice, Ira has prepared Intellectual Property presentation materials for conferences of 2000 delegates, as well as CLE presentations on e-discovery and the patent appellate practice. He also has other varied interests. He wrote a novel during college, an article for the Houston Business Journal on electronic protections, and a published article on the litigation of Quantum Dot technologies. He is a martial arts practitioner and is also involved in the local community, including being the President of the local PTO.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit more. What is the “backstory” that brought you to this particular career path in Law?
I wanted to be a hospital administrator initially and thought I could go to either medical or law school to achieve this. As I did not get into the medical schools I was hoping to attend, I went to law school instead. I then found out and learned more about the patent attorney option and decided to utilize my pre-med science background to become one.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your law career?
At one of my earlier law firm jobs where I was an associate, I noticed a beautiful, fully cooked, delicious-looking ham on the table in the break room. The paralegals who were having lunch there asked if I would like to taste some, so I promptly cut it up and enjoyed some of it. Only later did I find out that it was actually an exhibit for a patent involving spiral slicing of ham, which was waiting to be taken to court along with one of the partners that afternoon… let us just say I was lucky to escape with my life that day…
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I recently worked with clients on a movie script to be made into a Netflix movie, which is kind of fun. I was asked to review several scripts and pick the one I liked best then we worked from there. I think as a patent attorney, that type of project was definitely a surprise to me but one that I was happy to participate in. This was also incredibly interesting to work on due to my science fiction background.
What are some of the most interesting cases you have been involved in? Without sharing anything confidential can you share any stories?
One of the most exciting cases that I’ve been involved in was a case in 2008 that went up to the U.S. Federal Court of Appeals for a patent and we prevailed in the case! Not only that, but they actually marked it precedential! The fact that it was marked precedential meant that my side won, and we essentially created new patent law.
I’ve also been involved in multi-million-dollar cases which involved patent infringement. Thankfully, we prevailed as defendants and received pretty large settlements. When the stakes are so high and so much money is on the table, it can be pretty interesting the way that goes down too.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
One person who has inspired me recently is Nikola Tesla. In general, I’m very inspired by people who have had fantastic ideas but just didn’t really know how to bring it to market or deal with matters on the business end. Had Nikola Tesla actually had a lawyer who could help him navigate how business works in conjunction with invention, I think that there would’ve been a lot more Tesla (literally, Nikola Tesla) inventions and more recognition of him as the fantastic scientist he was. Everybody recognizes Edison; Edison did the light bulb, Edison did electricity. But what few realize is that Tesla has actually been involved heavily with a lot of devices that we use daily ranging from cellphones to the electrical system that we use. So, I guess he inspires me in a unique way, not in the sense that I want to emulate him but in that, I want to elevate and aid people like him to ensure that they get the right guidance and recognition they deserve.
What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in law?
Well, it depends, how many pieces of advice do you want? My top three would be this:
- Learn how to market yourself & network early on because the fact of the matter is that if you can generate your business, you’ll always be employed. It’s very difficult for a lot of attorneys just coming out of law school because often they go to a big firm or company and work is magically given to them on a plate. I think that a lot of young attorneys don’t realize that from the very beginning you need to start working on generating business for yourself and being your own attorney. That being said, it’s very important to learn to start marketing yourself at a very early age.
- Be fairly flexible in terms of the legal practice you get involved in. I know a lot of people who went to law school to do X and ended up doing Y. When I first started law school, I wanted to become a hospital administrator and right now I’m a patent, trademark, and copyright attorney. As you learn things as an attorney, you learn that there are different areas of law that you might enjoy more than others. Pursue those, if they are something that you’re passionate about because you are most likely going to be practicing law for a very long long time!
- Make sure to be conscientious of keeping in touch with and communicating with clients. The biggest problem that clients have with attorneys is lack of communication. It’s very important to maintain communication with your clients, even if it’s just calling to say “hello, how are you doing?”
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I do patents, trademarks, and copyrights as well and the goodness that comes to the world on patent side is it helps a business to become profitable, it can also help an individual inventor protect their work. These are not usually issues that are very high stress, in terms of our clients when they get it patent it’s very good. As opposed to, for example, being a divorce attorney in which, there’s a lot of stress involved, a lot of angry clients, and a lot of angry opposing people too. So that brings benefit.
Overall, I want to help protect people’s inventions and creations so that they get the credit and recognition they deserve because I know the hard work that it takes to invent something. I think a huge part of that also involves education, many people don’t understand how copyrights, patents, and trademarks work or how important they are to your business. Being able to educate others through speaking events like comic conventions is my way of trying to bring some goodness into the world by equipping people with the knowledge to make smarter decisions regarding their business/work.
I know this is not an easy job. What drives you?
I like the satisfaction of getting good results. I can say that whenever I draft the patent and the patent gets granted, it’s very rewarding. Sure, I’m not actually a doctor. I’m not helping deliver a baby but I am sort of the “attorney doctor”. I’m helping a patent be born. Also, the elation that most clients actually feel when they get a patent. Sometimes they’re incredibly surprised they could get the patent and it’s just great to see because it’s very exciting. It’s a difficult process to create something new so for them to actually achieve the ultimate satisfaction of getting it patented, it’s just something that drives me every day.
I also love the fact that I actually speak at events like comic conventions! As a guest, I speak on various legal topics. The fact that I can sit there and say, “let me tell you about a success story,” makes people very excited about their own work. Trademarks are important to the people that are going to these conventions and selling their products. So basically, they can say, “Hey look. I’ve got the little circle R on this and the who person helped me get that, is that actually standing over there.” It’s a win-win.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or an example for each.
I went to law school on the East coast but my family’s from the Midwest and on my first day of law school my dad passed away. Literally, he died on my first day of law school. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have any lawyers in the family I could talk to or that I could ask questions to. There was one point after graduating from law school where I had no job, my wife and I had 2 dollars in our bank account for two months and that was it. It was so much trial and error for me. I had to learn from my own mistakes and while there are a couple of pieces of advice I have for people, one of the most important is to find mentors. If somebody is willing to give you advice and they’re already a professional, take it. It will save you from making a lot of those same mistakes yourself. Typically speaking, their advice is going to be something useful to you.
Second piece of advice is to be very conscientious of the job you do when you’re working at a place. Be cognizant that most law firms are very, very political. If you’re in a big law firm, they are especially political. Understand that you may have personal opinions on things but be mindful about how you voice them in those environments. This also means that when looking for a job you should keep these things in mind and be intentional about where you apply so that the firm or company is a good fit for you.
The third thing is, again, to start marketing yourself and looking to actually get clients early on. If you become a licensed lawyer, you have the ability to practice law. That means that you can go out, get clients, serve them, and give legal advice to them. However, it doesn’t mean that you’ll always have somebody handing you clients and saying “here, just work on these cases.” At some point in every lawyer’s career, they’re going to wish that they knew how to actually generate new business. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s not. It’s true, some people get lucky, somebody retires and they inherit a whole book of business. But, regardless, always try to keep pushing that thing forward.
The fourth piece of advice is to be very flexible in terms of the cities you want to work in. The U.S. is very huge, there are a lot of different cities that have a lot of different options. For example, if you’re in the East coast don’t necessarily go work in a big city like New York, consider branching out to other cities where you might be able to get comparable pay, but a better cost of living.
The final piece of advice is to enjoy what you’re doing. If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, it’s going to be very difficult to continue doing it for 20 to 30 years. It’s just very difficult to continually work at something if you don’t enjoy it, likewise, it’s difficult to do a good job if you aren’t actually interested in what you’re doing. So either find a way to enjoy it or look for something that you actually enjoy. If there’s a nuanced piece of law you really found interesting, look and see if you can do that. Being a lawyer doesn’t have to look the same for every person.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
One of my greatest inspirations as a drummer was Neil Peart, from the band Rush. I would have loved to have met him before he passed. He was very profound; he was a lyricist and really sort of pushed concepts around how we view music and how we view lyrics. He was a family man and just shared his talent with the world in an inspiring way. I also think the other members of Rush would be absolutely intriguing to meet in person.