For students considering a career in IP law, Michael Fleming ’92 (WMCL) offers two words of advice: Be pragmatic.
“With a few exceptions, there’s no possible way you can go to law school today and really anticipate what you’re going to need to do five or 10 years from now,” he says.
He points to his own career as an example. Fleming never took an IP or patent-law class during his three years at William Mitchell, a predecessor school of Mitchell Hamline. For the first 10 years of his legal career, he worked in-house at two companies where issues of software licensing began coming to his desk, followed by legal aspects of putting websites online, followed by privacy issues. He worked in-house at Musicland, where he became the subject-matter expert on intellectual property during the company’s sale to Best Buy, which gave him an important role in the due diligence surrounding the sale. He then joined the first of two law firms where he began doing mergers-and-acquisitions work and continuing IP work.
In 2010, he joined Cray and serves now as its deputy general counsel and “technology and operations lawyer,” overseeing the technology company’s patent portfolio, its software licensing, and various other IP issues.
“So it’s been this continuous story, starting with the basics that came out of law school but using those as stepping stones and adding on top of them over and over. At least for me, it’s been pretty successful.”