Double Major, Single Passion

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Amanda Metell '17 headshot

The unusual combination of studies in chemistry and history led Amanda Metell ‘17 to a career in intellectual property law.

Amanda Metell ’17 graduated from Randolph-Macon College with the only double major in chemistry and history granted in the 21st century. She took that fusion of humanities and science to the University of Virginia in pursuit of a Ph.D. in chemistry.

“I loved lab work, I did a thesis in organic chemistry,” Metell said. “Being in a lab used to give me a lot of enjoyment when I was at RMC.”

But two years into her time at UVA, facing at least six additional years to obtain a Ph.D., she made a difficult realization and choice—she didn’t want to be a chemist for the rest of her life; it was time for a change.

At a graduate seminar on intellectual property (IP) and licensing, Metell found her interest sparked by a speaker who mentioned career opportunities as a patent attorney. The path offered her a chance to use both her scientific background, evaluating original designs and inventions, and the analytical skills from her history education, all in an exciting setting making courtroom arguments. 

Instead of a Ph.D., she defended her thesis and graduated with a master’s degree in chemistry. The talk inspired her to take the LSAT, on which she received a high score, and enroll in the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law near her hometown of Boston.

Property Protections

From the beginning, her focus has been on intellectual property law. Legal protections for intellectual property typically fall into four categories: copyrights (for artistic works like books or songs), trademarks (for logos, taglines, or other brand identifiers), trade secrets (like a restaurant’s recipes), and patents (inventions and designs, often of a scientific nature), which are Metell’s specialty.

Metell explains that these protections, which give creators exclusive rights to use their IP for a certain period of time, are vital economic incentives.

“If we didn’t allow people to monetize ideas, there’d be no benefit for people to go out and invent things, create things, come up with catchphrases or good logos for their companies, because everyone would just be stealing them,” she said. “It is really important to give these sorts of rewards for people who come up with very useful things for our society.”

Metell spent her two law school summers interning at the Boston headquarters of international law firm Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky, and Popeo, P.C, where she focused on intellectual property litigation. Her work helped clients protect patents that are being threatened in court and try to invalidate patents which their clients have been accused of infringing.

Amanda Metell '17 stands with her colleagues at the World Intellectual Property Organization
Amanda Metell ’17 completed her externship at the World Intellectual Property Organization in Geneva, Switzerland.

To complete the final course credits for her law degree, Metell left Boston this January for an externship at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in Geneva, Switzerland. There, she works specifically in the Hague Registry, which deals with industrial designs.

Unlike the litigation work at Mintz Levin, Metell’s work at the WIPO is a policymaking role, standardizing the examination procedure for design applications submitted to WIPO that seek protection in the member nations of the UN. She’s enjoyed diving into the technical language, noting how much a policy can change in the difference between words like “should” or “must.”

In September, Metell will return to a full-time position at Mintz Levin as an intellectual property litigator, bolstered by the skills honed during her international experience. 

“It’s a lot of tinkering with words, which I really enjoy,” Metell said. “I’m really learning core professional skills here at WIPO that will be very transferable when I need to write legal arguments or I need to read prior case decisions.”

A Path from Ashland

The slightly circuitous route Metell took to being a litigator points back to her varied experiences in Ashland. “I can’t tell you enough how much it helped to be a history major,” Metell said, pointing to courses that taught her analytical skills she uses today.

She particularly credits the time spent in the chemistry lab for her work ethic, recalling the challenging balancing act of her double major and her full plate of extracurriculars, which included being a member of the RMC Equestrian team; she would work on homework assignments at horse shows. “It is a rigorous major,” Metell said. “Being a chemistry major at Randolph-Macon means you’re going to be a hard worker and you’re going to be successful.”

Though she didn’t leave RMC’s campus with plans to be a patent attorney, Metell says her new path has been the right one. “I can tell you, it was the best decision by far for my career,” she said. “I’ve never been happier since I’ve switched.”