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By John MassonJan. 28, 2013
Back when Shuping Qi, '12, was a scientist, she had to work hard to remember what life was like outside the lab.
Qi, who earned a PhD in pharmacology, spent most of her time there, after all, and sometimes found herself wondering whether it might be better for her to break out and see what the wider world might hold.
"I was a scientist, but I didn't like the environment," said Qi, who was doing brain tumor research. "It was a pretty hard decision to leave, but I figured I wanted to be in a more dynamic environment."
Fortunately, Qi had a few cards up her sleeve when she decided to leave UCLA. Having grown up in Beijing and Hong Kong, she spoke both Chinese and nearly unaccented English. She also had an interest in IP law—and a continuous thirst for learning.
"I've never been a totally goal-oriented person," she said. "I just love learning. It's fun. And I want to enjoy the process."
So Qi applied to Michigan Law, was admitted, and left California behind.
"I came here because it's a good school," she said. "I also heard it was strong in patent law, and that appealed to me at the time."
But a funny thing happened as Qi progressed through law school. She found herself becoming more interested in transactions. She signed up for Michigan Law's International Transactions Clinic and spent a year and a half working on a deal involving a lab agreement for Pilus Energy, a company with a proprietary technology for converting contaminants in water into energy. Pilus intends to implement that technology in China and has been working with the ITC through the California-based firm of Shaub & Williams.
"This has been a really interesting one, first because it's IP related," Qi said of the Pilus deal. "Plus, it involves a lot of business stuff going on. We spent a lot of time trying to figure out the right transaction structure."
For Qi, one of the most interesting parts of the deal was the biotech. "They have a bacteria-based robot, which does a lot of things, all based on genetically engineered bacteria," Qi said. "So we needed to understand the technology itself, and my biology background was really useful in helping me understand what is going on with that technology."
Qi had another advantage, as well.
"Coming from China helps me understand the cultural side a little better," she said. "Say we're working on a draft between Pilus and a Chinese university. Understanding the culture there helps us frame our issues; for example, whether China would have regulation on this sort of licensing. Would they be ok with transporting bacteria over the border? These are all issues that a cultural background would help understand."
Cultural awareness has its limits, of course; questions of Chinese law still must be referred to Chinese attorneys.
"Whenever it comes to a specific local law issue, we consult a local lawyer over there," Qi said. "But it's still nice to have the background, so we could sort of see the questions before they come up."
For Qi, the bottom line is clear after working on the Pilus deal for a year and a half.
The exposure to transactional law at Michigan Law kindled an interest that she'll pursue now that she's graduated. She's set to begin work in Hong Kong for a British firm that specializes in advising European and Asian corporations on accessing American capital markets.
"I was interested in IP law when I got here—that's a natural path for scientists," she said. "But I guess I became more interested in transaction law, instead. Because it's a puzzle, like a translation thing."
Law school, she added with a laugh, can have a strange effect on people.
"It's kind of transformative. It really changes your thinking process," she said. "I know it changed me. I'm able to look at one issue from several perspectives now, and I don't jump to conclusions."
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