1. For those with a PhD that made the transition into law, was it a difficult transition?
I got a Ph.D. before law school and have been practicing law in a big firm for several years, though I do general litigation and not patent law. For me, the transition was not at all difficult. I loved law school and did well, and I really like being a lawyer.
you like patent law before you make a big financial investment in law school. I liked the idea of patent law a lot (cutting-edge science without the tedious lab work!), but during the summer after my 1L year, I did some actual patent-writing, and I found it excruciatingly boring. Fortunately, I loved and was good at litigation, so I went that route instead.
The hours can be brutal if you're at a $160K-type biglaw firm. Most people I know who work at firms like that honestly don't like it that much, though I know mostly litigators rather than patent lawyers. I work in a midwestern firm where our salaries are lower, but so are the hours (for the most part). I find it a good balance.
2. Financially speaking, would going to law school and making the transition into law be a better decision than staying in science?
This is a difficult question. If law school were free, I'd say yes. But when you're starting out $80K to $100K in the hole, it's less clear. If you get one of the $160K biglaw jobs, you'll be ok. But that's not guaranteed; it depends a lot on the school you go to and the grades you get. The schools you've gotten into are good, but they're the sorts of schools where you'll have to do very well to be competitive for the best-paying jobs. If you end up not getting one of those jobs, that level of debt can be really stressful and limiting.
I wouldn't listen to people in the academic scientific community about patent law salaries. You need to talk to people in the patent law community.