In this area, the demand for IP attorneys -- particularly in patent and software licensing -- clearly outpaces supply.
Click here to see the huge number of patent attorney jobs BCG Attorney Search is currently recruiting for.
If you have the appropriate background and want to explore your options, here are some general guidelines for the job search and interview process, along with some real-life experiences of IP candidates.
If you are an attorney contemplating a job change, first identify why you are considering other opportunities. Partnership potential, money, responsibility, management or personality issues, location – putting your finger on the issues most important to your career increases your chance of finding an appropriate opportunity.
A good recruiter with a wide network of contacts can play an important role in this process. The recruiter should help you make an informed decision by providing you with as much information as possible about various positions, and should be an advocate on your behalf, guiding you through the process, preparing you for interviews, providing insight and guidance in choosing between opportunities, and assisting in any negotiations relating to the offer package.
1. GET THE ANSWERS
These are a few of the considerations faced by job-changers in this field:
- Will you be better served by a full-service general practice or a boutique firm focused exclusively on IP law?
- If you have an advanced degree or significant pre-law school work experience, is the firm willing to compensate you for that?
What proportion of the firm's practice is foreign, as opposed to domestic work?
- Does a full-service firm have an understanding of some of the difficulties prosecution attorneys have with respect to meeting billable-hour requirements?
- Does the firm offer exposure to IP litigation?
- Is it a healthy, collegial firm?
- What is your long-term growth opportunity at the firm?
- What are the firm's long-term growth plans?
- After interviewing, which firm and people did you enjoy the most on a personal level?
The market has experienced significant consolidation recently, with smaller to midsize boutique firms -- including IP firms -- merging into larger, full-service firms. Assuming that the consolidation trend continues (and I see no reason why it will not), there are a number of important benefits to a full-service practice, including the ability to cross-market clients, multidisciplinary practice groups, counter-cyclical practice areas to compensate during leaner times, and generally having a minimum level of size and experience to handle virtually any client matter.
On the other hand, boutiques generally offer better partnership potential, a more collegial, intimate environment, greater responsibility, and, in the case of IP boutiques, a better understanding of issues particularly affecting IP attorneys.
2. GET THE INTERVIEWS
Once you have identified appropriate opportunities, the next step is to obtain as many interviews as possible. It is only by learning more about a practice and meeting the people that one can be confident about making the right choice.
Keep in mind that you are marketing yourself. Be prepared to answer a few basic questions, such as: Why you are considering leaving your job? What are you looking for? and What is your greatest strength and greatest weakness?
Always avoid the topic of money and hours during the initial screening interview. These are issues that will come up later in the interview process and can be answered by a recruiter. At the first interview, simply emphasize your experience and strengths while being personable, polished, and enthusiastic about the opportunity. Assuming there is a reasonably good fit, the goal in the interview process should always be to get the offer and then decide if it is appropriate for you.
- Top 23 Law Firm Interview Tips: How to Excel in Law Firm Interviews
- How to Answer the “Tell Me about Yourself” Interview Question
I recently worked with a patent attorney from an IP boutique who was considering other opportunities. She was interested in getting more exposure to patent litigation, as well as continuing her prosecution practice. She received various offers from larger, full-service law firms that would provide her more litigation opportunities. In addition, a couple of firms offered to credit her one J.D. class year in recognition of her Ph.D. and significant industry experience. Her Ph.D. was in biochemistry, and her prior career was as a staff fellow doing medical research.
After thoroughly exploring the market, this patent attorney had a number of options to consider:
- staying at her firm,
- moving to a boutique or full-service practice,
- focusing on prosecution or litigation,
- or having a mix of the two.
Her research put this attorney in a great position to weigh her current job against what the market was willing to offer.
Getting credit for an advanced degree or previous experience is not unusual. For example, a California firm with a D.C. branch office will credit IP attorneys class years toward compensation and partnership for working with the Patent and Trademark Office, advanced degrees, and significant industry experience. In addition, the firm has lower billable-hour expectations for their IP attorneys. For stellar candidates, other firms will give an upfront signing bonus, rather than crediting class years, to stay competitive.
Another recent example of a job search conducted by our office involved a junior patent attorney working at a respected IP boutique. This young attorney had an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering, one of the more highly sought-after degrees. In addition, he had some prior industry experience as a network designer. His reason for considering the market was that his IP practice was narrowly focused on large litigation matters, and he was interested in getting significantly more prosecution experience. He was brought in by a number of firms to interview and soon had several offers. Among the firms courting him was a prominent full-service D.C.-based firm, arguably one of the best firms on the East Coast for technology-related practices. During the search process, the candidate learned that his prior experience before law school was not enough to justify a bump. However, every offer would allow him the opportunity to do what he really wanted, which was patent prosecution.
A problem that can be a deal-breaker is conflict of interest. For example, this same attorney was pursued by another prominent patent practice. However, his current firm happened to be involved in litigation with the prospective employer. It turned out to be a conflict of interest that could not be resolved, precluding either side from considering the other. Although most conflicts can be resolved, in this instance it took a potentially good opportunity off the table for the patent attorney.
Opportunities abound for IP attorneys, but do not make a lateral move lightly. Once you decide to explore the market, don't try to shortcut the process. The job search is very personal: What is good for one person may not be good for another. You will know what is right for you only after engaging in a thorough job search.
Interested in learning more?
- Read the Guide to Intellectual Property Law
- Intellectual Property Law Practice Areas Explained: The Differences Between Patent Law, Trademark Law, Copyright Law, Trade Secret Law and Licensing Law Explained
About Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes is a prominent figure in the legal placement industry, known for his expertise in attorney placements and his extensive knowledge of the legal profession.
With over 25 years of experience, he has established himself as a leading voice in the field and has helped thousands of lawyers and law students find their ideal career paths.
Barnes is a former federal law clerk and associate at Quinn Emanuel and a graduate of the University of Chicago College and the University of Virginia Law School. He was a Rhodes Scholar Finalist at the University of Chicago and a member of the University of Virginia Law Review. Early in his legal career, he enrolled in Stanford Business School but dropped out because he missed legal recruiting too much.
Barnes' approach to the legal industry is rooted in his commitment to helping lawyers achieve their full potential. He believes that the key to success in the legal profession is to be proactive, persistent, and disciplined in one's approach to work and life. He encourages lawyers to take ownership of their careers and to focus on developing their skills and expertise in a way that aligns with their passions and interests.
One of how Barnes provides support to lawyers is through his writing. On his blog, HarrisonBarnes.com, and BCGSearch.com, he regularly shares his insights and advice on a range of topics related to the legal profession. Through his writing, he aims to empower lawyers to control their careers and make informed decisions about their professional development.
One of Barnes's fundamental philosophies in his writing is the importance of networking. He believes that networking is a critical component of career success and that it is essential for lawyers to establish relationships with others in their field. He encourages lawyers to attend events, join organizations, and connect with others in the legal community to build their professional networks.
Another central theme in Barnes' writing is the importance of personal and professional development. He believes that lawyers should continuously strive to improve themselves and develop their skills to succeed in their careers. He encourages lawyers to pursue ongoing education and training actively, read widely, and seek new opportunities for growth and development.
In addition to his work in the legal industry, Barnes is also a fitness and lifestyle enthusiast. He sees fitness and wellness as integral to his personal and professional development and encourages others to adopt a similar mindset. He starts his day at 4:00 am and dedicates several daily hours to running, weightlifting, and pursuing spiritual disciplines.
Finally, Barnes is a strong advocate for community service and giving back. He volunteers for the University of Chicago, where he is the former area chair of Los Angeles for the University of Chicago Admissions Office. He also serves as the President of the Young Presidents Organization's Century City Los Angeles Chapter, where he works to support and connect young business leaders.
In conclusion, Harrison Barnes is a visionary legal industry leader committed to helping lawyers achieve their full potential. Through his work at BCG Attorney Search, writing, and community involvement, he empowers lawyers to take control of their careers, develop their skills continuously, and lead fulfilling and successful lives. His philosophy of being proactive, persistent, and disciplined, combined with his focus on personal and professional development, makes him a valuable resource for anyone looking to succeed in the legal profession.
About BCG Attorney Search
BCG Attorney Search matches attorneys and law firms with unparalleled expertise and drive, while achieving results. Known globally for its success in locating and placing attorneys in law firms of all sizes, BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys in law firms in thousands of different law firms around the country. Unlike other legal placement firms, BCG Attorney Search brings massive resources of over 150 employees to its placement efforts locating positions and opportunities its competitors simply cannot. Every legal recruiter at BCG Attorney Search is a former successful attorney who attended a top law school, worked in top law firms and brought massive drive and commitment to their work. BCG Attorney Search legal recruiters take your legal career seriously and understand attorneys. For more information, please visit www.BCGSearch.com.
Harrison Barnes does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for attorneys and law students each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can attend anonymously and ask questions about your career, this article, or any other legal career-related topics. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom
Harrison also does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for law firms, companies, and others who hire attorneys each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom
You can browse a list of past webinars here: Webinar Replays
You can also listen to Harrison Barnes Podcasts here: Attorney Career Advice Podcasts
You can also read Harrison Barnes' articles and books here: Harrison's Perspectives
Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.
Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.
To read more career and life advice articles visit Harrison's personal blog.