Firms hoping to hold a candle to the dedicated focus of Finnegan’s intellectual property expertise must burn extra bright.
A BIOMECHANICAL engineer and a Finnegan lawyer walk into a bar. The joke (if you can call it that), is that they are the same person. Finnegan is, in one associate’s words, “a place of highly intelligent people with expertise in just about any scientific endeavor.” And that’s no joke. Most of the firm’s lawyers have scientific degree; a necessary quality to deal with the most complex of patent and IP litigation matters, from telecom tech and life sciences, to aviation and software. One source was confident enough to dub the firm the “masters of IP,” while another was equally confident in asserting Finnegan’s identity as “cool nerds.”
We don’t go in for high-school labels, but we will happily eulogize about Finnegan’s mastery of IP. First there’s the sparkling wealth of clients served by the firm in the past, from Apple, through Under Armour, to Biogen (whose Alzheimer’s drug has been grabbing headlines). Then Chambers USA has its say by placing the firm in the upper echelons of US IP practices. Though Finnegan gains top-tier rankings for its IP practice in North Virginia, DC is the beating heart of this firm.
The majority of juniors are based there, and, given the proximity to the Federal government, it’s a great place to be for IP work. Finnegan is among the elite in the city, but more heavyweight firms and like-minded specialists (like Sterne Kessler) provide some competition. One distinguishing factor between Finnegan and many IP practices is the opportunity for associates to do both IP litigation and patent prosecution. Several of our sources quoted this as a reason for their choice: “Other places would silo you into either one. But here when you start at the firm you take on projects that you’re interested in.”
Strategy & Future
There has been discussion in the legal press about a possible trend of boutique IP lawyers and their firms being consumed by BigLaw firms. A number of IP boutiques have merged with larger firms in the last few years, and there have been some notable partners moving in the same direction. In October 2019, two of Finnegan’s DC partners left for Akin Gump.
Finnegan won’t be too worried though. There’s still an important place in the market for the IP specialty they offer. That larger firms come calling for their partners simply shows how valued their expertise is. And, as we’ll discuss, Finnegan’s working environment and the attention it provides to juniors is difficult for larger, less focused firms to match.
Some associates do also head to the smaller offices, where the likelihood of knowing your colleagues is higher – “you say hi” to all the staff in offices like Reston and Atlanta, whereas DC “feels more like an ocean” compared with the “smaller pond vibe” elsewhere. Similarly, geography determines clientele: Palo Alto spends a lot of time “attending to the needs of Silicon Valley” clients, while Boston, because of its local industries, has more clients in the life science and pharma spheres. In DC, there’s a right royal mix.
The firm splits its juniors into one of the following groups: electrical, chemical, mechanical, biotechnology & pharmaceutical, or trademark & copyright. Practice group divisions tend to be largely organizational though. While associates’ educational backgrounds will influence their assignment, beyond the summer program it’s possible to “build your own practice” as a junior, and “find a natural fit for your expertise rather than being pigeonholed.” This free-market system came with pros and cons. While associates can choose who they work with “and who they work with well,” when first starting it can be difficult to form the necessary connections. “You’ve got nothing going on when you first start. Establishing working relationships takes time and it’s difficult to hit billables early on as you don’t have the work coming in.”
“It’s kind of like an interview, working out the technology with the inventors.”
The prosecution side of Finnegan’s work involves the interaction between the patent office and a client who wants to apply for a patent. “Your background is more important during patent writing as you’re down in the weeds with the technology and science,” explained one source. Juniors start with legal research, due diligence, or analysis of ‘Office Actions’ (reports from the patent office on the status of an application). Their responsibility quickly increases in intensity, however, as they turn to drafting provisional and non-provisional patent applications, and interview inventors about their inventions. The patents can come from a host of industries, concerning, for example, alternative fuel technologies, healthcare or aviation. All sources noted that prosecution involves “less collaboration and teamwork” and suits those “more technically-inclined individuals who dig into the nitty gritty.” This said, soft skills are crucial for developing healthy relationships with inventors.
Patent prosecution clients: Biogen, Aqua Products, Nestlé USA.
On the litigation side “you need to be able to explain the technology to a jury,” explained one associate, “but it isn’t the same level of detail needed to write those patents initially.” Cases predominantly take place either at the district court level or via the International Trade Commission. Our interviewees had taken on plenty of Hatch-Waxman-related cases, and had served diverse clients ranging from pharma companies to tire manufacturers. By their second year, juniors’ tasks were noteworthy rather than pedestrian. “I got a lot of hands-on litigation and pretrial work, mostly drafting complaints and contentions, as well as having input in the plaintiff’s claim construction briefing.” We also spoke to sources who had second-chaired depositions and attended trials in their first couple of years. And, if you needed more variety, post-grant appeal work, which deals with the Patent Trial and Appeal Board, is also available to junior associates.
IP litigation clients: BMC Medical, LG Electronics, Philips Lighting North America. The firm are sole counsel to Caterpillar entities in a matter that seeks to exclude road construction equipment which infringes three Caterpillar patents.
Finnegan’s intellectual streak is helpful for much more than penning patents. “There’s a curiosity of mind here. People are interested in learning and aren’t afraid of being wrong. There are times when you’ll make mistakes, but it’s a chance to learn and be better. No one’s going to scream, it’s just another teachable moment. It’s all about humility.” That paid dividends for associates, who praised the organic tuition they received. But the firm also makes time for targeted training sessions in its LEAP (Learn, Enrich, Achieve, Progress) program. That covers subjects like schedule maintenance and patent- or litigation-specific skills – “how to prep and depose an expert witness,” for example. Add the responsibility associates get and they were confident of having “comfortable in-house exit opportunities due to our clients knowing the type of training we get here.” The free-market system, which might have encouraged aggressive competition for work and promotion, didn’t seem to have had such an effect. Our sources were focused on learning instead, despite viewing partnership as “attainable.” Or maybe they were just confident of their options. “The primary goal here is to be a great associate. What comes after will come after.”
"...they know they’re smart but they don’t show off.”
“Considering the pedigree of work we do,” mused one source, “there’s a certain humility. You don’t see degrees hanging over people’s heads anywhere; they know they’re smart but they don’t show off.” This came across in all our interviews. But sources were happy to brag about one element of the culture: “We are nerdy, but we’re fun.” In DC, everyone’s “quite outgoing for scientists, and we’re good communicators who are happy to be on a stage talking to people.” Firm-wide and office-specific events are common – there are seasonal parties, fun runs, volunteering events and happy hours – but not mandatory, and our sources responded to this warmly. Interviewees pointed to the recent firm-wide retreat as a demonstration of the connection between locations. Hosted in Maryland, activities included hiking and sailing. Despite all this evidence, however, our interviews still indicated that the highly technical work shaped the office atmosphere after such revelry had faded. One Boston associate noted, and enjoyed, “how quiet the office is here most days. People are mostly introverted, which suits me quite well.” The same sources who worked outside DC also reckoned there was a greater deal of collective spirit. For example, new parents usually receive a gift, courtesy of an office collection.
Diversity & Inclusion
The shortage of women who study STEM subjects and go on to work in the related professions puts even more pressure on Finnegan to get its recruitment and treatment of women right. The firm’s gender split at associate level is reflective of this landscape. In 2019, only 36% of its associates were female. “I was concerned about the women issue,” noted a female interviewee, “but Finnegan has never made me feel like I’m at a disadvantage.” Sources pointed to a women’s retreat as being a great place to discuss the issues absorbing the industry. We should also point out that 29% of the partners are female, which is higher than many firms. Away from gender parity, our sources all noted how the firm recognizes diversity as a “resounding” priority. “And not just because it’s a client priority,” one associate challenged, “but because the firm are really committed to reaping the benefits of bringing together people from diverse backgrounds.” The firm’s ethnic diversity numbers are better than for gender, especially at associate level. Many interviewees also pointed to Anand Sharma – the firm’s new managing partner, and previously the first chair of Finnegan’s diversity committee – as being emblematic of the firm’s desire for inclusion.
Hours, Compensation & Pro Bono
Billable hours: 2,000 target
The firm sets associates a 2,000-hour billable target. “Doable” was how sources described it, though one reflected that “in the first year you’re constantly playing catchup. It can be difficult to get your workload up to the ideal level.” Associates soon found more than enough work. In their words: “A long day looks like arriving at 8am and leaving between 6 and 7pm. When I leave work I’m usually done for the day, but the firm’s flexible about working from home.” One source put their weekly average billable hours at “40 to 50 – and I think that’s fine.” But steel yourself for the odd exception if you’re looking to apply: “My biggest week was 95 hours. I would come in at 10am and leave at 3am, and do it over and over.” For every 50 hours associates work above their billables target, they receive a percentage boost to their bonus.
Each junior can count 100 pro bono hours toward their billing target. Sources had used that allowance helping out on landlord/tenant issues and criminal cases, as well as asylum, amnesty and immigration work. Through the Merit Systems Protection Board, the firm has also begun representing government employees – including whistleblowers – who have been wrongfully discriminated against or fired.
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 16,995
- Average per US attorney: not disclosed
- Finnegan's 2020 summer program will be a combination of virtual and in-office working lasting five weeks.
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 237
Interviewees outside OCI: 9
As well as 23 law school campuses (including several close to the firm's offices), the Finnegan team also attends ten countrywide job fairs – many of which have a technical or science leaning. With the aim in mind to attract potential attorneys with the scientific know how necessary for its practice, the firm particularly prizes the Loyola Patent Law Interview Program and Southeastern Intellectual Property Job Fair.
Interviewers tend to take a conversational approach. An attorney and a member of the recruitment department team up to conduct each interview, and typically probe candidates for their interest in patent law and ability to fit in at Finnegan. You'll know who the interviewers are in advance so do some research about their particular practice and have a read of the firm's website for examples of recent matters.
Top tips for this stage:
"The biggest thing the firm looks for is genuine interest in our practice. It's very important to express a believable enthusiasm for copyright, trademark or patent law."
"What Finnegan does well is making sure there's a good personality fit: will we get along working at 2am the day before a trial?"
Applicants invited to second stage: 57
The trick to impressing at the callback is much the same as it is in the first instance: excellent academic credentials, commitment to the firm's way of doing things and a distinct interest in IP. In this round you'll speak to someone in the recruiting department plus pairs of attorneys from different practice areas: all the better to get to know Finnegan. Throughout a mix of meetings and lunches, applicants will meet ten or so people over the course of a day.
Top tips for this stage:
"Don't be overly concerned with trying to prove you know the most about patent law, rather than engaging in interesting conversation. I'd much rather work with an interesting person."
"Pay attention to the environment here and make sure it's a place that YOU will want to come to every day."
Research and writing; patent prosecution and trademark applications; client meetings; depositions; and getting to observe an oral argument at the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) or Federal District court are common components of the Finnegan summer program. Every summer associate gets work via a central assignment coordinator; each summer is assigned to a practice group that matches their technical background.
Meshing into the team is crucial at this stage, as being a team player is the quality the firm most closely evaluates. Time management, taking initiative, coherent writing and strong legal analysis are also part of the criteria, and getting stuck into whatever work you've been connected to provides the means to prove yourself.
Notable summer events: poker with partners, baseball games, cocktail receptions, cooking classes, The Nation's Capital Segway Tour.
Top tips for this stage:
"Building your internal brand here is huge because of the free-market system. You really have to knock on doors, go to all the events and focus on meeting people."
"Pay attention to the energy in the office you're working in. Get a sense of how you're being treated by supervisors and be aware of how everybody interacts with one another."
90% of summers rejoin the firm as junior associates – good odds!
Becoming an IP lawyer
Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner LLP
901 New York Avenue NW,
- Head Office: Washington, DC
- Number of domestic offices: 5
- Number of international offices: 5
- Worldwide revenue: $300,618,000
- Partners (US): 111
- Associates (US): 138
- Main recruitment contact: Laurie Taylor
- Hiring partner: David Mroz
- Diversity officer: Mareesa Frederick
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2020: 27
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2020: 1Ls: 5, 2Ls: 22
- Summers joining/anticipated 2020 split by office: Washington, DC: 16; Atlanta, GA: 2; Palo Alto, CA: 3; Reston, VA: 2; Boston, MA: 4
- Summer salary 2020: 1Ls: $3,700 2Ls: $3,700
- Split summers offered? No
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? No
Main areas of work
Our practice includes all aspects of patent, trademark, copyright, and trade secret law, including counseling, prosecution, licensing, and litigation. We also represent clients on IP issues related to international trade, portfolio management, the Internet, e-commerce, government contracts, antitrust, and unfair competition.
Finnegan offers full-service IP legal and technical experience in virtually every industry and technology—from electrical and computer technology, industrial manufacturing, consumer products, medical devices, and biotechnology to pharmaceuticals, chemicals, and alternative energy.
Recruitment Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2020:
American; Berkeley; Boston College; Boston University; Emory; Florida; George Mason; George Washington; Georgetown; Georgia; Georgia State; Harvard; New Hampshire; Maryland; Pennsylvania; Santa Clara; Stanford; UCLA; USC; Vanderbilt; Virginia; Wake Forest; Washington.
Recruitment outside OCIs:
• Bay Area Diversity Career Fair
• Chicago Patent Law Interview Program
• Lavender Law Career Fair
• Midwest-California Consortium Interview Program
• National Law School Consortium
• SFIPLA Bay Area Job Fair
• Southeastern Intellectual Property Job Fair
• Southeastern Minority Job Fair
• The Law Consortium
• Veterens Legal Career Fair
Summer associate profile: For starters, the summer associates are smart, willing to work hard, and committed to excelling in intellectual property law. They are expected to demonstrate the ability to analyze complex legal issues, write clearly and persuasively, show initiative, manage time effectively, and assume responsibility for projects. Above all, they’re expected to be team players who work — and play — well with the rest of the team.
Summer program components: During Finnegan’s Summer Associate Program, you’ll be exposed to the full range and diversity of an intellectual property law practice. You’ll receive real work assignments involving litigation, Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) proceedings, prosecution, licensing, trademark, copyright, and the drafting of opinions and briefs. You’ll receive specialized training that complements your legal studies in areas such as legal writing, patent application filing strategies, overview of licensing, and an overview of PTAB and litigation best practices. You’ll meet peers drawn from top law schools across the country and have ample opportunity to socialize with Finnegan partners and associates — all in structured circumstances that stress professionalism, training, and development.
Recruitment website: www.finnegan.com/en/careers/
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2020
District of Columbia
- Intellectual Property: Litigation (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property: Patent Prosecution (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property: Trademark, Copyright & Trade Secrets (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 4)
- Intellectual Property (Band 4)
USA - Nationwide
- Intellectual Property (Band 3)
- International Trade: Intellectual Property (Section 337) (Band 3)
- Life Sciences (Band 3)
- Intellectual Property (Band 1)