Clarity of focus and an arsenal of technical experts make Finnegan an obvious choice for all things IP.
STARTING off as a boutique IP firm in DC in 1965, Finnegan now comprises a host of domestic offices stretching from Boston to Palo Alto, and a clutch of bases overseas. Drawing in technical expertise in areas such as electronics, industrial manufacturing, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, the firm's patent and trademark nous has earned it a reputation as BigLaw's go-to gang for all things IP. Long serving as a trailblazer for America's patent law firms, Finnegan was one of the first to break into Tokyo, setting up shop there in 1988. The firm's Asian presence further blossomed with the addition of offices in Shanghai and Taipei, and April 2015 saw the opening of an office in Seoul, making Finnegan the first IP boutique in Korea with expertise in US IP law. Such scale, focus and repute have attracted a catalog of A-list clients, with AOL, Caterpillar, LG, Sony and Toyota all on the books.
All luster aside, Finnegan proved an attractive bet for rookies thanks to the flexibility that the firm had afforded them. In a bid to attract the industry's finest, the firm has a number of possible entry routes besides your standard summer program. Add to that a wealth of opportunities to try both patent lit and patent prosecution, as well as “the ability to dabble in different practice groups should you fancy,” and it's no wonder that the juniors we spoke to were struggling to find a reason to grumble.
Finnegan's a good fit for tech types who're interested in life beyond the lab. As one junior regaled: “I didn’t know I wanted to be a patent litigator when I was at college, but I knew I wanted to try something a little different. Here you'll find personalities and a learning environment that'll suit anyone with an interest in scientific research, but unlike academia there's no pressure to specialize in a fixed area.” The level of academic achievement among Finnegan attorneys is “definitely pretty advanced: you don't need a PhD to get an interview, but a lot of our biotechnology or pharmaceuticals patent prosecutors would argue that it would make your life a lot easier.”
Most juniors are in DC, and the rest are sprinkled around Atlanta, Boston, Palo Alto and Reston. Based on their academic and technical backgrounds, new starters fall into one of the following practice groups: electrical, chemical, mechanical, biotechnology & pharmaceuticals, or trademark & copyright. When it comes to assigning work, “most practice groups have a group director who will ask you to send a monthly workload report. They'll then pull some strings if your docket is looking a little empty, or if you're interested in trying something specific.” However, as time progresses “you're expected to take a more informal approach, as you're bound to have struck up relationships with certain partners.” Juniors' technical knowledge is “massively useful” on complex litigation cases within their assigned practice groups, but “it's not uncommon to approach members of other groups and ask to get involved. It makes you a more well-rounded attorney.”
"Handed the reins to develop strategies and even run your own files.”
Depending on which groups they get involved with, Finnegan's associates can expect to work on matters relating to one or more of the following: electronics, computers, industrial manufacturing, consumer products, medical devices, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, or alternative energy. Within each practice, newbies' take on a mix of both patent prosecution and IP litigation work.
Patent prosecution work sees juniors guide clients through the patent application process. Alongside preparing drafts of claims for the initial filing, interviewees had frequently negotiated post-grant review proceedings, an area that has been “particularly busy since the introduction of the America Invents Act in 2011.” There's also “a lot of patent portfolio management to keep up-to-date with,” to ensure that clients' patents remain valid. Patent prosecution work is “quite heavily supervised at first,” though with matters “usually staffed with just a junior associate and a partner,” rookies are “soon handed the reins to develop strategies and even run your own files.”
"I like that we're thrown to the wolves every day."
IP lit tends to be a little more generously staffed, with “three to six people assigned depending on the complexity of the case.” Juniors had begun by sitting in on strategy meetings, conducting research tasks and preparing memos, but were similarly pleased with the increased responsibilities afforded to them down the line, with several interviewees having drafted requests for instruction, motions and complaints within their first two years. Such a swift progression in responsibility “can be tough,” but associates weren't perturbed. “I like that we're thrown to the wolves every day,” relished one informer. “We're well trained and well supported, so most of us thrive on that pressure.”
Training & Development
“The firm doesn't provide much in terms of technical training, as it hires people on the basis that they have already developed that expertise,” noted one respondent. Instead, much of Finnegan's training seems geared toward getting juniors up-to-scratch with the legal process. This begins with a week's orientation in DC, attended by all starters and focusing “as much on developing interpersonal relationships as learning the legal ropes.” Crash courses in areas such as doc review, brief filing and patent prosecution are complemented by “a lot of fun social offerings, such as bowling, tours of DC and even paint-balling.”
"No one will ever yell at you."
From then on, rookies are offered “a ridiculously impressive amount of opportunities to develop on-the-go.” When mistakes are made, “no one will ever yell at you, irrespective of how badly you've messed up. People will try to find the time to sit down and explain why they've made certain corrections.” One of the greatest tools at associates' disposal is Ed Good, a resident legal writing instructor, who “is a great port-of-call if you want a second opinion on something before sending it off to a partner.” Ed's shiniest pearl of wisdom? “Stay away from the passive voice. Scientific manuscripts use it all the time, but legal writing stays well clear.”
At associate level, ethnic minorities are well represented at Finnegan. Standing tall at 25%, Finnegan's Asian American showing is particularly noteworthy among newbies. The playing field is pretty level when it comes to gender diversity too, with 43% female associates. “The woman’s forum is a fantastic resource when you're starting off,” one female associate praised. “I've attended dinners and seminars where you can bounce ideas off of one another, and it's great to learn and be inspired by female role models at the firm.”
“If you're a law student and looking to apply to Finnegan, you need to have demonstrated that you've committed to what you're doing,” one source noted. “Get involved in your school's IP law society, write a student paper with an IP professor, spend your 1L summer working on licensing matters at a uni tech transfer office – we want to hear how you've developed an understanding of the intricacies and requirements of patent law.”
"You need to have demonstrated that you've committed to what you're doing."
On the flipside, “the day-to-day life of a patent lawyer is very different to that of an academic or researcher.” Again, it's all about familiarity with what you're getting into, so some legal work experience can really bolster your resume. Before heading to law school, many of Finnegan's future attorneys pull a shift as a technical specialist at the firm. It's a well-established route in, and you can find out more by heading to our Bonus Features online, with advice from chief recruitment & professional development officer Tim Henderson.
And then of course there's the beer test. Don't worry, this isn't some traumatic frat house-style initiation challenge. It stretches back to the firm's founder, Marc Finnegan, who according to insiders, “would look to hire the kind of characters you'd want to have a beer with after work. That's not to say we're big drinkers, but that's not the point.”
The beer test has laid the way for a working atmosphere where “if you're a prima donna you won't make it through the door.” Applied science and modesty are inextricably linked, one engineer theorized, because “if you're not humble about what you can accomplish, then nature will humble you pretty quickly.” Respondents in all five US offices conceded that “our work can be stressful, but putting in the odd late shift with a group that is so kind and gracious is a hell of a lot more pleasant.”
"You think you know someone and then you see them screaming at Pacman!”
Furthermore, “the fact that many of us have a masters or PhD in our field means that people starting off here tend to have been out of college for quite some time. A lot of mid-level associates have families,” spawning an after-work culture that “is definitely more heavily weighted on the newer associates.” That being said, 2015 did mark the resurrection of Finnegan's much-fêted all-attorney retreat, which “brought together lawyers from all of our US offices in a fancy hotel just outside of DC.” What did the weekend entail? “There were fun activities in the morning such as golf, kayaking and crafts, which were followed by an afternoon of strategy-based presentations.” The evenings seemed to be the real highlight, with gala dinners proceeded by evenings of arcade or casino gaming. Finnegan's button-bashers loved having the opportunity to unleash their inner nerd, whooping “you think you know someone and then you see them screaming at Pacman!”
"A stunning view of the DC skyline.”
“All of Finnegan's US offices are a microcosm of the DC office, so there's very little variation in the type of work offered between offices,” one junior revealed. Under renovation at the time of our calls, the DC homestead had “had a load of walls knocked down to allow in more natural light.” Nevertheless, the best place to catch a tan remains the HQ's roof garden, where “a stunning view of the DC skyline” makes for “a great spot to have lunch, watch fireworks, or hold Friday happy hour.”
Novices had the impression that satellite offices were perhaps a little more laid back than Finnegan central, because as one associate remembered: “They got jeans Friday before us.” Living up to its Cali rep, “Palo Alto is by all accounts the most chilled out office to work in. It's known as the office you can bring your dog into!” Boston also received praise for its fine views. Waterside in the city's “booming” Seaport District, “the engineers always get a kick seeing a ship longer than a sky scraper plough past at 15 knots!” Seaport may be “fast becoming Boston's young professional playground,” but as one interviewee quipped: “It's a great spot to watch a lot of people around you having fun. We're busy lawyers!”
Hours & Compensation
Mind you, Finnegan's hours are far from titanic. “It's rare to hit 12 hours in a day,” and perhaps because of the firm's more mature intake “people usually take off at a respectable hour to have dinner with their families.” Across offices nine till six seemed a pretty common day at the office, though most admitted that “I'll often do an hour or two from home in the evening. The firm is pretty flexible on that front.”
Finnegan's billing target is 2,000 hours. To help rookies hit their billable benchmark, 80 hours of pro bono work can be counted toward it.
“There's no pressure to do pro bono work,” explained one source, “but if you're interested in getting involved then there are plenty of opportunities.” Criminal defense representation, asylum cases and veterans appeals tend to flood the docket, with the latter particularly common. “When a vet is entitled to a higher disability payment because an affliction has worsened, the Department of Veterans' Affairs tend to refuse it flat out,” explained one legal volunteer. “That's where we come in.” Besides helping out some of the country's bravest, associates found pro bono involvement to be a great way to earn new responsibilities, with one asking: “Where else would you get the opportunity to write a brief to court all by yourself as a first-year?” What's more, “90% of the time our requests are successful. When that's the case we can submit a request to the court for a rebate on our legal fees, and every cent we claim back is donated to a local veterans fund.”
Pro bono hours
Strategy & Future
According to insiders, “the retreat featured targeted strategy sessions that were particularly interesting. Breakout zones were set up for a bunch of different technical areas that the firm had determined as being of particular importance moving ahead.” Covering areas such as 3D printing, biological drugs and robotics, the sessions “shed light on new developments in those fields, and the legal issues surrounding them.”
"The retreat featured targeted strategy sessions."
Schools bout for summers: alternative routes into Finnegan
Going strong since the late eighties, Finnegan's student associate program has to be the most distinctive aspect of the firm's admissions scheme. “It's been successful in attracting extraordinarily talented people to the firm, who want or need to work full-time whilst at law school,” glows chief recruitment & professional development officer Tim Henderson. Unlike the summer program, which snaps up bar-certified grads, the home-grown student scheme is a true selling point for cash-strapped hopefuls, offering an 'earn while you learn' structure that has provided a foot in the door for current practice group leaders, management committee leaders, and even the managing partner.
Atlanta, Boston, Palo Alto, Reston and DC all play home to student starters, who combine 1,500 of annual billables with evening classes in local law faculties. “It's not really a question of burning the candle at both ends,” nodded one graduate: “You're working eight or nine hours a day for the firm, and then taking on three hours schooling after that, so it's more a question of taking the candle and throwing it into a volcano!” That being said, the rewards are attractive for those with the mettle to knuckle down: as well as a tasty $100k salary, students' tuition fees are fully fronted, as long as they consistently rack up a B or higher in their law-school assessments. For those that wish to take it a little slower, the firm offers a part-time student associate program where only 1,000 billable hours are required per year. “This option is largely confined to those studying at Stanford or Harvard,” Henderson adds.
For those with technical expertise who are unsure as to whether they'd like to commit to a career in IP law, a role as a technical specialist may be a better bet. “It's a common first step into the student associate program,” Henderson confides. “We commonly hire tech specs straight out of grad school, so candidates typically have a masters or PhD, particularly if they're bio pharmacists or chemists.” TCs are expected to bill 2,000 hours p/a, and “regularly stay in the position of technical specialist for a couple of years before transitioning to law school. If their work is good then they can expect to be offered a student associate position,” nudges Henderson.
Both technical specialists and student associates typically maintain a large docket of patent prosecution matters. Tech specs also serve as technical support to litigation cases, whereas student associates' practice is heavily swayed toward straight prosecution, to prevent too many late nights from infringing upon their studies.
Though not yet fully-fledged attorneys, student associates are clearly viewed with an eye to the future, excluded from little and privy even to glimmers of the firm's tactical game-plan. At the recent firmwide retreat, “everyone from every office was invited,” exclaimed one recruit, “even the student associates. We all spent a few days at a nice resort in Washington, DC and spoke about the business' strategy and future plans.” Unsurprisingly, respondents maintained that “it's definitely a common route into the firm,” adding that “you'd have to really flunk your work for an extended period of time to not get an offer out of it.”
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: $308,099,651
- Partners (US): 120
- Associates (US): 141
- Summer Salary 2016 1Ls: $3,100/week
- 2Ls: $3,100/week
- Post 3Ls: N/A
- 1Ls hired? Yes
- Split summers offered? No
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
- Summers 2016: 28
- Offers/acceptances 2015: 17 offers, 17 acceptances
Main areas of work Practice includes all aspects of patent, trademark, copyright, and trade secret law, including counseling, prosecution, licensing, patent office trials and litigation. Also, represent clients on IP issues related to international trade, portfolio management, the Internet, e-commerce, government contracts, antitrust and unfair competition.
Firm profile Finnegan is a full-service intellectual property law firm, with a diverse blend of legal talent and cutting-edge scientific experience. Finnegan represents clients in a variety of industries including: alternative energy, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, consumer products, industrial manufacturing, medical devices, electronics and computers. Finnegan is positioned at the forefront of evolving intellectual property law issues and is a proven leader in the field.
• Number of 1st year associates: 19
• Number of 2nd year associates: 24
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000 • 2nd year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: Yes
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:
Alabama; American; Arizona State; Berkeley; Boston College; Boston University; Duke; Emory; Florida; George Mason; George Washington; Georgetown; Georgia; Georgia State; Harvard; Hastings; Howard; Maryland; New Hampshire; UNC at Chapel Hill; Pennsylvania; Santa Clara; Stanford; University of Texas, Austin; Vanderbilt; Virginia; Washington
Summer associate profile:
Summer associates at Finnegan are 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 and manage time effectively. Above all, they are expected to be team players who work and interact well with others.
Summer program components:
Finnegan’s summer associates have an opportunity to work on a broad range of matters in all of our practice areas. They complete substantive work related to their interests, receive extensive training and often have the chance to observe oral argument at the CAFC, participate in client meetings and attend depositions. Finnegan’s summer program aims to acclimate students to firm culture and to prepare them for life as an associate. All summer associates are assigned both a partner and an associate mentor. Feedback is given formally at midsummer and final reviews