“The go-to IP firm in the US,” according to associates here, has five offices around the country and five more globally.
FINNEGAN's lengthy full name crams a lot in, and the firm too “prides itself on being able to do any patent law under the sun.” The DC-founded 52-year-old has amassed ten offices worldwide – not bad for a firm that specializes in just one area of the law, intellectual property. Its focus, however, is broad: consumer products, medical devices, biotech, pharma, electricals, and alternative energy are just some of the categories. Finnegan has over 300 professionals with science degrees, around 75 of which have PhDs, and over 40 have been former US Patent Office examiners. 2015 saw the firm celebrate its 50th anniversary, which coincided with the launch of a fourth Asian office, in South Korea.
“Its reputation made me want to come here."
Managing partner Mark Sweet explains that “our strategy over the next few years is to expand our market share as a premier global, full-service IP law firm in the increasingly complex field of intellectual property.” Finnegan scores top marks in Chambers USA in DC for IP litigation, patent prosecution, and trademark, copyright & trade secrets. National nods also go to life sciences and Section 337 [mostly patent infringement disputes] cases as well, and the firm's also ranked in California, Georgia, Massachusetts, and Northern Virginia. This clearly struck a chord with associates: “Its reputation made me want to come here. Year after year it's ranked as one of the top IP firms in the world.”
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. Assignment “is mostly informal. There are pros and cons to that. In my first month, I was left to find work on my own. I wish someone had pre-assigned me something. But it made me go and get the work I actually wanted.” While most told similar stories, there's also a catch-all availability report, which “is where you can formally request work if you're light.”
Depending on which groups they get involved with, Finnegan's associates can expect to work on matters relating to 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. “You're not just a litigator or a prosecutor.”
“It made me go and get the work I actually wanted.”
“I get the sense that our bread is definitely buttered on the litigation side.” Around two-thirds of the firm's juniors in DC spend at least half of their time doing litigation. They'd been involved in a healthy array of matters. “I've worked on two district court cases, ITC cases [disputes in front of the International Trade Commission – quicker than traditional trials], an IPR [Inter Partes Review] and an appeal, all in less than a year at the firm.” Alongside the usual doc review, other tasks include first drafts of discovery letters, opinions and motions to compel. Sources had even “second-chaired and defended a deposition.” Insiders advised: “Just ask, no one hogs work.”
Patent prosecution work sees juniors guide clients through the patent application process. As well as preparing drafts of claims for the initial filing, interviewees had “worked on a mechanical client patent portfolio trying to assess the strengths and weaknesses, because they're about to go against their main competitor. There are so many patents involved, so it's been great to look at the big picture, which you normally don’t get to do.” Newbies said that patent prosecution gives you ample opportunity to get more experience because “the cases are quicker than litigation and leanly staffed, so you're forced to get involved.”
Training & Development
Training begins with a week's orientation in DC, attended by all starters and focusing “on everything from the more boring IT instructions to around eight hours of prosecution and litigation training.” After this initial intense program, training happens informally throughout the year. Some remembered “the most helpful lunchtime session we had was how to take and defend depositions.” Others described that “over the first six months we've had around eight lectures on PTAB [Patent Trial and Appeal Board] cases. It's a new area and they have completely different rules.” One of the greatest tools at associates' disposal is Ed Good, a resident legal writing coach: “He's a legend. He runs seminars on the active voice and the power of persuasion. He encourages you to submit writing samples and we workshop them.”
“He's a legend.”
A mentorship program teams starters with a partner and senior associate, allotting them a budget to socialize and get advice. Come review time, first-years have biannual appraisals, which drop to yearly meetings in the second-year. For both, “you fill out online reports and you say who you've worked with most. They review you and then your practice group leader and a reviewing partner sit down and talk it through with you.”
“This is the best firm I've seen for women advancing to leadership."
At associate level, ethnic minorities are well represented. Standing tall at 24%, Finnegan's Asian American showing is particularly noteworthy among newbies. The playing field is pretty level when it comes to gender diversity too, with 44% female associates. “All IP firms suffer handicaps from a female standpoint. It self-selects because not many women do engineering or science and then go to law school.” But that said, “this is the best firm I've seen for women advancing to leadership. The head of the electrical group is a woman.” This is partly to do with the efforts of the Women's Forum. Recent events included a panel discussion “made up of three female judges, two district, one federal and a partner from our firm, discussing the under-representation of women in first-chair roles in trials and appeals. It was so insightful.”
Strategy & Get Hired
“Our IPR practice is really exploding, I think it's our most up and coming area,” insisted insiders. “Take IP-specific classes, intern at the Patent Office in the summer, don't just sit around. If you want to show enthusiasm for our work, get experience.” Managing partner Mark Sweet says that “the most successful candidates that we see are those who demonstrate a sincere interest in Finnegan – a commitment to IP, a collaborative spirit, and a geographic tie to one of our global offices.” Read more tips on getting hired plus our full interview with Mark Sweet in the Bonus Features.
“In general practice, everyone is the Type A gunner,” reflected one associate. “What I love about Finnegan is that deep down we're all nerdy scientists or engineers. We've all had similar experience suffering through engineering college and then coming to the law.” Others boasted that “I feel really comfortable here. We have a team mentality and everyone wants each other to succeed.” While a lot of attorneys here have PhDs and masters degrees, sources stressed that “you're not looked down upon if you don't have that. It's not a pre-requisite.” In fact, Finnegan focuses more on what associates achieve during their time at the firm, rather than what they've done before: “You're not allowed to hang your diplomas in your office. It's pretty cool. It's about what you can add to the firm and how you can help your clients now.”
“We have monthly happy hours on our roof terrace. But most of our socials are in the summer and we do a lot of kayaking, hiking or rock climbing.” However those in Atlanta had the most fun playing “Whirlyball” (a cross between lacrosse and bumper cars.) Firmwide shindigs include the reintroduced “all attorney retreat. We spend two days in a hotel outside of DC and do activities in the morning, panel discussions about the firm strategy in the afternoon and then a casino night in the evening. I think we're going to do this every other year.”
“DC is the main office and it's in a phenomenal location right in the city center. Location is key.” Washingtonians get more than just easy transport links, though: “We have a free gym in our building and a good cafeteria.” Nevertheless, the best place to catch a tan remains the HQ's roof garden. “It's great to go to lunch there,” with some departments hosting happy hours here too.
Novices had the impression that satellite offices were perhaps a little more laid back than Finnegan central, because as one associate remembered: “Each office has its own thing going on. Palo Alto has a different vibe. It's a little bit more relaxed. I don't know why, maybe it's the nice weather.” Those in Atlanta were equally as chilled and were very taken with their new office building. “It's very modern. We're in this really hip area in Atlantic Station.” What generated most buzz though “is the excitement over our new standing desks. We deal with the cutting edge of technology so now the office has developed specific Skype stations and huddle rooms so that different teams can cross-conference.” Regardless of location, associates had their own windowed offices. In DC, sources said that summers typically share and this set-up is called “barns. I'm not sure why.”
Hours & Compensation
“It's remarkably humane. I try to bill around eight hours a day. I get in around 8.30am and leave around 7pm,” which was common among associates. Finnegan's billing target is 2,000 hours to be eligible for a bonus (or 1,900 plus 100 pro bono hours). Insiders broke it down further: “Once you hit the hours component, there's a qualitative component. For each chunk of time you go over, you get a certain percentage of the base rate. But even if you haven't gone over by the full 'chunk' and you've done killer work, then you'll get a higher bonus too.”
“They're extremely committed” explained one source. “We have a dedicated pro bono coordinator. Any case you want, she can get.” Criminal defense representation, asylum cases and veterans appeals tend to flood the docket, with the latter particularly common. “We do more Veteran pro bono than any firm I know,” revealed one insider. “Also if we win a case we donate all of our court awarded attorney fees to charity. We donated upward of $300,000 last year from just our Veteran work.” Besides helping out some of the country's bravest, associates found pro bono involvement to be a great way to earn new responsibilities. “There's a 20 hour seminar that teaches you how to do criminal defense work.” The firm works with the Clemency Project to “help people appeal against unfairly long sentences. I drafted everything, and did all the client interviews. It gives associates the chance to stand up in court, because in IP you won't get to do that for a least a few years.”
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 11,732
- Average per US attorney: 93
Interview with managing partner Mark Sweet
Chambers Associate: Over the past 12 months, what highlights have there been at the firm?
Mark Sweet: We've had a lot of firm victories on the litigation front, both in the District Court and the ITC. We've had a good dozen successes on the patent side and a really good run in the Federal Circuit. We are happy to say that clients keep coming to us because they are confident in our ability to excellently represent them all the way from the District Court and in the ITC, to appeals in the Federal Court, with everything in between.
CA: What is the firm's strategy for the next few years?
MS: Our strategy over the next few years is to expand our market share as a premier global, full-service IP law firm in the increasingly complex field of intellectual property. We will continue to execute this strategy by offering our breadth of experience, knowledge, and diversity that allows us to provide clients with the combination of legal and technical expertise for protecting all aspects of the clients’ IP.
CA: What is the firm doing now to make these future goals a reality?
MS: We want to keep providing the highest legal service for our clients, but it starts with hiring and training. We have a vibrant recruiting plan, because this sets the stage by bringing in good people in the first place. We've taken great pride in training our attorneys which allows them more opportunities to grow and become better at their jobs. Our chief recruitment & professional development officer Tim Henderson has institutionalized an amazing LEAP (Learn, Enrich, Achieve, Progress) training program. It provides all sorts of legal training and sees associates right through to the senior levels. It covers things like litigation, prosecution, advanced legal writing and research. As you progress, you get training on law firm economics 101. As a senior there's also lots of management and business development training. We have an external professional that comes in and works individually with our associates to help them develop business plans and helps our attorneys to become well rounded people. It helps them to become entrepreneurs and gives them the skills to continue to work for our clients' needs in the way that we do.
We will continue to give our associates substantial responsibility early on. We say that you're a victim of your own success here. It allows us to avoid rewarding more responsibility simply when you reach a certain milestone based on time at the firm. Here you just have to earn it. When you earn the trust and confidence of the clients and the partners, you get more responsibility on cases, which gives people more opportunities to shine.
I hope that in ten years time we will still be striving to be a full service IP firm. At the moment we are predominately patent law, but we have a robust trademark practice and an active trade secrets offering. With PTAB work, we've been really well positioned to keep doing that well and continuing to grow it as the PTAB reach keeps stretching. We're always looking for ways to expand the IP service we already provide for our clients and to be in a great position to pick up and run with any new developments in the area. We want to be a one stop shop for our clients from the initial stages of invention capture to arguments in the supreme court.
CA: What advice would you give to our readers on how to impress at a Finnegan interview?
MS: The most successful candidates that we see are those who demonstrate a sincere interest in Finnegan—a commitment to IP, a collaborative spirit, and a geographic tie to one of our global offices.
CA: Finally, what words of wisdom do you have for our readers who are trying to break into the legal industry in general?
MS: You need to find a firm that feels right and where you believe you will have a real interest in that kind of work. It's not an easy profession, you have to work hard and you have to like the work that you're doing, but with people you like working with. Find a good cultural fit. Here we have a lot of people who have spent their entire careers at this firm. I started out as a junior associate and now I'm the managing partner. I will retire having worked at one firm for my entire career. So I would advise finding a firm where people think similarly to you, where you'll enjoy working and where people are willing to row in the same direction.
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.”
More on getting hired
Interviews, OCIs the whole shebang. It's hard — there's no denying it. So we asked our sources to help our readers demystify the process a bit more. They started off by warning that “they'll know straight away if you're not interested in patent law. They can tell because it's so important at our firm, as it's mostly what we do.” But how do you show an interest? Insiders advised that actions definitely speak louder than words. “Don't just say you like patent law, show us through actions. Things like joining the IP society at law school or doing a moot court competition, but specifically in patent law, are great things to talk about in interviews.” One of the most unique suggestions was that candidates should take the patent bar. “It's not usually required, but it's one of the most important things you can do in terms of your own personal development. It's a great way to learn all the technical vocab, because there's just so many things you need to know. It shows commitment and will definitely demonstrate to the firm you're interested in us. If you can, try and take it before you graduate so that it's just out of the way.”
A few other interviewees shared their pearls of wisdom on what it's like to practice the law, once you've made it through the door. “You may think that you're ready to practice in the real world, but take it with a grain of salt.” They went on to warn about expecting too much responsibility right from the off. “Just hang tight, do what you're told and give it time. When you're six months in and you're completely entrenched in the facts of a case and the technical nuances, then make your move to ask for more responsibility, because you’ll actually know what you're talking about. You're not going to be Superman straight away, so don't worry about it.” Managing partner Mark Sweet gives us the last nugget of advice. He suggests that one of the key things to focus on in the end is finding a firm where you'll be happy. “You need to find a firm that feels right and where you believe you will have a real interest in that kind of work. It's not an easy profession, you have to work hard and you have to like the work that you're doing, but with people you like working with. Find a good cultural fit.”
There's one event that sources told us was legendary in the IP community. “We're known for our dessert reception at the American Intellectual Property Law Association annual meeting.” Apparently, the firm brings “all types of desserts spread over five different stations and it's a great way for IP lawyers across the world to network and eat.”
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: $309,849,000
- Partners (US): 120
- Associates (US): 144
- Summer Salary 2017
- 1Ls: $3,500/week
- 2Ls: $3,500/week
- Post 3Ls: N/A
- 1Ls hired? Yes
- Split summers offered? No
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
- Summers 2017: 30
- Offers/acceptances 2016: 23 offers, 16 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