The 'GP of IP' in DC and far beyond, Finnegan is a jack-of-all-trademarks.
MEGABRAINS are drawn to Finnegan. There are enough PhDs here to start up a small university. The firm was a clear target for law students who “wanted to do both patent prosecution and IP disputes; it's one of the only firms that lets you do both.” It's ranked nationwide by Chambers USA for its IP expertise and comes out top of the pile in Northern Virginia and DC for its work in this area; on its home turf of DC it also picks up premier praise for its patent prosecution know-how.
This may be a top, high-tech firm, but there's a “very natural” and "supportive" environment, according to insiders. Most associates are based in the DC HQ; the rest are dotted around Finnegan’s Atlanta, Reston, Palo Alto and Boston offices (there are also four outposts in Asia and one in London). The vast majority of associates have scientific degrees and more than 75 Finnegan attorneys are PhD-qualified.
Newbies are divided into one of the following practice groups depending on their academic and technical backgrounds: electrical; chemical; mechanical; biotechnology & pharmaceutical; or trademark and copyright. “The divisions are more administrative than anything,” though, and associates are largely free to seek out matters that interest them. Interviewees found “that allows you to be the master of your own destiny – the caveat is at a junior level it can be difficult to approach people as you're yet to forge relationships.” Most found it easier once they'd gotten to know their colleagues; fortunately the firm hosts “various events where you can meet senior staff” to make mingling that bit easier.
“... be the master of your own destiny.”
Most Finnegan newcomers dabble in both patent prosecution and litigation, but it's possible to devote yourself wholly to one side if you'd rather. On the disputes side, Hatch-Waxman Act litigation (surrounding generic drug manufacture) was popular among our sources; one told us they were “able to come onto the case from the beginning and see all the different phases. Starting with basic research tasks, I built up toward a lot of client interaction.” The subject matter may be specialist but “if a patent's challenged in court we go through all the regular things that come with litigation.” Other juniors got stuck into ANDA (Abbreviated New Drug Application) and ITC (International Trade Commission) litigation depending on their expertise. “I like litigation projects because they really let young associates take charge,” one concluded; “right now I'm the only associate on a case with three partners.”
IP litigation clients: AstraZeneca, Nestlé and Forest Laboratories. Recently secured victory for FedEx by invalidating a patent claim concerning a computer database system for work assignment.
“All the offices have a variety of work,” though Palo Alto leans more toward electronic IP “for Silicon Valley clients.” Boston is more life sciences-oriented, whereas DC offers a good balance of all sorts. Possible patent prosecution projects vary from freedom to operate analysis to post-grant proceedings. “I've worked on patent applications for everything from food to tires and apparel,” one interviewee shared. Another who'd focused their practice on prosecution said they'd “been able to meet clients one-on-one. They know what someone of my experience level is capable of and I don't have any complaints.” Whereas litigation can stretch over a longer period, prosecution is more likely to involve shorter, more discrete projects.
Patent prosecution clients: Biogen, NanoFlex Power Corp and Vertex Pharmaceuticals. Recently managed solar energy corporation NanoFlex's worldwide patent portfolio of organic 'photovoltaic' devices.
Associates found that their workload “definitely fluctuated: it can be tough to find a happy medium between looking for work and getting so much that you're trying to get rid of things.” Those who'd found their happy place were “very pleased with both the responsibility and support levels” they received. Smaller offices with fewer juniors can be the best bets for early high-flying: we heard that a Reston junior had “already presented oral arguments and taken direct testimony at trial” within their first two years at Finnegan.
“I think long-term prospects are better here than at most firms,” one insider suggested. “There's no ‘up or out’ process where most people won't make it.” The LEAP (Learn, Enrich, Achieve, Progress) program includes both technical training – such as a patent prosecution bootcamp – and business development sessions. If there's something specific you want to leap toward, the firm can help: “Someone was interested in presentation training, and the firm suggested that they take an 'acting for lawyers' class that they found really interesting.”
If you don't catch the acting bug and fancy auditioning for Suits, then don't worry, as making partner “still feels attainable at Finnegan” according to our interviewees. “Not many laterals come into our firm and there's usually a fairly large partner class; they don't hide the ball on how to reach that stage.” Of those who do leave, some jump ship to other firms, while “those who take positions in court often end up coming back to the firm stronger.”
Culture, Diversity & Inclusion
It may be an IP specialist, but Finnegan's lawyers aren't identikit: their “wide range of personalities” span the spectrum “from people who are super into the nitty-gritty science portion and can tell you in detail about how everything works to the more lawyerly lawyers who are more into litigation itself.” Like at many firms, the HQ has a “more buttoned-up” feel than the satellite offices. DC sources revealed that “everyone calls colleagues even if they're in the same building. If I moved offices and forwarded my phone nobody would know I was gone!” Juniors were in good spirits to joke about this though, and clarified: “It's not toxic here or anything like that – the nature of billable hours just limits small talk.”
“There's none of the traditional law firm competitiveness.”
Across the firm we heard that “one of the best things about the culture is that it's supportive and there's none of the traditional law firm competitiveness.” This is especially true in chummier smaller bases where attorneys tended to hang out more outside of work. In Reston there's “a great Halloween event every year: they bring in a professional photographer to take pictures of everyone dressed up.” Attorneys there “dress more casually” too, though wearing your dressing gown to the office is probably discouraged... A Boston source labeled theirs a “quieter office – it's more laid-back, which is a good personality fit for me.” Firmwide there are social gatherings within practice groups and the summer period comes with the usual social peaks. There's also a firmwide retreat every couple of years, typically held on Chesapeake Bay; at the most recent “the firm emphasized both mindfulness and wellbeing, and the discussion surrounding the #MeToo movement.”
Engineering tends to be a male-dominated area, but Finnegan fares very well at retaining women for their whole career, with 28% female partnership: compare this to the 35% female associate figure (normal for IP intakes), and you'll see a remarkably low attrition rate for BigLaw (typically firms hire 50% women but only 20% make partner). Associates thought the reasons for this were very simple: “Most of the team I'm working with right now are women,” a happy source revealed. “I've had a lot of interaction with female leaders at the firm, which has been very encouraging.” Junior reviews of the firm's efforts to encourage inclusion ranged from “amazing, as they foster a very inclusive environment that embraces people of various cultures and gender identities” to more measured responses: “Does the firm make an effort? Yes. Is there room for improvement? Yes,” one such interviewee felt.
Strategy & Future
Looking to the future managing partner Mark Sweet points out that “IP law is the definition of a dynamic industry, as both the technology and law surrounding it are constantly changing. We're a big firm covering all areas of technology, so if something ebbs another element will make up the difference.” Sweet adds that Finnegan's trademark practice is “still hot and heavy, as there's been such an emphasis on counterfeit goods recently.” When it comes to growth areas, he explains that “biosimilars and biologics are going to be the hot new thing in the pharma industry; they will enable a company to manufacture a near-exact copy of another company's medical product.” Click the 'Bonus Features' tab above for the full interview.
“Candidates with advanced degrees in a scientific field can easily market themselves to the firm,” insiders noted, “but I think the biggest thing Finnegan looks for is general interest in our practice.” Find out more about what the firm's looking for by clicking the 'Bonus Features' tab above.
Hours & Compensation
Finnegan “allows associates to be flexible with their schedules,” and most picked 6pm as an average leaving time with “anything past 8pm” considered a late night. “Good remote working policies” allow for juniors to meet their hours targets without needing to spend long nights in the office. 2,000 billable hours is the goal – “definitely on the high end for IP firms. It's not hard to hit if you're doing litigation with a steady flow of work, but in patent prosecution it's more difficult because you're switching between matters a lot.” The bonus system rewards every 100 hours hit after 2,000, and any additional hours that fall mid-bracket get rolled over into the following year's amounts. Juniors agreed that the system was “fair” and appreciated that it “incentivizes the people who go above and beyond.”
“It's appropriate to wait and see how the market reacted.”
“Generally they're pretty conservative about finances,” thought associates. At the time of our calls in late 2018 Finnegan was “weighing up its options” about whether to meet the new associate salary scale (that's how juniors described the firm's stance, at least). Our sources reasoned that “it's appropriate to wait and see how the IP market reacts.” Happily, the firm did indeed match the market in 2018 and raised starting salaries to $190,000 in all offices. And our sources felt decidedly well looked-after: “the firm's done a great job of compensating us overall.”
Up to 100 pro bono hours can count toward the 2,000-hour billable expectation, although in special circumstances exceptions have been made. “There's the odd partner who's not a huge fan of us taking it, but by and large the firm is very supportive of pro bono,” we heard. Veteran appeals are a Finnegan specialty as “those cases get the firm onto the federal circuit and it means we get to appear there while also helping those who need it.” Interviewees also tried their hands at immigration, asylum, criminal and landlord/tenant cases, and often took on pro bono to fill the gaps between their IP matters. Some felt they “should be able to count it all toward billables” but the majority liked “the firm's message: everybody should consider doing pro bono, but how much you do is up to you.”
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys across all US offices: 19,185
- Average per US attorney: 74
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 229
Interviewees outside OCI: 10
As well as 26 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: "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: 64
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: "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: "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."
And finally...90% of summers rejoin the firm as junior associates – good odds!
Interview with managing partner Mark Sweet
Chambers Associate: How would you describe the firm's position in the IP market?
Mark Sweet: What really makes us unique is we are a 'soup to nuts' IP firm: we cover every aspect of it and we're a go-to firm for that reason. Other firms are general practice with an IP arm, or specifically litigation or appellate; we do everything from invention capture and prosecution at patent offices to all sorts of due diligence work, invalidity opinions, post-grant proceedings and litigation, be it in the district court, the ITC or otherwise. Sometimes our cases go all the way up to Supreme Court.
Our broad practice makes us unique, and because of our size it's not just one person doing each thing. Associates can therefore choose areas that interest them the most and grow to become the experts in that field. We also focus on organic growth, and truly are a grow-from-within firm.
CA: Which areas of your practice have been performing especially well recently? You mentioned trademarks last year...
MS: Trademarks is still hot and heavy, as there's been such an emphasis on counterfeit goods recently. We've had trademark attorneys working hand-in-hand with customs people going on raids to get those products out of the market. We've also done a lot of work in the pharma/biopharmaceutical area, including ANDA (Abbreviated New Drug Application) litigation. Our appellate and ITC practices also continue to be strong.
What you're seeing now is a different focus on all the different areas of IP: it seems people are looking at all aspects of IP more now than several years ago, when patents were dominant. Clients are now also considering trademarks and trade secrets more. More and more we're seeing employees from one competitor jump ship and a lot of know-how goes with them – a company hires someone and all of a sudden they're up to speed with the market.
CA: Which areas of have you earmarked for growth over the next year and why?
MS: Biosimilars and biologics are going to be the hot new thing in the pharma industry; they will enable a company to manufacture a near-exact copy of another company's medical product. We'll also probably be seeing more standard essential patent work as technology develops. A good example of that is mobile phones: we've had 3G and 4G, and now 5G is on the horizon.
CA: How important is it that law students interested in IP keep up to date with these developments?
MS: It's a good idea, but something new will always come along as the new shiny penny. We've had good fortune in that we're a big firm covering all areas of technology, so if something ebbs another element will make up the difference. It's very helpful for students to look at different areas of tech, find something they're interested in and not only build an understanding but be willing to learn constantly in the future because everything will continue to change.
CA: Why is IP law attractive for students today?
MS: It is the definition of a dynamic industry, as both the technology and law surrounding it are constantly changing. Lately we've really seen how different areas of business affect the laws as we've worked hand-in-hand with clients' finance departments, CFOs and CEOs to ensure our legal advice matches our clients' interests.
CA: What are the main challenges that IP firms and their lawyers will have to navigate/adapt to in the future?
MS: The economic climate is really a challenge to all law firms, and all the technological companies we work with have concerns about tariff wars – there's a lot of uncertainty. What impact this will have on our clients' business is essential for us to determine. Should our clients move plants to the US or elsewhere? Will they need to worry about import concerns and triggering ITC investigations?
With respect to IP firms in particular, Finnegan has a lot of competitors: more than in the past because there are more general practice firms with an IP arm – that wasn't the case 20 years ago. It's a good thing though, as competition keeps us on our toes.
CA: When did you decide to become a lawyer? Why?
MS: I wasn't someone with dreams of being a lawyer young – I wanted a job that had something to do with my chemical background, and through serendipity a friend had graduated before me and worked as an examiner at the patent office. I had very little experience even of what a patent was; I'd seen the patent pending moniker and never considered what it meant. Realizing the next step was going to law school, and I attended at night with several friends while working at the patent office. I then joined Finnegan and finished law school while here at the firm. I liked the concept of seeing all these technologies crossing my desk, and wanted to take it to the next level.
CA: What's been the most valuable lesson you've learned in your career?
MS: From a client service perspective, the most valuable is to be attuned to clients' needs and make certain all their problems and issues are yours, which they are by definition. It's great to feel you're part of the company; some of the best compliments I've received from clients is them saying 'I feel like you're working in house with us'. That means you're being very attentive and exceeding expectations.
CA: What achievement are you most proud of?
MS: My kids are older now and something I was most proud of was being coach and manager of their sports teams while they were growing up – all while I was an attorney. Being able to do that was rewarding because my kids enjoyed it and the parents of other kids appreciated what I was doing and that it was important. First and foremost I enjoyed being a dad. That doesn't mean it's easy, you have to plan it all out – another friend at the office is here at four o'clock every day but coaches lacrosse. They've worked it out too!
CA: Do you have any final comments or advice for our readers?
MS: Make sure you really want to go into the legal profession. It's shrinking and the demand for services is getting smaller so you really need to want to get in. Consider the time and expense that comes with getting a law degree. IP is particularly appealing though, because it is so dynamic and it's always fun to learn new things.
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: $309,940,000
- Partners (US): 116
- Associates (US): 142
- Main recruitment contact: Laurie Taylor
- Hiring partner: Scott Burwell
- Diversity officer: Raj Gupta
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2019: 27
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2019: 1Ls: 5, 2Ls: 25
- Summers joining/anticipated 2019 split by office: Washington, DC: 19 Atlanta, GA: 3 Palo Alto, CA: 3 Reston, VA: 2 Boston, MA: 3
- Summer salary 2019: 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.
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2019:
Alabama; American; Berkeley; Boston College; Emory; Florida; George Mason; George Washington; Georgetown; Harvard; New Hampshire; Santa Clara; Stanford; UC Davis; UCLA; USC; Virginia; Washington.
Recruitment outside OCIs:
• Arizona State/Arizona California Interview Program
• Bay Area Diversity Career Fair
• Chicago Patent Law Interview Program
• 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, 2019
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)
- Intellectual Property (Band 1)
USA - Nationwide
- Intellectual Property (Band 3)
- Intellectual Property: Trademark, Copyright & Trade Secrets (Band 2)
- International Trade: Intellectual Property (Section 337) (Band 3)
- Life Sciences (Band 3)