DC-based Finnegan is onto a win again with its IP practice and global reach.
“I KNEW Finnegan was one of the best IP firms in the country,” associates told us when explaining why they joined. Founded as an IP firm in 1965, Finnegan has expanded its reach (and its name) but not its focus. This DC-born outfit has five offices in the states, four in Asia and one in London. In the firm’s own words, it offers “full-service IP legal and technical experience in virtually every industry and technology.” Finnegan gets top rankings in Chambers USA for IP in Northern Virginia, the District of Columbia, Georgia, and Massachusetts as well as nationwide recognition for areas including patent prosecution, life sciences, trademark, copyright and trade secrets. Over 75 of its attorneys hold PhDs and more than 230 are registered to practice before the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). “The firm has a great reputation for both patent prosecution and litigation so you can move around within IP more easily,”an associate reflected.
The firm scored highly in our 2018 survey for associate satisfaction. Unlike the chemical compounds these lawyers grapple with, the formula for their own happiness remains very simple: "interesting work and people I like working with" is all it really takes, associates decided. “Partners understand that we’re people and not cogs in machines" – see Culture, below, for more on this.
Most associates are based in DC, with the rest dotted around the firm’s Atlanta, Reston, Palo Alto and Boston offices. Newbies are divided into one of the following practice groups: electrical, chemical, mechanical, biotechnology & pharmaceutical, or trademark and copyright, depending on their academic and technical backgrounds. “There’s kind of a free market approach to work assignment,” associates told us. “If you want to work on something you have to reach out. There’s plenty of work to go around so you just need to let people know the kind of work you’re interested in.”
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, pharmaceutical, chemicals, or alternative energy. Within each practice, juniors take on a mix of both patent prosecution and IP litigation work.
"You get to see some amazing technology on the brink of its field."
Most of the associates we spoke to had spent the majority of their time doing litigation, and told us that their clients were usually Fortune 500 companies. They added, however: “Sometimes it’s a smaller company I’m not familiar with, but you get to see some amazing technology on the brink of its field.” Others enthused: “I’ve worked with start-up companies to develop patent strategies from scratch, which was really fun.” Juniors revealed: “I’ve seen cases in various stages, from early complaints to looking at witnesses and infringement positions.” When reeling off their varied caseloads, juniors also said: “I’ve looked at a lot of PTAB IPRs [that's intellectual property matters going to the Patent Trial and Appeal Board] and I’ve had experience drafting construction briefings, developing initial positions, preparing experts for deposition and managing document reviews.”
On the prosecution side, insiders said: “I’ve had a lot of client contact. I’ve conducted examiner interviews, written patent applications and I’ve done some portfolio analysis as well.” Another added: “Some of my PTAB matters had hearings so I attended those and got to second chair, which was a great experience.” Finally, juniors told us: “When working on copyright and trademark issues I’ve mainly done pre-infringement analysis – telling the client what the legal landscape is and whether they’ll have any issues going forward.”
“Sometimes the workload can be quite heavy, but if you have too much on your plate the firm is good at reallocating work or getting the help you need to keep your life in balance.” Juniors agreed: “People who are much more senior than you take your ideas seriously, which is really gratifying as a young attorney.” When we asked associates about their responsibility levels they said: “As a junior you’re able to strike the balance between supervision and being allowed to lead. For example, when I was working on depositions I prepared the outline and chose which documents to review with the witness and then got to lead an actual preparation session.”
Training & Development
Associates all head to DC for a week of orientation that includes a “patent prosecution boot camp.” When it comes to training they said: “I think they do a really good job of marking things out instead of just talking at you.” They added: “The firm also pays for you to do extra CLEs if you want to seek them out in a particular area.” One thing that stood out for all the associates we spoke to was the legal writing program, which continues throughout the year and “dives deep into grammar and writing style to make sure everybody’s up to speed.” Additionally, we heard that there’s ongoing training throughout the program: “Pretty much every week there’s some kind of prosecution or litigation training. Typically there’s a different theme every month.”
"They’re always looking to improve."
Managing partner Mark Sweet highlighted the firm's longer-term training investment: "Our LEAP program (Learn, Enrich, Achieve, Progress) allows associates to gain great experience as they move up the ladder. The training and focus changes over time and includes business development training and coaching, helping our attorneys to maintain and establish client relations."
“One thing I think the firm does really well is ask for feedback on training; they’re always looking to improve,” we heard from an associate. “We also have an associate advisory committee, where a couple of people from each practice group meet with management once a month and go over anonymous feedback.” Associates have reviews every six months during their first two years: “There’s a mentor partner who collects reviews from everyone you’ve worked with and they sit you down and tell you how you can improve based on that feedback.”
A sense of innovation and never standing still was palpable in most of our interviews. “It’s nice to work with people who are shaping the legal landscape,” one interviewee articulated. Associates found the working culture at Finnegan to be undoubtedly collaborative. Recruitment manager Laurie Taylor posits that this "stems back to our original partners’ philosophy of having firm clients rather than individual clients." And juniors "really appreciate this. It means that you have the resources of the whole firm and you get to work as part of a team with different partners.”
"We get bagels every Wednesday."
Although work at this level will inevitably involve some pressure, “it’s not a stressful environment to work in, and everyone’s respectful and easy to talk to,” thought associates, who were upbeat about the work-life balance. They added: “I think partners understand that we’re people and not cogs in machines, and we’re more productive if there’s a social atmosphere.” They do indeed – over to Mark Sweet: "We want great performers of course, but we also want friendly and personable people who you could go and enjoy an adult beverage with."
And finding an adult beverage is not hard: “There are a lot of events here: there’s an all-attorney reception every month, happy hours, and we get bagels every Wednesday in my office. I’d say we’re pretty social for an engineering firm!” There’s also an annual retreat for attorneys: this year's was on the coast just off Maryland: “There were a lot of social and group-building activities, and we also went over the health of the firm and strategy with managing partners.”
“It definitely feels like there’s a one-firm culture here,” associates told us. “I don’t think people in Palo Alto feel isolated; there aren’t any standalone offices as such.” Associates had also been in touch with the firm's international bases: “On the prosecution side I work a lot with the London office so that we can draft applications for prosecution in Europe and the US simultaneously.”
Those in the firm's satellite offices said that they were “very close knit: maybe more so than in DC just because there are fewer attorneys.” Juniors in DC told us: “They’ve just remodeled the office here and there are a lot more collaboration spaces now. All associates get a window office and there’s a really nice cafeteria as well.” Finally, we heard: “The facilities have been great in all the offices I’ve been to; anything I need the firm provides.”
"The firm has done a really good job of hiring female attorneys with engineering backgrounds.”
The firm’s diversity initiatives were mentioned as a draw when applying: “I could tell that it was committed to diversity, which I really liked.” Others said: “I think the firm has done a really good job of hiring female attorneys with engineering backgrounds.” Other juniors added: “We have a women’s forum that organizes various events and panels, and I really like that the firm recognizes that women have unique issues in the workplace. It’s nice to have that support system.” Finally, associates who had been involved in hiring told us: “The firm really makes an effort to recruit from a diverse pool of candidates.”
“As a firm we’re devoted to pro bono,” associates said. Juniors are allowed to count 100 hours toward their billable target, although some said that in special circumstances exceptions have been made. We heard about a wide range of pro bono work, from children’s law and immigration to work with veteran appeals, which is something the firm specializes in. “The firm was really great with helping me get to DC for my pro bono case,” one East Coast associate told us. “I’ve never felt unprepared when it comes to pro bono. The firm makes a real effort to train you and keep you ahead in terms of legal knowledge so you’re ready for things like attending criminal court.”
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 11,271.2
- Average per US attorney: undisclosed
Hours & Compensation
“I usually arrive at 8.30am,” was common from the associates we spoke to, and most claimed leaving at a time that gave them an actual evening. Although some juniors said: “There’s more of a roller coaster aspect to hours when you’re on litigation, but you have a bit more leeway on prosecution so it balances out.” There’s a bonus system in place for every 100 hours hit after 2,000: “If you end up in the middle of one bracket they roll over so that they count the next year.” Most agreed: “I find it pretty easy to hit the 2,200 area without needing to take too much work home, and I can still have a personal life.”
It won’t come as a shock to learn that a genuine interest in IP is essential when applying for a place at Finnegan. But what else is the firm looking for? When we asked Managing Partner Mark Sweet, he told us: “We want people who will take ownership, and you do that by being passionate instead of just punching the clock.” Teamwork is also key: “I remember vividly speaking to a highly qualified attorney who just spoke about ‘me me me,’ saying that certain work was beneath them. That was a bad answer; we need people who will roll up their sleeves and work together to get the job done.” He added: “We want great performances of course, but we also want friendly and personable people who you could go and enjoy an adult beverage with.”
Recruitment manager Laurie Taylor told us: “For the most part we want people who enjoy working as part of a team, people who come in and make everything about themselves and want to be in the spotlight don’t do so well here because it’s very team-oriented. Frankly it stems back to our original partners’ philosophy of having firm clients rather than individual clients. It makes things much more organic, rather than having someone who wants to be a bottleneck. ”
Associates told us that a commitment to the firm was also desired: “We’re looking for someone who wants to grow with the firm – it’s less up and out than others.” Juniors in Boston said: “Most people here have some sort of technology background. It seemed to me like most people were professional even before they joined.” What about advice for people preparing for interviews? “I would say just to relax a bit. A lot of people we see put a lot of stress on themselves but everyone here is very understanding.” Finally, we heard: “I’ve done a lot of recruiting and I think we’re looking for someone smart, energetic, hard-working and most importantly genuine. We like for that to come across in interview.”
OCI applicants interviewed: 251
Interviewees outside OCI: 15
Applicants invited to 2nd stage (call-back) interview: 90
Notable summer events:
- Partner & Summer Associate Poker
- Diversity & Inclusion Attorney Reception
- Habit for Humanity
- Martha’s Table
- Professional Baseball games
- The Nation’s Capital Segway Tour
- The Watergate Hotel Cocktail Reception
- Winery Tours
- Cooking Class
- Sailing Cruise
Interview with managing partner Mark Sweet
Chambers Associate: Have there been any developments in the last 12 months that our readers should know about?
Mark Sweet: There are several cases that have had and are having a significant impact. One example is the Oil States case in which the US Supreme Court is going to decide whether AIA (America Invents Act) proceedings are unconstitutional. This could potentially have a significant impact on our practice; since 2012 many clients have been relying on post-grant reviews at the Patent Office to challenge the validity of claims. The Oil States decision could blow that up as it challenges the constitutionality of the PTAB (Patent Trial and Appeal Board) being able to take away patent rights. We’re watching this very closely. At worst it could blow up the PTAB, and at the least it’s likely that there will be some sort of modification [to PTAB procedures]. We spent a lot of time adapting our approach before the AIA and a lot of our partners are active in the AIPLA (American Intellectual Property Law Association). As a full-service IP firm, we’ll be able to offer robust, immediate and effective support to our clients as they navigate the impact of the Supreme Court’s ultimate decision.
There was a recent case called Aqua Products relating to these AIA reviews. It went towards the burden of what’s needed to amend claims in AIA proceedings, and should add some clarity. It was a very complex decision: 150 pages long and including five different opinions, but it provided a lot of guidance respecting the burden when amending a claim.
CA: What are some key features that have been driving your IP practice recently?
MS: Adaptability is key. The TC Heartland case [a case in which the Supreme Court of the US reversed the Federal Circuit in a case ruling that a patent owner will no longer be able to sue an infringing defendant in a district court where the defendant is subject to personal jurisdiction] is a prime example. I’ve always told people that what makes IP fun is that both the technology and the law keep changing, and it keeps you on your toes. You need to not only have that adaptability but also be able to convey it to your clients. Another key factor is collaboration and working with clients to protect their interests.
We’ve also recently hired a senior PTAB judge as an extra resource that we can provide our clients with on the PTAB/AIA side of things. He’s able to provide counsel and act as a judge, so that’s a very good resource for us. While we cover all intellectual property, our trademark group has had a lot of work going on recently. This includes brand protection, and we’ve had a couple of counterfeit seizures. You might not think of IP as being that exciting, but these counterfeit seizures are TV-show exciting. You go in and raid a business and seize counterfeit goods. We just went up to New York and seized a lot of garments.
CA: What does Finnegan offer associates that is unique?
MS: We don’t hire people as litigators or patent prosecutors; we hire people who are going to be good attorneys. We have specialists across all areas of IP which makes it fun for associates to determine what they want to do and what is the best fit for their own longer-term interests, skills and values. That’s the secret of success for people who have been here for a long time: do your job and make a name for yourself and stand out in a particular area. We encourage that by having a one-firm culture and avoiding the siloing that you hear about at other firms.
I’d also like to mention our training program run by Tim Henderson. Our LEAP program (Learn, Enrich, Achieve, Progress) allows associates to gain great experience as they move up the ladder. The training and focus changes over time and includes business development training and coaching, helping our attorneys to maintain and establish client relations.
CA: How would you describe the ideal Finnegan lawyer?
MS: When I was recruiting candidates to the firm, the first thing I’d ask during the interview is why the candidates are interested in IP. We want candidates to have a demonstrated desire for working in the IP field and that can be on a variety of levels, from grad work to having family members who are IP attorneys. We want people who are really smart with a strong technical background, but someone who is also a team player. I remember vividly speaking to a highly qualified attorney who just spoke about ‘me me me,’ saying that certain work was beneath them. That was a bad answer; we need people who will roll up their sleeves and work together to get the job done. We want great performers of course, but we also want friendly and personable people who you could go and enjoy an adult beverage with. We want people who will take ownership, and you do that by being passionate instead of just punching the clock.
Interview with recruitment manager Laurie Taylor and chief recruitment & professional development officer Tim Henderson
Chambers Associate: Have there been any changes in your recruiting drive in the last year?
Laurie Taylor: I definitely think we have stepped up our outreach program to local law schools here in the US, and we’re also visiting campuses earlier than in previous years. We also have a much larger presence in Chicago than before, so we’re recruiting more candidates there.
CA: Are there any distinctive features of your summer program?
Tim Henderson: We have a very robust training program. As you may have heard, we do most of our hiring from junior stages; it’s very common to hire from summer or student associate programs. Because of that we recognize there’s a strong need to train individuals in a variety of areas that aren’t offered at law school or in grad programs. Our training ranges in three tiers geared toward junior, midlevel and senior associates. The three pods we touch on are litigation, PTAB (Patent Trial and Appeal Board) and prosecution training. In litigation, we have an internal skills training series every other year that’s taught by senior associates and shows the life cycle of litigation right from inception. We supplement those classroom lecture series with experiential workshops produced in partnership with NITA [The National Institute for Trial Advocacy]. We have faculty members and partners teaching things like depositions and how to handle experts. We’re actually one of the first to pilot the expert training with NITA and it’s been a huge success. Senior associates also head to the University of Virginia to attend Trial College for a week in January for hands-on learning in a mock trial.
On PTAB and prosecution training, the way we train is quite similar. There’s an introductory boot camp supplemented by roundtables every other month on trends, regulatory updates and client changes. Lastly, on prosecution, we have a number of in-house trainers whose primary job is to train and mentor our newest legal personnel on patent prosecution.
Regarding the business of practicing law, I think law school is getting better on business but it’s still not enough. Every other year we do a practice management series in which we teach our attorneys things from navigating business and legal conflicts to how to staff matters, how to develop budgets and effective client communication. There’s also a marketing and business program for seniors and a communications expert who teaches on persuasive speaking and giving pitches.
CA: What is the firm doing to encourage diversity?
TH: We’ve had a diversity scholarship in place since 2003, and we’ve worked diligently with graduate institutions, Bar groups and student groups who attract the best and brightest from diverse backgrounds whether that’s LGBT, gender, race or religion. We’re drawing from a STEM population because the majority of our hires have engineering backgrounds so we have to work doubly hard to educate students on the firm and the IP practice in general. Once associates join us we have a robust diversity and inclusion program with internal and external initiatives. These include programs on issues like communication and ways in which implicit bias might be present in the workplace. We had a globally known speaker give a three hour program on that topic at our all-attorney retreat and it proved to be very thought provoking.
We also have women’s forums and external opportunities including the ‘Charting your own Course’ conference, which we send a large number of associates to every February. There’s also an organization called Leadership Counsel and Legal Diversity, which is an organization dedicated to diversity and inclusion. Midlevel associates are sent to a program through LCLD every year, and fellows are nominated to meet with in-house representatives and learn how to market and develop their business skills. We’re fortunate in the pool we source from and over the years we’ve been able to build an extraordinarily diverse workforce, but we’re always looking for ways to improve.
CA: What key traits are you looking for when you’re hiring?
LT: We’re looking for someone with a strong academic background but also someone who’s a great fit at the firm. For the most part we want people who enjoy working as part of a team. People who come in and make everything about themselves and want to be in the spotlight don’t do so well here, because it’s very team-oriented. Frankly it stems back to our original partners’ philosophy of having firm clients rather than individual clients. It makes things much more organic, rather than having someone who wants to be a bottleneck.
TH: What’s unique about this firm is that you look at people’s biographies and they’re incredible; we have people from the best schools and backgrounds. But once people have landed at the firm, there’s no pretence about where you’re from and that really makes for a more comfortable, collegial environment.
Notable pro bono opportunities:
- Asylum Representation Program
- Children’s Law Center
- Community Legal Services of East Palo Alto
- DC Bar Pro Bono Center
- Legal Aid Society
- Legal Services of Northern Virginia/Wills Clinic
- Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB)
- Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project
- SEED School Tutoring Program
- Veteran’s Assistance Program
- Washington Lawyers for the Arts
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: $309,116,000
- Partners (US): 121
- Associates (US): 134
- Main recruitment contact: Laurie Taylor
- Hiring partner: Scott Burwell
- Diversity officer: Raj Gupta
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2018: 22
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018: 1Ls: 3, 2Ls: 29
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018 split by office: Washington, DC: 24 Atlanta, GA: 3 Palo Alto, CA: 2 Reston, VA: 2 Boston, MA: 1
- Summer salary 2018: 1Ls: $3500 2Ls: $3500
- Split summers offered? No
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? No
Main areas of work
Alabama; American; Arizona State; Berkeley; Boston College; Boston University; Emory; Florida; George Mason; George Washington; Georgetown; Georgia; Georgia State; Harvard; Hastings; Howard; Maryland; New Hampshire; Pennsylvania; Santa Clara; Stanford; UC Davis; USC; UCLA; Vanderbilt; Virginia; Washington.
Recruitment outside OCIs:
• 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
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.
This Firm's Rankings in
Chambers USA Guide 2017
District of Columbia
- Intellectual Property: Litigation (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property: Patent Prosecution (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property: Trademark, Copyright & Trade Secrets (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 3)
- Intellectual Property (Band 4)
- Intellectual Property (Band 1)
USA - Nationwide
- Intellectual Property (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property: Trademark, Copyright & Trade Secrets (Band 2)
- International Trade: Intellectual Property (Section 337) (Band 3)
- Life Sciences (Band 3)