Fish & Richardson PC - The Inside View

A big Fish in a “niche” pond, this Bostonian filters the nutrient-rich waters of IP through its gills...

PLANES, trains and automobiles. You invent it, Fish will patent it. In the 130 years since its Boston inception, Fish has been instrumental in patents relating to a whole host of groundbreaking, everyday products, not least the airplane, steam turbine and car. Historic clients included the Wright brothers, Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison, whose connections with Fish are honored daily as the names of the Atlanta office's conference rooms. Their modern-day counterparts are equally impressive: Google, Samsung and Microsoft, to name a few.

Chambers USA awards Fish the highest rankings for all things IP, including litigation and international trade. Associates appreciated the “smorgasbord of responsibility” and come here for the “chance to work in a place where they change things.”  

The Work

New starters join either litigation or patent prosecution, and later “we then subdivide into subpractice groups based on our interests.” Fish also has expertise in trademark, copyright, regulatory & government affairs, and post-grant review. According to one source, “most summers go to litigation as the patent prosecution team looks for technical experience.” Juniors explained that “most offices operate under the umbrella of litigation and prosecution.” Dallas litigators highlighted that “we have a commercial practice that isn't as present elsewhere, but we don't have a construct where only Boston or some place does pharma.” Additionally, “in Austin there's only a handful of litigators. It's mostly patent but it's not made that way by design.” Fish promotes collaboration between groups as “almost every case naturally has someone from another office on it.” While many were happy to interconnect, others cautioned that “it's difficult because you have to communicate through carefully worded emails so you don’t convey the wrong tone or look like an idiot.”

Newbies dubbed the assignment process an “open market where you go and find work by talking to partners (formally called principals) as there is no centralized staffing system.” They reassured that “there is one partner who helps workflow.” Nonetheless, “partners will approach you primarily based on your expertise.” Though this may seem daunting, “most have summered here so you already have relationships with partners.” Some juniors reflected that “it can be tough because it leads to being responsive to too many bosses.”

“We'd be surprised if an associate didn’t take a deposition in their first year.” 

Others had “dealt with both opposing counsel and clients,” “mined discovery data looking for story evidence” and “argued motions and hearings in court. I wrote part of briefs for the federal circuit, and drafted settlement and license agreements.” This is the norm at Fish, as “we'd be surprised if an associate didn’t take a deposition in their first year.” Prosecutors are “involved in patent office post-grant review matters. Inter partes review is something new that we are dealing with as well." Generally, “they throw you in. They say 'here is an office action, amend it,' or 'here is an application: go do it.'”

Training & Development

“If you're the type of person that wants a lot of hand-holding to slowly develop your craft, Fish is not the place for that,” warned one Dallas insider. Others elaborated that “there isn't a regimented first-year plan where new hires will cycle through different training. It's much more 'throw you in the water and see if you can swim.' But there's good training which is optional.” Programs include “30 to 60 minute webinars every other week using the firm's collective knowledge on specific aspects of litigation” as part of the Fish Litigation University Program.

"A 360 review where associates review who they worked with.”

Others spoke of “weekly presentations on learned experience from trial victories or changes in procedure.” The National Institute for Trial Advocacy also “comes in and trains you in trial practice and depositions.” New Yorkers avowed that “it's doable, but if you're in the middle of a hot case you may not have the time. 'Lunch and Learn' where they feed and teach you is really useful.” Speaking of food, juniors praised the lunch mentor program where first-years dine informally with partners “and the firm pays for one lunch a month.”

The formal review is "a semiannual evaluation where we fill out a form that lists our supervisors, and our group leaders review it with us.” Several liked that “it's a 360 review where associates review who they worked with.”

Offices and Culture

Fish has 11 domestic offices and one in Munich, Germany. Fish works under a geographically “distributed management structure so that there isn't one central office with satellite offices,” former hiring principal Michael Headley (who passed on the baton to Betty Chen in March 2016) informed us. Despite Boston being the oldest office, associates stated that “it's not Boston-centric. Each office isn't a sun; we work together as a constellation.” Astronomical analogies don't end there. Insiders revealed that “we're like the Borg (in a nice way). We're all interconnected as we all love patent law.”

Speaking of “geekiness,” many interviewees retorted that “of course it's geeky, it's full of PhDs and engineers!” Nevertheless, “nothing can compete with the 'nerddom' of doing a science degree with people who wore plaid and pocket protectors. In comparison, we are anything but nerdy.” At Fish, “the average associate age is more mature. This affects the culture as there aren't a lot of socials because people want to get back to their families.”  

“A conference room filled entirely with Batman memorabilia known as the 'Bat Cave'.”

All associates have individual offices. New Yorkers approved of “the premium space where people don't stay in their silos but share information.” Bostonians quipped that “it's more spartan than most firms. It's more about the work.” Silicon Valley natives, however, recently competed in “a miniature golf tournament. We turned a conference room and the third floor into a course. It was great.” 1,700 miles away in Dallas, associates are treated to “a conference room filled entirely with Batman memorabilia known as the 'Bat Cave'.” Check out our Twitter page for photos. Apparently there are also Superman and Wonder Woman Roy Lichtenstein prints outside the offices of partners who have themselves “been christened superheroes.”

Hours & Compensation

Associates found the 1,900 billable hour requirement is “so achievable as I have more work than I have time for.” Across offices, juniors usually work around ten-hour days, with some “logging back in and working from home each night.” One insider broke it down: “It averages as 40 billables a week if you want two to four weeks vacation,” although there's no official vacation policy for first-years. Others indicated that it's easier for litigators to attain as “in prosecution, the clients put on pressure to keep the billing down because the patent doesn't exist yet so its value is unknown. You can't bill as high in that sense.”

"We want to reward our superstars.”

Clocking in long days reaps rich rewards: “People who work 2,200 hours almost always have bonuses that beat the market rate.” Others relied heavily on guesswork: “I don’t have a clue! The billable year is from October 1 to September 30 but our bonuses don’t come out till January. It's a little annoying. I think it's largely driven by hours but it's a black box.” Michael Headley offers help: “It's merit-based as opposed to a lockstep bonus system, which can be confusing to some people, but in reality it's higher than most places. Obviously we are not just throwing money around for people simply being in the building. We want to reward our superstars.” For our full interview with Headley, go online. 

Pro Bono

Opinions varied about Fish's pro bono commitment. One newbie proclaimed that it's “more committed than any firm that I’ve seen or heard of. There is a partner who oversees the program and then in each office there are separate partners who email out opportunities. We can also bill 200 hours of pro bono work to our billing total.” On the other hand, “there are a couple partners who have causes to push, but firmwide we are kept so busy that it's hard to find the time.”

“With pro bono there is more responsibility earlier on.”

Despite this, those who have dedicated more time have been paid back in kind. “With pro bono there is more responsibility earlier on,” insisted one associate. “I've been running everything with the case.” Furthermore, associates aren't pigeonholed into solely working in IP. Fish has an active involvement with many pro bono organizations including the Advocates for Human Rights, Kids In Need of Defense (KIND) and Springboard for the Arts. One junior recounted that they were working on “a clemency project preparing petitions for early release.” Others stated that “there is a vast range, like helping political asylum seekers from Sudan become citizens.” Additionally, newcomers get to go to court very early on, which “will help when I get to that point with my paying clients.”

Pro bono hours 

  • For attorneys across all US offices: 14,469 
  • Average per US attorney: 43


Bostonians admitted that it “feels more male-centered here, but that's partly down to the sector.” Dallas sources also found “there are a lot of white males, but we are engineers-turned-lawyers, so the hiring pool self-selects.” Yet those in DC believed that the sector had the reverse effect on diversity as “tech and patent traditionally pull people together.” Austin associates hailed an “active diversity scholarship program for incoming minority 1Ls that feeds into the hiring of summer associates.” Sources also praised Fish's participation in the OnRamp Fellowship, which launched in 2014 and helps women who have left the workforce for a number of years “to reintegrate back into the legal profession.” (The Good Wife's Alicia Florrick would have been a prime candidate had it existed in 2009.) There is also a flexible provision for those with families as one junior eulogized about the “great childcare discounts. I've been able to bring my child to work and partners do it too.”

"We are engineers-turned-lawyers, so the hiring pool self-selects.”

Get Hired

Juniors were united in their advice: “We are looking for cordial people who fit in with the temperament of the firm, with high technical skills and the ability to work to deadlines.” Interestingly, “if you have too many career changes before settling to become a lawyer it kind of looks bad,” warned one source. Michael Headley similarly intimates that “we are looking for people who are going to be exceptional but without an ego.” What else goes down well? “We love science and math. We aren't lawyers because we failed at mathematics. We embrace it!”

Strategy & Future

Commercial litigation is on the up at Fish. Michael Headley explains that "there has been an explosion in interest for the issues surrounding white-collar crime with a tech focus, for example, privacy.” Although no sources polled could comment on any definitive expansion plans, most interviewees expressed that “we have a robust practice, so we are selective about how it grows.” Others stated that “it's still a focus, but it is slow. The people who grow this department are mainly in New York and Dallas.”

However, a common thread that employees proudly proclaimed is that they “have a great litigation brand. Litigation is litigation no matter the area and we can use our trial experience for other cases.” President and CEO Peter Devlin confirms that "there has also been a large surge in communications and software. We're getting stronger and we've bucked the trend across the industry." 

Interview with president and chief executive officer Peter Devlin

Chambers Associate: Are there any recent work highlights that you would like to make our readers aware of?

Peter Devlin: It's been a very strong year for Fish across the board. We have been very busy in litigation and our transactional practice which includes work in the patent office around the US and the world. Our productivity has been contrary to the trend in the IP sector, as we have experienced significant growth. This surge in work has resulted in numerous accolades which we are very proud of. For example the Corporate Council named us as the No. 1 IP firm in the country for the twelfth year running. We were also ranked as the No. 1 ' most active firm in patent trials and Appeals Board' by Managing IP.

Additionally, around three to four years ago there was a change in US patent law regarding post grant review proceedings. We have been very fortunate from the outset of this change, as we have always had a balance in our practice that enabled us to specialize in this area.

We have also continued our keen commitment to diversity through our operation of a fellowship program that helps reintegrate women back into the world of work, who have taken time out for various reasons. We are very proud to be running this 'On Ramp' program and are actively interviewing candidates for patent litigation, patent prosecution, and trademark practices in our Boston, New York, Washington DC, Dallas, Twin Cities, and Silicon Valley offices.

(For a detailed list of some of Fish's key highlights this year, see below.)

CA: Projecting forward ten years from now, where would you like to see Fish?

PD: Well ten years is an awfully long time, but I will give it a shot. To give this answer context, it needs to be stated that after the recession, overall the legal industry has grown very slowly. In contrast to our stellar year, the overall legal industry as a business structure is still expanding, but there is more work flowing to third party providers. Clients tend to now bring work in house, which normally would have been sent to firms. So there is this pressure to compete. But the rise in technology has helped clients and law firms to work more efficiently and so we want to always be right at forefront providing a great service. IP has weathered many storms and it will continue to be strong, as tech is at the forefront of the world economy.

So future looking, I think it's all good stuff here at Fish. We would want to continually grow slowly, focusing on maintaining what we already have. The industry won't have the same booming growth that we saw in the last decade. But with unified patent systems on the horizon of EU legislative change, we feel that we are on the cusp of moving ahead in this direction and growing further into that area too.

CA: Which practice areas would you say were expanding at the moment?

PD: We are rapidly growing in pharma. We weren’t a player ten years ago but our reputation has grown. In line with this, we have added lateral hires specifically to deal with the new changes surrounding post grant review work.

Commercial litigation has expanded through our business growth in Boston. Our regulatory group is working with clients on a broad range of issues, such as cyber security. In Dallas we are leading our governmental investigation practice. Cyber securities in general however is a key growth area. There has also been a large surge in communications and software. We're getting stronger and we've bucked the trend across the industry.

Our growth is also exemplified through the hiring of laterals in key areas. Of highest profile, is the hiring of former Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Leonard Davis. This is the busiest patent court and we got to know him well over the years. He joined us mid-year (2015) in the Dallas office. He is very highly regarded in the industry and is now an of counsel with us. He has undertaken work counseling our clients on specialist IP matters as well as helping with our mock trial trainings. This was such a big move in the industry and we are thrilled to have him here.

In life sciences, we are pleased to welcome a new partner in New York, Lisa Chiarini. She was formally in a general practice firm and with the transition, has brought over a large practice that includes litigation cases across the board in the District Court, at the ITC and international arbitrations.

We have also experienced substantial growth in Munich. John Conroy, Herbert Kunz and Martin Burda, who all have PhDs, have joined us. They will help to provide us with a broad range of tech expertise, which is different to our previous focus on medical devises. So now we have a great platform in Munich for US clients too. We are continuing to grow but also keeping a weather eye on EU legislation. It is certainly something on our radar with particular interest in potential expansion into London or Paris. Munich provides the starting point. So I think it's fair to say that we are up across all boards.

CA: Would you say that Fish was Boston-centric?

PD: The preceding generation of management started our growth. Now I wouldn't say that we approach the firm as one Headquarters with one central office. We run ourselves with somewhat of a distributed management structure. I'm the only member of a seven member management committee who's based in Boston. Our administrative structure is also spread out.

This was another unique and interesting step we took this year. A trend that some firms have taken to, is establishing back office operations in some out of the way city to run the administrative side of things. We too have created a separate administrative hub, but unlike other firms, we have put it in a location where we also run a key office as well, in Minneapolis. The hub is adjacent to our law office there. We have over 130 administrative staff that are made up of different departments like finance and accounting, IT, HR and marketing. We also have a strong patent paralegal group there. It has worked out well culturally and in terms of the transition, as it has fostered a close connection between new additions and the people that already worked there.

CA: Do you have any words of wisdom for our readers?

PD: I'm speaking for IP in particular. Despite what has been said for many years, IP focus firms are very much alive. It's fun and on the cutting edge of industry and the economy. It's a field that will thrive for years to come. Practicing in an IP firm is the way to go, with all due respect to my general practice colleagues of course. If you're keenly interested in IP, Fish is the place to come.

Interview with former hiring principal Michael Headley

Chambers Associate: Roughly how many associates did you take on this year and how are they distributed across offices?

Michael Headley: I believe we brought on approximately 25 new associates this fall. Because of the caliber of candidates that we give offers to, we tend to have some of our incoming associates poached by judges for clerkships. We are very proud of them for this and we wish them well in their respective futures. In terms of associate distribution, first-years are distributed fairly evenly and proportionately across locations. But it really depends on the work load and work type that they want to engage in. There is a lot of cross-staffing here at Fish so the talent pool is distributed for most cases.

CA: How would you describe the scope of your recruitment?

MH: We take a varied approach in that we are not limited to purely the top 20 schools. We also actively participate in resume drops for students from schools where we don't hold OCIs. We've met great candidates from schools that we don't interview at, so we successfully scope for talent that way too.

CA: How has the recession affected your hiring and the development of Fish as a firm?

MH: I think as a trend most firms have seen a strong demand in corporate and IP. There are a few areas that have been hot and we are in one of those areas. Post recession, despite the initial contraction, things have bounced back. We obviously have a very strong science and tech focus and so we are competing for highly intelligent people with these backgrounds. We have also expanded our commercial litigation practice. There has been an explosion in interest for the issues surrounding white collar crime with a tech focus, for example, privacy. We have some folks who work solely in that area but we have also hired laterals to develop it further. Presently it isn't a pure department in its own right, but we certainly have great people doing trademark litigation and high-end commercial litigation.

Additionally, as a firm I would now say that we have changed. One hundred years ago we were Boston focused, but now we have adapted. We now have a distributed management structure so that there isn't one central office with satellite offices.

CA: What does Fish do to promote diversity in its hiring practice?

MH: We are committed to putting a lot of effort in attracting and retaining a diverse work force. To ensure this we participate in 'on ramp' fellowship programs. This is a scheme that seeks to provide opportunities for women to filter back into the professional workforce. We were actually among the first firms who participated in the program. We have also been proactive in increasing opportunities for minorities to get in the door of this profession. We have a diversity fellowship program for 1L summers, which gives people the chance to get their feet wet with IP. It's been a success because it's a great way to get in the pipeline and many have come back as 2L summers and then progressed to become associates.

CA: What are the dos and don'ts in a Fish interview?

MH: I look for people who are passionate about what they have done and what they are doing. There needs to be a sense of engagement when speaking with a candidate. We hire people who are talented and interview people who have diverse backgrounds and training. So we want energetic self-starters. Regarding the technical aspect of those backgrounds, some of our best lawyers don’t have formal tech training. But it helps make it easier to acclimate to the work. Otherwise it is a steep learning curve and you have to work harder. We hire great people and we know you are great when we interview you. But people who wear it as a badge of arrogance won't go down well here. There is no denying that we have a strong geeky bent. We love science and mathematics. We didn't become lawyers because we failed at math. Rather we embrace it. So our candidates should do that too.

CA: What's on offer in your summer program?

MH: We want to offer a mix of work, training and some social events. The work is broken down into smaller units to allow summers to access it. It's real work that we would expect our first-years to do, but it's a compressed version. By having people work on a number of assignments, we hope that our summers can get a real sense of what the work is like but also who we are as a firm. We have a training regime to introduce people to all aspects of firm life. This can include discussions on issues that have arisen in patent law and trends in certain cases. This is to give summers an opportunity to see the work that we do and the tools that we use to do it. Our social events are tailored by different offices. Events normally correspond to the area. So for example, in Silicon Valley we sometimes take a trip up to Napa for wine tasting. We do this because we know how important it is for everyone to get to know each other and we want to facilitate that.

CA: We noticed that a lot of associates have had prior experience as judicial clerks. How does this inform your hiring process?

MH: We are proud to have attorneys either come from a clerkship or leave us shortly after being hired for a clerkship. Some judges track our hiring pools and practices to see who they want for clerkship opportunities. It really is an honor to have the hard work of our hiring teams confirmed by great legal minds. They obviously see the same legal talent that we see. Recruiting from this pool is a great advantage, because it provides our associates with invaluable training already. It leads to becoming a better writer and a better lawyer.

CA: In light of the recent industry bonus increase, how does Fish's bonus system work?

MH: It's merit based as opposed to a lockstep bonus system, which can be confusing to some people, but in reality it's higher than most places. Obviously we are not just throwing money around for people simply being in the building. We want to reward our superstars for their performance. We always look around to make sure that we aren't out of step with the industry. But there is no direct pegging between different firms in the sector and how we assign our bonuses. It is based more on the individual and how the firm did financially throughout the year. Either way, we always reward those who do excellent work and go above and beyond the call of duty.

CA: Finally, what can students do now to become successful in the application process?

MH: The main thing is to get involved in things at law school. Talk to lawyers about their practices and the work that they do. The law is a foreign language. So students should do anything they can to learn the culture and the lingo. Listen to how lawyers talk about their practice and in this way it will almost transfer by osmosis.

To be successful, you have to remember that our people are excellent lawyers but generally great human beings too. This is true of all offices. People have a life, yet they are top-level lawyers. This carries through from senior partners through to our summers and law clerks. So we are looking for people who are going to be exceptional but without an ego. This is the common thread at Fish.

Highlighting the Highlights of 2015

Hiring partners often tell us the candidates who go far are the ones who can intelligently discuss key cases that the firm they are interviewing at have worked on. It could be a historic case that demonstrates appreciation for the firm's history. It could be a relatively small, under-publicized case that illustrates your own interests in a niche area of law. Or you could go down the route of discussing the biggest and the best wins of the past year.

So here are a few biggies that we've picked out, to help spark interview discussions, further research and that typify Fish's 2015.

1. GPNE Corp. v. Apple Inc. (N.D. Cal. Oct. 22, 2014); (N.D. Cal. June 9, 2015)

GPNE went patent infringement claims crazy, filing against companies like Apple, Amazon and Barnes & Noble to name a few. This case was the last in a series of nine actions brought by GPNE. Fish represented Apple against the claim that their iPhone5, iPad3 and iPad Mini had infringed GPNE's wireless data communication software for pagers. The jury however disagreed and Apple was spared from forking over $94 million in damages.

2. Allergan, Inc. v. Sandoz Inc. et al. (Fed. Cir. Aug. 4, 2015)

Fish represented pharmaceutical company Allergan (a company everyone's been talking about in 2016 thanks to a certain Pfizer merger) and ensured that four of its competitors were blocked from selling generic versions of glaucoma treatment LUMIGAN 0.01%. The block is in place until 2027 and the drug in question generates $200 million in annual sales. You do the math.

3.WesternGeco LLC v. ION Geophysical Corp. (Fed. Cir. July 2, 2015)

In this Federal Circuit case, Fish saved ION Geophysical $100 million in damages, reducing their overall payment to $24 million. They argued that lost profits couldn't be categorized as part of a damages award as a result of contracts performed abroad.

Fish & Richardson PC

One Marina Park Drive,
225 Franklin Street ,
MA 02210

  • Head Office: Boston, MA
  • Number of domestic offices: 11
  • Number of international offices: 1
  • Worldwide revenue: $394,959,808
  • Partners (US): 174
  • Associates (US): 142
  • Summer Salary 2016 
  • 1Ls: $3,100/week
  • 2Ls: $3,100/week
  • Post 3Ls: N/A
  • 1Ls hired? Yes
  • Split summers offered? Yes, with minimum week requirment
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
  • Summers 2016: 42 (32 2Ls, 10 1Ls)
  • Offers/acceptances 2015: 37 offers, 26 acceptances (including 1 post-clerkship), 2 pending

Main areas of work
Fish & Richardson offers top-rated litigation, patent, regulatory, trademark, and copyright services to help clients maximize the value of their intellectual property. Firm profile Fish & Richardson is a global patent, intellectual property (IP) litigation, and commercial litigation law firm with more than 400 attorneys and technology specialists across the US and in Europe. Named number one for patent litigation in the US for 12 consecutive years, Fish maintains its elite position by consistently winning the most important, technically sophisticated, bet-the-company patent cases for clients such as Microsoft, 3M, Bose, Samsung, LG, Allergan, Bank of America, and Smith & Nephew. Since 1878, Fish has won cases worth billions in controversy—often by making new law—for the most innovative clients and influential industry leaders.

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 25
• Number of 2nd year associates: 20 (US); 22 including Munich
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• Clerking policy: Yes

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:
Baylor Law School, Boston College, Boston University, Columbia, Emory, Fordham, Georgetown, George Washington, Harvard, NYU, Santa Clara University, SMU, Stanford, Temple, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Hastings, University of Houston Law Center, UCLA, University of Michigan, University of Minnesota, University of Pennsylvania, University of San Diego, USC, University of Texas, University of Virginia, Vanderbilt Law School, Boston Lawyers Group Job Fair, Delaware Minority Job Fair, Patent Law Interview Program (Chicago), Southeastern IP Job Fair

Summer details  

Summer associate profile:
Fish seeks students with excellent academic credentials and superior writing ability. For many positions, a scientific or technical background is preferred (required for patent prosecution candidates). Summer associates at Fish are given meaningful work assignments and plenty of opportunities to interact with the attorneys. They may prepare patent and trademark applications; conduct research for litigation cases; and attend client meetings, depositions, and even trials. They also receive one-on-one training from attorneys and participate in the firm’s nationwide video conferences. In addition to informal feedback from attorneys throughout the summer, summer associates are given feedback on their work during midsummer and end-of-summer reviews. To help integrate summer associates into the firm and the city in which the office is located, Fish plans social events and assigns a mentor to each summer associate based on common interests, educational background, and other criteria.