Fish is so famous for IP it even made it onto the nation's TV screens...
ARE you a fan of the TV show Jeopardy? If so, you may remember an episode last year featuring a law firm trivia round: “Tops for patent litigation per US News & World Report, Fish & Richardson specializes in IP. Short for this.” After one contestant, Bill, answered incorrectly (“what is an 'initial'?”), fellow player Jill came up trumps with “what is 'intellectual property'?” Absolutely right, as Fish is one of the most famous IP specialists out there (others in this guide are Finnegan, Fitzpatrick, and Sterne Kessler). In 2016 alone, for example, it filed well over 5,500 US and 4,500 foreign patent applications. Needless to say, Fish's “prestige in the patent and IP field” is the main reason associates come to this firm.
Fish's president Peter Devlin highlights that “what makes us unique is the sheer number and caliber of our technically trained lawyers; for instance, we have a large number of attorneys with PhDs.” Its specialist knowledge gains it top rankings in Chambers USA for all aspects of IP. The firm has also recently been growing its commercial litigation practice, but Fish is sticking to its roots as most cases here tend to have a tech slant of some kind.
New starters join either patent litigation or prosecution, then later divide into small subgroups based on their interests. Subgroups include expertise in trademark, copyright, regulatory & government affairs, and post-grant reviews. The vast majority of this year's associate pool were in patent litigation, and although juniors are spread across the country, most were in DC, Boston, Silicon Valley, Atlanta, and New York. Fish's clients include tech giants like Google and Microsoft, but it also deals with its fair share of start-ups and individual inventors.
A litigator defined their practice area as “complex litigation directed toward issues of patent infringement and invalidity.” Clients include drug companies, software designers, individuals, and some “big recurring clients” – often in the Fortune 500. “A case I've worked on was one individual who wanted to start his own website. On the other hand, there are really big pharmaceutical clients, and everything in between.” Juniors also see “a lot of defense work.” Tasks range from “pre-due diligence, through to trial and appeal.” This includes the typical doc review and discovery, as well as supporting deposition prep and drafting opinion letters and motions: “I'm sometimes the main person to draft the motion,” a New Yorker enthused. Others reported attending trials and playing a “supporting role in getting witnesses ready, and some involvement on appeal briefs to federal courts.” A DC junior described that there's “a lot of grunt work, but at the same time, a lot of substantive experience.” When it comes to international opportunities, one junior highlighted that “within four months I was on a plane to Europe to interview an inventor. It was a ton of work, but awesome.” Other juniors we spoke to had not had experience abroad, but many had heard from colleagues who had gone overseas.
“You can become pretty independent.”
Over in patent prosecution, it's “generally more low budget, short projects.” Work involves coordinating with inventors, learning about their new tech, and then drafting patent applications. “You can become pretty independent where the partners are only taking quick reviews. It's always a good feeling when you get the first couple of drafts back with minimal changes,” one reported. Before this stage, juniors conduct searches to see if anything might prevent a client obtaining a patent, or “look for ways to differentiate the idea from tech or patents already out there. As you go up and gain more experience, you get more involved in patent portfolio management and help clients make more strategic decisions – whether to file items as patents or trade secrets.” The group works for big companies and start-ups alike: “It's fun to work with start-ups because you're effectively their in-house counsel, talking directly with CEOs.” Technical backgrounds play a more pivotal role here compared to litigation: “Occasionally an email will come across where a partner isn't so familiar with particular tech for a client, asking if anyone has experience in say, robotics, or maybe computer learning. You can raise your hand and get the chance to work for someone different, or someone in a different office.”
All juniors described the assignment process as fairly free market, but there are also group leaders: “If you're looking for more work, they're happy to help.” A litigator explained the pros and cons: “Sometimes it's hard to prove you're going to be helpful to a case and bring something to the table. This can be frustrating, but the free market system also gives you control over your workload and the cases you want to work on.” The system also lends itself to flexibility: “At Fish, when there's need for someone to do something, they don't care about boundaries – we can all help each other out.”
Training & Development
Formal Fish bootcamps take place for new starters, tailored to either patent prosecution or ligation. In litigation this involves “training for taking expert depositions, for fact witness depositions, and for being more articulate,” followed by additional sessions on software programs and admin. Then there's “hands-on training maybe four or five times year,” according to a New Yorker. “Space is limited though. I've only been able to join two of those.” A Texan junior also thought that “it would be good to have senior bootcamps a little more often.”
Biannual reviews take in place in which “people you work for submit reviews of your work to the group leader who will then go over the feedback.You discuss where you are at in terms of average milestones for a person in your year. I have heard of people getting ambushed but generally they're pretty transparent about it.”
Culture & Offices
“If you want to socialize, the opportunities are there, but if you want to go home, nobody will fault you for it either,” an Atlanta junior explained. There are regular attrorney breakfasts and lunches, but when it comes to after-hours, many prefer to head back to their families. It's reported that there are more social opportunities in the summer, like “dinners and pool parties at partners' houses,” or “a trip to Napa for wine tasting.” However, “if someone is looking for a vibrant social life generally, they might not find it here.” The offices themselves have their own unique culture, although sadly we must report that the Dallas office's famous 'Bat Cave' – “a conference room filled entirely with Batman memorabilia” – is no more as the attorney responsible has left the firm. In Austin, meanwhile, the office managing partner occasionally buys 'fish art' – “monster fish that we hang on the walls and get to name!” Maybe it's a Texas thing...
“Kind of geeky, but in a good way!”
Many juniors liked the “hard-working yet laid back culture” at Fish, and praised it for having a family-like environment: “Even partners look out for you and make sure you're not getting burnt out.” Due to the extensive range of technical backgrounds, one junior described the culture as “kind of geeky, but in a good way!” However, “you can't have people that are really smart, but can't communicate” a Bostonian pointed out. “I don't want to say 'be a decent human being', but that's mostly true.” There are also programs in place for flexible working or reduced hours. “People are very understanding of your other responsibilities, and are willing to help you manage your workload.The firm has such a focus on quality that if you don't have the bandwidth to do a good job, they don't want you to take on so much that the quality suffers.”
“The way our firm is structured is that we don't really have a headquarters – every office is at the same level as others,” a New Yorker explained. “The Boston office is older, but the DC office is actually bigger. There's a lot of cross-staffing, so it doesn't matter where you are, you can still get the same level of work.” Sources told us that the DC office will be moving location in two years to a building “two blocks away from the federal circuit, where you can see the White House from the top.” The Silicon Valley office was noted to be more airy and spacious, and the Boston office was praised for its “modern feel, great tech resources” and “really cool lighting fixture that has a hologram.”
Hours & Compensation
The firm's 1,900 billable hour target is a breeze for most litigators because “on average, people go significantly above that.” For patent prosecutors it can be “more of a challenge, because prosecution is a lower budget practice. But it's definitely reasonable.” The new tiered bonus system is tied to hours. “We're told if we hit 2,100 hours then we'll get bonuses comparable to big firms.” However, a few associates would push for more transparency on this front because “when it comes to bonuses, it's like a black box. It's hard to know what to expect before you get it.”
“Most people have nice home offices to work from.”
The working day varied slightly from associate to associate, but the average was 9am to 7.30pm. The option of remote working means they can log back in at home if they have to leave for any reason. “I leave to walk my dog, but then log back in and work from home,” one reported. Fish also gives associates a tech budget of $500 a year which can be “used for any purpose related to tech, so most people have nice home offices to work from.” In terms of vacation, “it depends on the status of your cases. Vacations aren't discouraged. You just have to fit them where it makes sense.”
Juniors can bill up to 200 hours of pro bono work toward their billable target, and many said “the firm really wants you to use those hours. Most of the time, you get to do a bit more and experience things that might not come up as easily in billable cases, but still get the hours.” Juniors have been involved in everything from “helping people apply for citizenship to cases ongoing in district courts.” In an unfair dismissal case, “the client was representing himself when we stepped in and did some briefing. I got to read statements in court, but it ended up going to mediation where the client got a favorable settlement. I kind of wanted it to go to oral argument just because I was so ready! But it was still a good experience.”
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 19,253
- Average per US attorney: 56
“I'd say it might not be where it needs to be, but everyone tries to do more in terms of recruitment and retention,” an associate assessed. Many juniors admitted that diversity in IP “is hard because the profession is self-selecting – you can only draw from the candidates who present themselves.” Only a third of Fish's associates are female. But in spite of this, the DC office has seen a growing female presence, and hiring partner Betty Chen tells us of the firm's participation in a program called the OnRamp Fellowship. “This program helps women who have taken time off from their careers get integrated back into the legal industry,” she explains. “We are among the first law firms to participate in this program.” There's also a women-only retreat, where female attorneys discuss new ways to recruit and retain women. Consequently, juniors think “Fish is really trying to acknowledge its weaknesses and areas that need improvement, and build a community.” In terms of ethnic diversity, Fish fares better than most BigLaw firms: almost 40% of associates are racially diverse.
Strategy & Future
“We're very pleased with where the firm's gone and we're looking forward to a strong fourth quarter,” firm president Peter Devlin tells us. “We spend a lot of time in Asia in particular, so we're growing our client base in South Korea and China.” On top of that, “our pharmaceutical litigation practice is growing, as well as our commercial litigation practice.”
Diversity is also high on his agenda, he says: “In 2016 we hired a new chief professional development and diversity officer for the firm. We're also growing our pro bono program, which provides new lawyers with great opportunities for professional growth.”
Juniors said they ask candidates to “tell us about work they've done and see if they can explain it in clear sentences or convey it in a way that's understandable – it's important to see if they can explain things in simple terms for people that don't have the particular background.” Other qualities they look for include having “the right personality to fit in here” and if candidates are “able to talk well.” A New York junior advised that “it's better to talk to as many junior associates as possible – nothing replaces face-to-face honest conversation with someone who's working at the firm.”
Despite the firm's strong science and technical focus, when interviewing, hiring partner Betty Chen tells us that it's not just limited to those with technical degrees. The firm is expanding its commercial litigation practice: issues come up in white collar crime, or privacy and cyber-security, that often have a tech focus. For that reason, Chen tells us “we focus on those who have the prospect of being exceptional litigators and can handle technical issues well.” A lot of hiring also occurs from the Patent Law Interview Program in Chicago – a two day event, where in the past, Fish has interviewed over 110 students. Chen highlights four qualities that are most important in potential juniors: “Intellectual horsepower; team players that also have individual grit; the 'Fish' quality (that Chen describes as “being passionate, but not arrogant”); and authenticity – people who are comfortable in their own skin.”
Interview with Firm President Peter Devlin
We spoke to you last year and you said 2015 had been a very strong year. How's this year been in comparison? What highlights would you want to flag up to student readers?
Fish had a very strong year in 2016, following an equally strong 2015. I think that in comparison to last year, any year wouldn't stack up just because the previous year was so incredibly strong for us, driven by our litigation practice. During 2016 we completed 11 patent trials in federal district courts - 2 more trials than in 2015. This is a significant number when you realize that only 66 patent cases went to trial in 2016. We had nine of our patent litigations go to trial in federal district court; argued 14 appeals before the patent appeals court and appeared before the PTAB 25 times.
It's been a strong year this year, but it's tough to reach those numbers. That being said, we're very pleased with where it's gone, and we're looking forward to a strong fourth quarter. In terms of our business, the highlights are our continued growth in our patent practice, with more post-grant work than any other firm out there. I just saw a statistics published by Lex Machina: Fish represented defendants in 160 new patent cases last year – nearly 100 more patent cases than the next-busiest defense firm.
Fish is one of only three firms appearing on both the top firms representing plaintiffs and top firms representing defendants lists. Overall, Fish filed appearances in 189 new cases in 2016, compared to 69 cases for the second-ranked firm. on the litigation side – we represent more defendants in patent litigations than any other firm in the state. We also argued 13 cases in the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and filed 5,786 US patent applications, about 500 more than 2015.
We saw continued growth in our patent practice, with more post-grant work than any other firm out there. In terms of particular industries, our pharmaceutical litigation practice is growing, as well as our non-IP litigation practice. We work in areas that may not be patent or IP, but are related to technology, product liability, and mass torts and trade secrets.
Our cyber-security practice is also hot. One other highlight was that we were named one of the top trademark law firms by the WTR 1000 [World Trademark Review] for the 7th year in a row, showing we continue to lead in all areas of IP. The number of patent litigations has shrunk this year, but we continue to lead the pack. So in terms of market share, we're growing in a shrinking market, which suits our place as a premier IP firm.
How do you compete with other IP specialists? What makes Fish unique?
I'd name a couple of things. We can handle anything IP, whether patent prosecution, post-grant, or litigation. What makes us unique is the sheer number and caliber of our technically trained lawyers for instance, we have a large number of attorneys with PhDs. As an IP centered firm, we have a strong patent prosecution and patent post-grant practice – it is centered on patent strategy, obtaining patents and defending/defining them at the USPTO and the Patent Trial and Appeal Board.
We also have a deep bench of seasoned trial lawyers and a track record in forming customized teams that deeply understand our clients’ industries and technologies in addition to the relevant laws and jurisdictions. In terms of client service and delivery, we've been the market leader in listening to clients, particularly post-recession, about what's important to them in terms of increasing value.
Fish has also been named a leader in alternative fee arrangements. We aim to be as efficient as possible to give clients better value for their money. Clients know what it'll cost, and what they'll get for that cost – it's not just based on traditional hourly billing. What's always important is great service, great work quality, and great results for the client.
Where will the firm be investing? Any plans to open new offices?
We handle a wide range of European intellectual property (IP) matters from our Munich office, which is home to a major office of the European Patent Office and a key jurisdiction for European patent litigation. We spend a lot of time in Asia in particular, and we're growing our client base in South Korea and China. While we don't have plans to open an office there currently, we spend a lot of time meeting with clients all over the world, discussing with them what we do, and growing that aspect of our business.
Given that our readers wouldn't be joining your firm for another couple of years, what's the general strategy going forwards?
It's to continue to be acknowledged as the best at what we do and continue to enhance our reputation in the field. I've already mentioned the expansion of our litigation practice into areas that are closely aligned with our IP litigation practice, and we'll also continue to expand our lead when it comes to the IP industry.
One thing that's come into sharp focus in the legal industry, and with us as well, is diversity. We'll continue to provide opportunities for diverse candidates – I think we do a pretty good job, but we can certainly get better as an industry. In 2016 we hired a new chief professional development and diversity officer for the firm, and we plan to bring those two efforts together: we'll include existing professional development for lawyers in programs to further enhance diversity. We're also growing our pro bono program, which provides new lawyers with great opportunities for professional growth.
Can you define the firm's character or culture?
It's very collaborative – teamwork is a core value of ours, and building trust amongst lawyers. Although we have a dozen offices, our lawyers across the board often work together, especially on larger matters. Collaboration helps bring the firm together. We have no specific headquarters, so it's very much a 'one-firm with 12 offices’ concept.
What was the firm like when you joined and how has it changed?
I joined the firm in 1987, and we were solely in Boston. Our focus and reputation was more on patent prosecution that litigation. Back then, we were nowhere near the powerhouse we are today. Although IP is still our core, we've greatly expanded geographically and service-wise.
Any advice or words of wisdom for our student readers as they try to enter the legal profession?
It comes down to loving what you do. Come into it with that mindset and your clients will see your enthusiasm and want to work with you. As a result, you will provide great service and results for your clients.
Fish & Richardson PC
One Marina Park Drive,
225 Franklin Street ,
- Head Office: Boston, MA
- Number of domestic offices: 11
- Number of international offices: 1
- Worldwide revenue: $407,678,677
- Partners (US): 181
- Associates (US): 165
- Summer Salary 2017
- 1Ls: $3,500/week
- 2Ls: $3,500/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 2017: 35, including 8 1Ls
- Offers/acceptances 2016: 31 offers, 23 acceptances
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.
Fish & Richardson is a global patent prosecution, intellectual property litigation, and commercial litigation law firm with more than 400 attorneys and technology specialists in the US and Europe. Fish is the #1 U.S. patent litigation firm, handling nearly three times as many cases than its nearest competitor; a powerhouse patent prosecution firm; a top-tier trademark and copyright firm; and the #1 firm at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board, with more cases than any other firm. Since 1878, Fish attorneys have been winning cases worth billions in controversy – often by making new law – for the world’s most innovative and influential technology leaders.
• Number of 1st year associates: 26
• Number of 2nd year associates: 28
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• Clerking policy: Yes
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
Boston College, Boston University, Cardozo, Columbia, Emory, Fordham, Georgetown, George Washington, Harvard, NYU, Santa Clara University, SMU, Stanford, Temple, Texas Tech, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, University of Georgia, UC Hastings, University of Houston Law Center, University of Iowa, 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), San Francisco IP Law Association Job Fair, Southeastern IP Job Fair
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.