This Boston-headquartered specialist is a big fish in the world of intellectual property law.
“THE thing that makes us distinct is that we're a pure IP firm – we've been around since the Wright brothers patented the airplane!” Yes, Fish associates were quick to tell us about their firm's rich heritage (which dates back to 1878) and scope of expertise tied to all things IP: “If you want high-stakes litigation and cutting-edge patent law, landing a spot here will be your dream job.” Fish is among only five firms to pick up a top nationwide Chambers USA ranking for IP; it's also highly regarded for handling disputes before the International Trade Commission. Peter Devlin, Fish's president, tells us: “We are a leader in that field, which has been growing in importance as the global economy changes and in light of increased competition from China.” Life at Fish isn't just about litigation though, as Devlin explains: “One of the hallmarks of our firm is its balance between litigation and patent and trademark prosecution – that balance is absolutely crucial to our success.”
With such a hefty reputation to maintain,Fish is looking for candidates with a superior level of expertise to fill its 11 domestic bases. A look at Fish's 'current legal openings' webpage will give you a clear indication of what this firm is after: 'strong backgrounds in computer science,' 'advanced chemistry degrees,' and 'talented engineers' are the backbone of Fish's attorney base. “Name a scientific background and we have it,” sources declared, with many boasting PhDs in everything from physics to bio-chemical engineering. With a wealth of expertise to draw upon, Fish is able to service clients across a range of sectors, including aerospace & defense, financial services, digital health, energy, life sciences and transportation.
Strategy & Future
"We have really focused on developing our commercial litigation practice this year," firm president Peter Devlin tell us, "but in areas that mesh well with our ability to solve technical issues – product liability and mass tort cases, for example.” Devlin also wants to continue to grow the firm's pharma litigation capabilities: "Ten years ago we didn't have a pharma lit practice and now we have one that's among the best in the country – we are very proud of that. We want it to balance the tech side of the work that we do, so there's more of a 50:50 split between the two.” Fish will also be casting its net further in the future: “I see us growing our business from other countries. China is a key target for us, and we're looking to grow our client base there.”
Associates were confident that each of the firm's offices could offer newcomers a good spread of work, but also highlighted their regional specialties. “The pharmaceutical and bio group is mostly done out of the Delaware office because that's where most of ANDA (Abbreviated New Drug Application) is handled,” a Boston-based junior pointed out. “Boston is more focused on software and mechanical engineering, but still has a big life sciences practice too.” Down south, the firm's Houston office lends itself naturally to the energy sector, while the San Diego base offers “an even split between life sciences and electrical engineering work.”
Boston serves as the firm's HQ and offers associates their own "fully decked out" offices from the get-go. "The entire office is made of big glass windows, which overlook the city on the one side and the ocean on the other,” associates beamed. However, competition for the best office is heating up, as sources in the “hi-tech and electrical-focused” DC office revealed: “We moved into a brand new building in spring 2018 in the redeveloped 'Wharf' area, which is right on the waterfront – there's going to be a water taxi service available!” Boston and DC housed the majority of juniors on our list, while a further eight bases (including San Diego, Atlanta, New York and Houston) each took in a few as well.
Now you might think that large groups of people with multiple scientific degrees working side by side would make for a more 'geeky' working environment – and you'd be absolutely right! “We definitely are a little bit nerdy,” one source confessed, “but in a good way! We have the social skills to be outgoing and fun to hang out with – although our conversations sometimes tend to run towards technology, video games and science.”
“Name a scientific background and we have it.”
Still, for those craving a rowdy, happy-hour-every-night kind of firm, Fish probably isn't the one for you – we were told that the average junior associate is a tad older than those at other firms, particularly on the patent prosecution side where “the focus is on hiring PhDs; they're often in their mid-thirties and have families, so they tend to come to work and then just head home afterward.” Juniors also drew attention to “the fact that we're all individually very competent but still team-oriented. We need to be collaborative as we often have to pick up the phone to ask one another about certain types of tech or a particular field of science.”
New starters join either patent litigation or prosecution, then later divide into smaller subgroups based on their interests. The vast majority of associates – 32 of the 36 second and third-year juniors on our list – were working in the patent litigation group.
Sources felt that a 'free-market' description of Fish's work assignment process was “accurate: there's no centralized process, but the group leaders do receive a list of every associate's hours each month, so they know who's busy and who's got some room in their schedules.” It's therefore a case of “going out and finding work, by individually interacting with the partners you want to develop relationships with: people tend to gravitate naturally toward the areas they are familiar with but you aren't pushed to go anywhere. The best part of the job is learning about new science and technology.”
“China is a key target for us.”
Associates quickly put their degrees to good use: “I have used my physics degree in pretty much all of my cases,” one junior told us, with others explaining how they'd use their expertise on matters involving “aerodynamic golf balls, as well as hearing aids and medical devices.” Sources explained that on a “typical case involving multiple patents, you'll probably take on responsibility for a couple of them. That involves going through the file history to identify anything that may affect the claim; supervising a 'tech specialist' [a science expert with no law degree]; and launching into the claims construction process, by developing and drafting an argument.”
Providing juniors with portions of the overall case to manage is all part of the firm's “divide and conquer strategy,” which ensures that “we utilize the maximum amount of our technical knowledge and get exposure to a broad range of tasks.” Inter partes review (IPR) cases were flagged as a particular highlight: “IPRs give people a way of challenging a patent in an administrative setting instead of a court proceeding. They tend to be smaller in magnitude and provide great opportunities for juniors to take on substantive work early on – I was preparing depositions within a month of starting here.”
Juniors can officially put up to 200 hours of pro bono work towards their billable hours target, but can apply for more to count in special circumstances. Our sources were grateful for the opportunity, “as we know so much about patent law – it's nice to have an alternative stream of work to pursue.” Some juniors had taken on IP-related cases in the trademark space, but we heard of many others connected to civil rights, bankruptcy, asylum and sexual discrimination matters. Pro bono principals are on hand to assign work in each office, and most locations are “partnered up with referral agencies that send work through – my office has links to immigration and LGBT-focused ones.”
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 20,662
- Average per US attorney: 56
Sources explained that Fish has to contend with the lack of diversity within both scientific academia and the legal industry. “There aren't a lot of female engineers across the US, for example,” one junior highlighted, before pointing to the firm's gender statistics: women make up 33.3% of the associate ranks and 20.3% of the partnership. The firm's ENPOWER women's initiative was established to drive those numbers up. It offers forums and mentoring circles within the firm's offices, and our female interviewees emphasized the presence of “strong women attorneys who have been great mentors.” Meanwhile Fish's 1L Diversity Fellowship Program aims to boost ethnic diversity by offering each fellow a paid summer associate position, plus mentoring opportunities and a scholarship of up to $10,000. In addition, the firm has five active affinity groups.
Training & Development
All new starters complete a program of “intensive training” when they start, which is called 'Fish-FYI' and runs for “the first few months while you're getting ramped up on matters.” After that, the firm does offer periodic three-day workshops on topics such as “conducting depositions,” which are run by external groups: "They normally occur every two to three months but are only offered to around ten to 15 associates, and you apply to attend.” We also heard about a 'patent boot camp,' which is held over two and a half days and covers the likes of patent application drafting and inventor interviews for the firm's junior patent prosecutors. These training programs are supplemented by weekly webinars presented by Fish's partners on more “narrow issues such as how to write a summary judgment brief or draft a discovery response. They're presented by stellar attorneys so their advice is very valuable, but it feels more like pointers than formal training,” some sources felt.
Hours & Compensation
Litigators agreed that the firm's billing requirement of 1,900 hours is achievable, though in the past we've heard that it can be a bit more of a challenge for patent prosecutors. “1,900 is the true minimum,” juniors emphasized. “It's totally acceptable to be at 1,901 hours, and there's no unspoken target of 1,950 or 2,000 hours." In the vast majority of cases, bonuses kick in at 1,900 and rise in increments depending on hours billed and other factors like the feedback received during reviews and commitment to 'firm-building' activities like business development. At 2,100 hours associates can expect to receive a Cravath-level bonus. Overall, juniors felt that there "needs to be a lot more transparency on how bonuses are earned."
An average day in the office ran from 9am to 6:30pm/7pm, but juniors were eager to tell us how flexible Fish is on working from home: “I usually do that once or twice a week,” one Bostonian revealed, “and so do a lot of people – there's a seamless transition between work and home, and the firm is respectful of everyone's families and home life.” While litigation can involve “an ebb and flow in caseload,” sources were pleased to tell us that they haven't “stayed late in the office once this year.” Some juniors did log back on for a few hours when they got home though.
Securing a job with Fish requires candidates to demonstrate certain traits, according to hiring partner Betty Chen. In particular, Chen is looking for “intellectual horsepower; team players who also have individual grit; the 'Fish' quality ofbeing passionate but not arrogant; and authenticity – people who are comfortable in their own skin.” Ticking these boxes should stand candidates in good stead during the OCIs. “We select a wide range of principals and associates to conduct the OCIs,” one associate-turned-interviewer told us, “as people at different levels will have different approaches in the terms of the questions they ask. For me, when I see someone with a stellar background, I like to ask what they think accounted for their success.”
Despite Fish's strong science and tech focus, sources told us that offers aren't just made to those with technical degrees, especially as the firm expands its commercial litigation practice. When hiring for that side of the practice, juniors emphasized that “we focus on those who show they have the potential to be exceptional litigators.” On the more technical side, Fish focuses a lot of its recruitment efforts on the Loyola Patent Law Interview Program in Chicago.
A “new callback system” awaits those who impress at the OCIs, associates revealed. “Rather than doing them one at a time, we now bring back the entire slate of candidates in a single day,” juniors explained. “They are then divided up into groups and assigned to a single attorney who will interview each one individually. The following day those attorneys then discuss the candidates internally.” Around 40 to 50 candidates make it onto the firm's summer program, which endeavors to authentically replicate “a compressed version of life as an associate.” It's not all work, work, work though, as there's a lively social calender which in the past has included indoor sky diving, Napa Valley wine tastings and dinners at partners' houses.
Chambers Associate: Interview with Peter Devlin, president and CEO of Fish & Richardson
Chambers Associate: How has the firm performed over the last year?
Peter Devlin: We've have had a strong year across the board. We are an IP-focused law firm and one of the hallmarks of our firm is its balance between litigation and patent and trademark prosecution – that balance is absolutely crucial to our success. In litigation I would highlight the continued growth of our patent litigation practice generally and specifically a big uptick in our Hatch Waxman and pharmaceutical patent litigation practice. In addition, for the past five years we have been the #1 law firm at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) and we’ve done a lot of work with the International Trade Commission in Washington DC – we are a leader in that field, which has been growing in importance as the global economy changes and in light of increased competition from China.
CA: Where do you hope to see the firm in the next five years?
PD: I would see us continuing to be the premier IP firm in the United States. I see our pharmaceutical practice continuing to grow; ten years ago we didn't have a pharma lit practice and now we have one that's among the best in the country – we are very proud of that. We want it to balance the tech side of the work that we do, so there's more of a 50/50 split between the two.
I see us growing our business from other countries. China is a key target for us, and we're looking to grow our client base there.
Finally, I would re-emphasize that for years what has differentiated us from other firms is our balance between litigation and patent and trademark prosecution. Being able to counsel clients on their IP portfolios has been a winning formula for us. Litigation is seen as sexier but having that balance is a game changer, and we will continue to maintain that.
CA: The firm has also been expanding its commercial litigation practice – what has motivated this?
PD: We have really focused on developing our commercial litigation practice this year, but in areas that mesh well with our ability to solve technical issues – product liability and mass tort cases, for example. We recently handled a major mass tort case for an IP client as part of a long-running dispute. We are always looking for ways to grow our footprint, brand and reputation, and this area fits in well with the firm's overall strategy.
CA: What effect do you think your lawyers' degree backgrounds have on the firm's culture?
PD: We are a firm whose lawyers have something in common beyond the law; whether that’s a love of and skill in science, mathematics or technology, it brings us all together. We have lawyers coming in from all different backgrounds, but science and tech runs through the bloodstream of the firm and that helps with cohesion.
CA: Could you walk us through the firm's regional specialisms?
PD: In the life sciences area, the offices we see as standing out are Boston (especially with regard to patent transactions for start-up biotech companies), Twin Cities, Silicon Valley, San Diego, and Delaware (especially for pharma litigation). However, in general I would note that one of the features of IP law is that it is really a national practice; our lawyers work for some of the largest technology companies around the world – some of which are located in places that aren't close to any of our offices. Our largest long-time client, Microsoft, has its headquarters in Washington state and we do a ton of the work for it across all of our offices – but there's no regional tie-in.
CA: How does the firm contend with the problem of diversity within scientific academia on top of that within law?
PD: It is a challenge – there's no question about that – and we have a lot of data pointing to that challenge. It makes us have to work harder to provide an environment that is attractive to women and diverse candidates from a pool that is much smaller. We work extremely hard on recruitment and retention. One of the things that is also very important is how we staff our matters. We pay attention to building diverse teams. We represent visionaries, so we know that creativity and innovation almost inevitably are the result of seeing the world from different perspectives. Having a diverse team enhances the quality of legal services we provide to our clients, sustains our standing as a premier IP law firm, and strengthens the fabric of our firm.
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: $416.8 million
- Partners (US): 182
- Associates (US): 162
- Main recruitment contact: Kristine McKinney, Chief Legal Talent and Inclusion Officer
- Hiring partner: Betty Chen
- Diversity officer: Kia Scipio, Diversity & Inclusion Manager
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2018: 17
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018: 25 1Ls: 10 (SEO: 7), 2Ls: 15 (SEO: 4)
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018 split by office: Atlanta: 2, Boston: 5, Dallas: 2, New York: 2, San Diego: 2, Silicon Valley: 3, Twin Cities: 3, Washington DC: 6
- Summer salary 2018: 1Ls: $3,500 per week 2Ls: $3,500 per week
- Split summers offered? Yes
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
Main areas of work
Recruitment outside OCIs:
We also hire from judicial clerkships, job fairs, write-in applications, and our attorney referral program.
Summer associate profile: Fish seeks students with excellent academic credentials and superior writing ability, and for many positions, a scientific or technical background is preferred (required for patent prosecution candidates).
Law students are a great fit for our summer program if they: convey a sincere career interest in intellectual property, always want to know how things work; thrive in a fast-paced, deadline oriented environment; and are motivated to take on challenges.
Summer associate components:
Summer associates at Fish participate in challenging work assignments, training with industry leaders, and activities that foster relationships with their future colleagues.
Summer projects may include preparing patent and trademark applications and conducting research for litigation cases, as well as opportunities to attend client meetings, depositions, and even trials.
The highlight of our summer training and integration is a firmwide retreat that features an award winning writing workshop, business development training, and an associate led discussion of life in Big Law. Summer associates bond with other students and attorneys across the firm, and establish relationships they will carry through their careers.
Throughout the summer, each office plans activities to welcome summer associates into the firm and city in which the office is located. Each summer associate is provided a mentor to answer questions and provide guidance. And all of our attorneys are invited to provide in-depth feedback which summer associates receive in their mid-summer and end of summer reviews.
Recruitment website: www.fr.com/careers
This Firm's Rankings in
Chambers USA Guide 2017
- Intellectual Property (Band 4)
- Intellectual Property: Patent Prosecution (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 1)
District of Columbia
- Intellectual Property: Litigation (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property (Band 4)
- Intellectual Property (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property: Patent (Band 3)
- Intellectual Property (Band 2)
USA - Nationwide
- Intellectual Property (Band 1)
- International Trade: Intellectual Property (Section 337) (Band 1)