Fitzpatrick, Cella, Harper & Scinto - The Inside View

The “nerdy” lawyers of this sizable boutique put the 'intellectual' in intellectual property.

“ALMOST everybody here has at least an undergraduate degree in hard science or engineering. That makes for a unique atmosphere at a law firm.” Associates proudly dubbed Fitzpatrick “one of the premier firms for name brand patent litigation,” and not just because it's the source of their paychecks. The firm scores highly in Chambers USA for its IP work both in New York and nationally.

Historically, its forte has been pharmaceuticals – Fitzpatrick was involved in the first ever 'Hatch-Waxman' drug patenting lawsuit – but electronics work is on the increase for clients including IBM and Canon. Though the firm has bases in Washington, DC and Orange County, its New York HQ is the center of the action. Size matters: “The firm is fairly large” for an IP boutique, but “almost all the attorneys are in the same office, so you get to know everybody better and develop relationships quite quickly.”

The Work

Newcomers almost exclusively begin in the Big Apple, DC traditionally taking one a year. The firm's main practice is divided between patent litigation and prosecution. Most New Yorkers focus on litigation, while DC attorneys normally take the prosecution route. The latter have a docket for work distribution and are supervised by one partner, whereas litigators operate in “teams that come and go as cases do.” There is a weekly survey to identify who needs work, and assignment partners who “try to match you with cases fitting your technical expertise.” Associates used this system to steer their practice where they chose. “I wanted to do some transactional work, so I put in a request and was almost immediately put on a transactional assignment.”

“There's no real routine.”

On the litigation side, tasks include “a lot of legal research, document review, drafting discovery requests and letters to opposing counsel,” alongside the inevitable due diligence. A handful of lucky juniors got to go to trial within a year of starting, “prepping witnesses and taking research assignments directly from the client. It was cool to get that exposure as a first-year, and hugely helpful as you can then apply the experience to the early stages of a case.” As a lawyer progresses, so does the nature of the work, though “it changes a lot and it's nice that there's no real routine” day to day. “Senior colleagues never want to test you, they legitimately try to find answers to questions through you.”

Patent prosecutors in DC commonly saw more mechanical and electronics clients than their pharma-focused New York counterparts. “We're typically responding to office actions, involving the US Patent and Trademark Office and international obligations. There's a lot of filing information and disclosing statements to patent offices, as well as miscellaneous letters to clients.” DC associates also got to tackle inter partes review (IPR), which operates under a low burden of proof and faster time-frames than traditional litigation. One was “personally in charge of compiling IPR statistics for pitches, checking new files and collecting information on them,” and relished the chance to do it all again.

“I'm not overwhelmed but still get a good number of hours.”

Interviewees praised the “merit-based system. If you show you're responsible doing something, they give you greater responsibility. There are not a lot of arbitrary roadblocks based on what year you graduated.” Even from the start, juniors were “sometimes surprised with how much you get trusted. You'd think as a first-year you'd be on training wheels, but you're trusted with a lot.” Some felt that “work was lighter at times than I'd like,” partly down to the natural litigation ebb and flow. Most associates saw “a good amount of work. I'm not overwhelmed but still get a good number of hours.”

Training & Development

Newbies are initially enrolled in a two-week bootcamp in New York. This is built upon by monthly presentations by senior lawyers, covering different topics depending on your class year. “They're very practical, and tell you where to look for answers to problems.” Juniors are also given biannual coaching with the National Institute for Trial Advocacy (NITA), with actors playing witnesses in a mock trial situation. Juniors were “happy with the level of training – it's just enough that it's not annoying.” Those in DC had the downside of “not being there in person for a lot of it, but it would be impractical to come to New York for everything.” Some “would like more” day-to-day assessment of their work, but others “worked with very receptive feedback, there haven't been any issues,” suggesting that “you have to be proactive.” A formal annual review around November helps clarify any “macro-level” problems.

Culture & Diversity

Sharing science backgrounds, “everybody's a little nerdy, but still very friendly and social – not stereotypical awkward engineers! Recruitment brings in a good mix of people who you want to talk to and work with.” There are differences between offices: “DC is very laid back and more personable, New York a bit more intense – but it's not stressful, nobody's yelling at secretaries!” The firm encourages a familial atmosphere with happy hours and summer events like the highly popular Fitzpatrick Olympics. “You're in teams with people you don't generally work with for events like rock climbing, dodgeball and giant Jenga.” Though Washingtonians saw less fun outside of the summer period, they “make it up very well for ourselves,” running teams in local sports leagues. Across the board “there is a lot of camaraderie, the mood is always good, but this year there's been a downside because people are unclear as to where the firm is going.”

“Not stereotypical awkward engineers!”

A general lack of transparency was seen by many as a problem. One junior described it as their “biggest criticism. The firm is very opaque in terms of management decisions. There was an instance where some administrative staff were let go and people here only found out about it online.” Town hall meetings are held at least once a year, and are “usually informative.” This opportunity to ask “literally any question” was credited as one way the firm provides some transparency, but in general “they could be more detailed in what they tell us.”

Many reasoned that “given that engineering and science is male-dominated, there will inevitably be more men here,” but sources were pleased to report that “diversity is on the rise. The latest class is 50/50 male and female, and we have colleagues representing almost every ethnic background and sexual orientation from all over the world.” New York was seen as holding the diversity edge over DC, partly a result of the latter's smaller overall headcount. Projects including a Woman's Initiative Program prompted associates to conclude that “the firm is doing well and going in the right direction.”

Hours & Compensation

“180 hours a month is the official target,” but sources “don't think that's a hard goal. You definitely want to get around that many but it's not something I've had to worry about. They're flexible.” A typical day was “9am to 6pm, creeping toward 7pm,” with some reporting longer hours around trial time. Juniors are encouraged to take their vacation, and while enjoying time off “you don't have to look at your email. I responded to an email while I was on vacation just before trial, and was told to not respond to any more!”

“It's something we'd like them to be more transparent about.”

At the time of interviews, associates were “pretty happy with the salary, but it's a little frustrating that other firms went up and Fitzpatrick hasn't made a decision or told us what they're doing.” Compensation is lockstep, and bonuses are awarded based on hours plus other important factors including quality of work, marketing activity, pro bono and recruiting support. Many were frustrated to be left in the dark about the chances of a raise to match the market. “That's something we'd like them to be more transparent about.” The firm did go on to confirm it was matching the $180,000 market starting salary.

Pro Bono

Every pro bono hour counts toward billables, making it “a lot more inviting, and a lot of first-years use pro bono to fill out their time, which is definitely encouraged.” Juniors took on cases including housing projects, asylum cases, veterans' claims and contracts work, relishing the chance to step out of their comfort zone – though pro bono IP was also available. “I got a ton of motion writing experience, and a lot more autonomy getting to see the running of a case.” Although there is no definitive pro bono target, a conscious effort is made by the pro bono partner to alert associates to opportunities.

Pro bono hours

  •   For all US attorneys: 3,710
  •   Average per US attorney: 28


“Everybody gets their own office,” unlike many other firms in Manhattan, “with one or two windows – as you work up you get two!” There was friendly competition over which base is best: one source liked DC “a lot more than New York – there's a lot more room and you get tons of privacy,” whereas those in the firm's headquarters championed their location. “You're in the center of everything, it's easy to commute to. The lobby is beautiful and there's really nice décor.” The only disadvantage was congestion over the holidays as “we're right by the Radio City Christmas tree!”

New York's mothership sets the tone for all offices and “most decisions are made by the management committee there.” Associates reported reasonably frequent communication between bases, and “some teams are cross-staffed,” particularly for litigation. “We do manage some clients autonomously in DC, and definitely make client decisions here,” suggesting some degree of devolution.

Strategy & Future

If business stays healthy, associates fancy their chances at partnership down the line. “People reckon the chances are pretty decent because of the relatively small class sizes, better than at a larger firm.” Last year the chair of the firm's recruiting committee, Ha Kung Wong, told us about a boom in electronics work at Fitzpatrick, and this year's interviewees suggested this was set to continue. “We're getting a pretty decent influx of work in the tech space, including software and electrical engineering, it's still on the increase.” Management committee member Mike Sandonato tells us the firm will “be maintaining our emphasis on pharmaceuticals and electronics, and at the same time expanding to other sectors that are interesting to us.”

Interview with management committee member Mike Sandonato


Chambers Associate: Just as an introduction, what are some of the most exciting things that the firm has done over the past year or so?

Mike Sandonato: One thing that comes to mind immediately (probably because it was one of my cases) is the general exclusion order, or GEO, that we obtained from the ITC for our long-time client Canon, to protect its innovations in the laser toner cartridge area.  A GEO is the most powerful type of remedy that the ITC offers, and directs U.S. Customs to stop infringing products at the border, irrespective of who is trying to bring them in.  It's pretty rare to get one, and the ITC never issues more than handful in any given year.  So getting one for Canon was immensely satisfying to us. 

On the pharmaceuticals side we've had several exciting trials representing branded drug companies in the last year.  To cite just one example, we successfully enforced our client Sanofi’s patents on its important Multaq product, which reduces risk for patients with atrial fibrillation, against generic manufacturers.  That was a key win for Sanofi.

CA: Last year we heard that the firm was seeing a lot of growth in the electronics sector, is that still on the increase?

MS: Very much so!  For example, in the last year or so we filed a slew of smartphone cases for our new client Phillips, which are now pending in Delaware, and we will be moving them closer to trial this year. And late last year, we took a case to trial in Texas for a company called Geotab, which makes GPS-based truck-tracking systems.  We are a firm that puts a high value on our relationships with our long-term clients, but it’s equally important to us to represent new clients in diverse industries.  Our philosophy is that today’s new clients are tomorrow’s long-standing ones. 

This year certainly is off to a roaring start for us.  In early May, we’ll be taking a case to trial in Tennessee for our client MasterCraft, one of the world leaders in water-ski and wake surfing boats.  And right after that, in early June, we will be taking a case to trial in Georgia for Canon. 

CA: What’s the long-term vision for Fitzpatrick?

MS: Our core mission is pretty simple: give the highest level of representation to our clients, so that they keep coming back to us and so our successes for them can be leveraged to attract new clients and new cases.  To get a little more specific, we will be maintaining our emphasis on pharmaceuticals and electronics sectors, and at the same time expanding our practice to other sectors that are interesting to us.

CA: How does the firm compete in the crowded New York market?

MS: We tout our expertise, and our track record of successes. And we pride ourselves on our ability to master complex sciences and technologies, deconstruct them and present them to judges and juries in understandable and interesting ways.  When we try cases, we never think in terms of “dumbing it down,” and instead think about how we can teach in an effective and persuasive way. 

CA: How would you describe the relationship between the firm's New York office and its others?

MS:  We follow the one firm model.  For example, I am based in our New York office, but work with partners and associates in our DC office regularly, and am more or less in constant communication with them when the cases we are handling together are active.  In terms of staffing, structure, compensation and firm governance, we are a single, unified firm.

CA: To what extent is the culture of the firm defined by its attorneys' scientific backgrounds?

MS: I think it's fair to say that there's a commonality at Fitzpatrick, in that all of our lawyers genuinely enjoy and have an interest in science and technology. Just about all of us set out to be IP lawyers, and love and want to be doing what we are doing. 

CA: How do you ensure that associates are kept in the loop about the firm's status and strategy going forward?

MS: We believe in maintaining very open channels of communication, both formally through periodic meetings and in informal ways. Partners and associates here are close, and speak with one another quite freely.

CA: Finally, if you could give one piece of advice to a student looking to go into intellectual property law, what would it be?

MS: First off, make sure that being an IP lawyer really is what you want.  It’s an incredibly rewarding practice area, in terms of professional satisfaction and in many other ways, but it also is very demanding.  So be sure that it’s right for you.  Beyond that, as you are looking at different firms, take care to get a sense for the number of IP cases and clients that they have, and who those clients are.  If IP is what you want, you want to be sure that you start off somewhere that will keep you busy doing IP full time. 


Interview with chair of the recruiting committee Ha Kung Wong 

Chambers Associate: How many associates do you take on each year and how are they divided across offices?

Ha Kung Wong: We are not limited based on an arbitrary numerical target. Rather, our approach has always been to assess our intake on the quality of our candidates. We have historically had about six to 14 summer associates each year. In addition to this, we are now undertaking increased lateral recruiting. This year we have experienced a lot of growth in certain areas, particularly in electronics. So we have brought on five lateral associates, from all levels of seniority, many of whom have joined us from large general practice firms. This is significant since it demonstrates that IP law firms, like ours, are continuing to grow and continue to be competitive with general practice firms. And because of that, we intend to continue our increased focus on hiring laterals to continue expanding our practice.

In terms of which office location our new associates decide to practice, it's partly based on location and partly based on what work the individual wants to engage in. As our biggest office, New York offers the greatest variety of work opportunities. However, we work seamlessly between all locations. For example, our ITC work is sometimes staffed between DC and New York. Our pharma practice and patent prosecution practice interacts with Orange County. Nowadays, because of the advancements in technology, it's much easier to interact across all locations which make the distinctions between them less significant. All offices are just as effective and committed to the professional development of its associates.

CA: Is it a pre-requisite to have a science degree or a technological background before working at Fitzpatrick?

HKW: Yes, a science degree or a technological background is generally a requirement. However, there can be exceptions to this rule. If a candidate had relevant work experience or expertise in a particularly relevant area of practice, we would look favorably on that. We like to have indicators that a candidate is interested in science and technology generally and has the ability to handle complex scientific and technological issues in relation to the law. IP presents unique challenges in terms of representation at court or in the US Patent Office. For example, it is difficult enough to present a case convincingly to a judge or jury. With IP, we have the added challenge of needing to explain the science or technology. Having the proper background greatly increases one’s ability to effectively do this.

CA: Associates mentioned that diversity is an issue in the IP sector. What is the firm doing to promote diversity in its hiring practice?

HKW: We have always focused on trying to increase diversity. It is, however, more challenging for us as the pool is smaller in IP. But we have made great strides, largely due to the support of our management and diversity committee. When we send our interviewers to OCIs, we ensure that they are aware of our diversity initiative. We want them to be especially aware of this when interviewing candidates. Diversity is important because our clients come to us to get the best advice from the best people with a variety of experiences and ideas. It is important for our clients to be presented with critical viewpoints. To promote this, we partake in a lot of different programs, notably the Law Preview Scholarship. This is a preparatory course for law school students to experience IP and get to know about it.

CA: Could you tell us briefly about what is involved in your summer program?

HKW: It's unique. We staff 50% of our summers’ time on a litigation team. Working on a litigation team is different than working on an isolated litigation project. On a project, you might be asked to do one-off research without follow up or having the opportunity to participate in the overall strategy of the case. On a team, the work is different. For example, summers will be asked to complete research, but then analyze the issues and make suggestions in conjunction with legal theories and how they may impact the overall strategy of the case. This is what it is actually like being a lawyer and it provides the summer with a continuous experience throughout the program. The other 50% is for the summers to explore other opportunities that they are interested in. Also, in terms of education, summers also receive two NITA [National Institute for Trial Advocacy] courses on fact investigation and deposition techniques, as well as weekly internal training sessions over lunch. We do this because we want summers to make the most of their experience.

CA: What sort of person are you looking for and what makes them stand out in an interview?

HKW: We have a unique atmosphere here. We all have science backgrounds and scientists in all fields generally like to collaborate. As scientists, this makes us different from other firms that may have cultures that encourage self-promotion over professional development. Here we want people who share our mindset of accomplishing goals together as a team. We also want creative thinkers because we have creative clients.

There are many factors that go into a successful interview, but there are a few in particular that we like to see. As discussed before, a candidate needs to demonstrate an interest and a desire to work in science and technology. Additionally, a candidate needs strong communication skills. Communication is a critical skillset for IP lawyers. Being able to carry conversations and convey complex ideas in an understandable and convincing way can be just as important as having an impressive resume. Just because you've done well at a top-tier law school doesn't mean you automatically have good communication skills.

CA: Do you have any top tips on what you shouldn't do in an interview at Fitzpatrick?

HKW: Candidates should communicate the important aspects of what makes them a good candidate. If you have an interview with us, we know you are smart. But the key is to highlight your most unique aspects. What tends to happen is that candidates will memorize a 'pitch' that they use at every interview. Show your employer you care about them, as much as they should care about you.

CA: In light of the recent up-scaling of the industry bonus rate, can you explain what Fitzpatrick's plans are for associate bonuses?

HKW: Our bonus structure is merit based and are determined on a year by year basis. We look at what occurs throughout the industry, but we make our own decisions.

CA: Fitzpatrick has had a busy year, especially in electronics. Have these plans to expand affected the firm's approach to the associate partner track?

HKW: In terms of the partner track, the time-scale varies. We are full equity partners here. So we want the right people who are dedicated to the practice and who want to share in the future of Fitzpatrick. Our hope is that everyone who starts with us will ultimately earn their opportunity to become a partner.


Get Hired

A scientific background is invaluable to Fitzpatrick associates working with pharma and electronics clients. Though sources were “told by some people that you can do this with any background, I find it very helpful to have a scientific mind. IP in general needs a scientific mind, but the legal aspect requires a different kind of thought.” One summarized that “given the work we do, most people need to be familiar with science or have shown the ability to learn. I don't think it's officially set in stone, but almost everybody here has a scientific or engineering degree.”

The firm conducts OCIs across the country, but many of our sources had come through via the Loyola Patent Interview Program in Chicago, which one suggested “felt more like a conversation than an interview.” Callback interviews include an official 30 minute session with two partners, and either lunch or a chat with associates at the firm. “The latter is done in a more social setting, to gauge whether they're a person you'd want to work with.” Interview questions were described as “basic” and included queries like “why are you interested in IP law? What about Fitzpatrick is interesting to you?” Questions also covered resume experience and whether candidates preferred the idea of patent litigation or prosecution work.

Associates recommended that candidates “do a lot of research, it helps to know lots about the firm and its history going into the interviews, all of that is readily available,” which is good advice regardless of which firm you're applying to. “Interviewers want you you to be intelligent but also able to carry a conversation.” Above all, “be yourself in an interview. If you fit, you fit.”


The Hatch-Waxman Act of 1984

Officially known as the Drug Price Competition and Patent Term Restoration Act (but that's a lot more difficult to remember), Congress' amendment to the 1938 Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act was its means of getting more generic drugs into the pharmaceuticals market. A generic drug is one with the same strength, quality, intended use and general qualities of a branded product, introduced once the patent on what it is based on expires. Because there's no need to spend money on developing them, generic drugs are typically manufactured and sold a lot cheaper than the 'original', driving market prices down and making pharmaceuticals more accessible to the public.

Before the Hatch-Waxman act was introduced, generic companies could get their drugs approved via an NDA [New Drug Application], but the process of doing so was time-consuming, expensive and inconsistent, and relatively few generics made it to market. The amendment to the original legislation introduced the ANDA [Abbreviated New Drug Application], simplifying the process of getting generic drugs approved and opening the floodgates for an unprecedented wave of products. Some compromise was formed with brand companies via the granting of five year extensions on patent rights.

Whether all this was a good idea or not depends on who you ask, and whether they gained or lost money from the changes. But those changes were profound: in 1983, the market share of generic drugs was only 13%; today, it's somewhere around 80%, and that's only expected to climb as patents on popular products expire in the next few years. IP practices and boutiques like Fitzpatrick frequently deal with ANDAs, and the firm was described by associates we spoke to as “the gold standard in Hatch-Waxman litigation.” Getting the chance to do some was a coveted opportunity, so an imminent increase in applications is good news for Fitzpatrick juniors.

Fitzpatrick, Cella, Harper & Scinto

1290 Avenue of the Americas,
New York,
NY 10104-3800

  • Head Office: New York, NY 
  • Number of domestic offices: 3
  • Number of international offices: 0
  • Partners (US): 47
  • Counsel (US): 6
  • Associates (US): 58
  • Main Recruitment Contact: Nicole Cohen
  • Hiring Partner: Ha Kung Wong
  • Recruitment website:
  • Diversity officer: Elizabeth Holowacz
  • Summer Salary 2017 
  • 1Ls: $3,500/week
  • 2Ls: $3,500/week
  • Post 3Ls: N/A
  • 1Ls hired? Yes
  • Split summers offered? Only in exceptional circumstances
  • Summers 2017: 8
  • Offers/acceptances 2016: 6 offers, 6 acceptances

Main areas of work
All areas of intellectual property law, including patents, trademarks, copyrights, unfair competition and trade secrets.

Firm profile
We have one of the premier patent litigation practices in the nation and also prosecute more than twice as many patents as any other New York-based firm. The quality and experience of our attorneys is second to none. In addition to superior legal qualifications, the overwhelming majority of our attorneys hold scientific or engineering degrees and many also have substantial industry experience. Our attorneys also have a long history of pro bono work, as well as active involvement in bar associations and community organizations.

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 7
• Number of 2nd year associates: 8
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• Clerking policy: Yes

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
American, Boston College, Boston University, Brooklyn, Cardozo, Columbia, Fordham, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, New York Law School, New York University, Notre Dame, Pace, Rutgers, Seton Hall, St John’s, University of Houston, University of Michigan, University of New Hampshire and the University of Pennsylvania.

Job Fairs/Consortia attending in 2017:
Cornell Job Fair, Emory in New York, New York Interview Program, University of Connecticut NY Job Fair, and the Loyola Patent Interview Program.

Summer details
Summer associate profile:
Fitzpatrick is looking for a diverse group of summer associates with science or engineering degrees. Our summer associates are team-oriented, motivated and have excelled academically. We like to see candidates that are enthusiastic about IP.

Summer program components:
Summer associates will have significant involvement in intellectual property matters, including playing substantive roles in litigation teams. Each summer associate has a partner and associate mentor to provide counsel and advice with assignments. Fitzpatrick will also provide formal training through seminars, a legal writing course, a fact investigation course and deposition workshop.