With an increasingly balanced practice, this Big Apple IP boutique is making strides to address a tricky market for patent litigators.
ELECTRONICS has exploded at Fitzpatrick. "This year," chair of the recruiting committee Ha Kung Wong tells us, "we have experienced a lot of growth in certain areas, particularly in electronics." A thriving electronics practice – serving the likes of Canon (a client for over 35 years) and IBM (for over 20 years) – has been one of the contributing factors that has helped Fitzpatrick bounce back after a slower year in 2014. IP litigation has taken a hit at firms around the country for various reasons, including the 2014 Supreme Court ruling in Alice Corporation v CLS Bank International that certain business methods are no longer patentable.
Nevertheless, Fitzpatrick's strong reputation and bench of high-profile clients are seeing it through. The firm is still synonymous with pharmaceuticals work, and associates proudly stated that “all our clients are brand names, so when you start work you know it will be for them, which is exciting.” Others unabashedly proclaimed that “if you take a step back and look at who your clients are, it's cool.” These include Sanofi, Novartis, AstraZeneca and Gilead Sciences. Non-pharma clients include Mars and SC Johnson. But it's not just the clientele that draws associates in: “It's the fact that people are down to earth, and on top of that everyone is a fantastic attorney,” believed one insider. And the rankings back this up, with Fitzpatrick scoring highly in Chambers USA for intellectual property nationwide and in New York.
The firm's main practice is divided between litigation and prosecution. Most New Yorkers focus on litigation, while DC juniors normally take the prosecution route. Smaller groups including trademarks, copyrights, licensing & transactions, PTO contested proceedings, due diligence, e-discovery and ITC Section 337 litigation are also featured throughout all locations. Nevertheless, associates found more opportunities for exposure to these subgroups in the largest office, New York. Staffing requires associates to “fill out availability reports every Friday which are reviewed by two assigning partners.” DC differs by forgoing the use of assigning partners but uses “a docket” – an assignment list that's emailed around. Additionally, associates recount that “once you make relationships with partners they can assign you work.” Interviewees recalled that in the past year or two, slower business meant new associates weren't staffed on cases for several months, and did things like training and pro bono instead. However, one junior commended this year's efforts as “now all first-years are staffed, which is telling of the caseload we are taking on.”
"I've been second chair at depositions for smaller cases.”
Training & Development
Newbies are initially enrolled in a two-week bootcamp in New York that is a “crash course on the stuff they don't teach you in law school. It's about the day-to-day practice of the law. It's not pretty, but you need it to do a good job.” Patent prosecutors are additionally tutored in writing techniques for applications by “expert writers in the field who train you in syntax.” Juniors are then given biannual coaching with the National Institute for Trial Advocacy (NITA) which focuses on “the sexier part of the day-to-day stuff like interviewing witnesses, prepping experts and conducting depositions. You prepare exercises from a closed universe of fact. Actors then help you put into practice what you've learned and you get a critique.” Even summers “take two NITA courses.”
“It's the sexier part of the day-to-day stuff."
After putting the training into action, associates receive “end-of-year evaluations.” Evaluations are sent “to partners that you have worked with and they review your work. Two partners that you haven’t worked with then go over them with you, so that the process remains anonymous.” While many interviewees felt that the system was adequate, one New Yorker wished that “there was something more concrete in place so that if there was an issue partners would tell you there and then what went wrong and how to fix it, otherwise it’s left to the end of the year.” However, juniors appreciated that the review system operates under the constraints of time and circumstance as “it’s understandable why there is only one review per year because it takes a lot of work.”
Offices & Culture
"By the time you leave at night there is carnage everywhere."
Despite having three hubs in New York, DC and Orange County, the larger New York mothership sets the tone for all offices. Sandwiched between Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall, associates mulled over the pros and cons of being “right in the middle of everything.” One fledgling legal eagle intimated that “it's just jam-packed. Sometimes there are concerts nearby and by the time you leave at night there is carnage everywhere and you feel like, oh I want to be a part of whatever that was!” But on the upside, all associates are treated to individual offices, unlike many other firms in Manhattan. One insider speculated: “I think window size is based on seniority. When you get to be a third or fourth year, the amount of windows you have goes up!”
Rookies also suggested that Fitzpatrick felt like “a boutique firm where I could learn more” while “catering to people from a whole range of positions in life both professionally and socially.” Socially speaking, in the summer months people in the Big Apple are treated to happy hours on the firm's onsite terrace. “We hire a bartender to serve drinks and we play games like Cornhole. It's silly and fun but that's what makes it great because there are high levels of participation.” The “Fitzpatrick Olympics” add to “the palpable comradery,” where attorneys compete in a combination of traditional and “original” games in “teams made up of lawyers you haven't worked with before, so it is a great way to meet new people.” As IP specialists, however, “the science plays a part in the culture.” Interviewees chuckled when asked if they felt “nerdy.” Some explained: “To a degree we are a bit nerdy. But people don't walk around in thick glasses or only talk about science. We do have 'sciencey' interests and people actually like to read science articles for fun and not just work.” The connecting thread throughout all offices, nevertheless, is that lawyers are “personable and approachable who you can relate to.”
Hours & Compensation
Sources testified that “we are in New York, so we are given a load of work to do with long hours.” The annual billable hours target of 2,160 is "a 'soft' 2,160. The goal is 180 hours a month, but if we don't hit it it's okay.” Nonetheless, associates are far from taking it easy, with most clocking in at least ten-hour working days in the office, and some working late into the night from home. Conversely, one interviewee felt that taking work home was the firm's way of supporting its staff: “As long as you get the work done on time there is a lot of flexibility.”
“We are still in New York, so we are given a load of work to do with long hours.”
Compensation is lockstep, and bonuses are awarded based on hours plus other important things like quality of work, marketing activity, pro bono and recruiting support. The discretionary element left some sources "confused.” In 2014, Fitzpatrick's revenue dropped 11.4% and partner profits fell, which impacted bonuses, associates believed. Some were disappointed to fall short of the perceived market rate by up to $10,000. However, Ha Kung Wong reasons that “our bonus structure is merit-based and is determined on a year-by-year basis. We look at what occurs throughout the industry, but we make our own decisions.”
“The cases were pretty big wins with the Legal Aid Society."
Sources revealed that “the firm is very committed to pro bono. We are offered help with our 50-hour requirement of non-billable work needed to pass the Bar.” Although there is no definitive pro bono target, a conscious effort is made by the pro bono partner to alert associates to multiple opportunities daily via emails and lunch events. Juniors have “free rein to work in different practice areas” with numerous pro bono organizations including the Pro Bono Partnership, the Federal Circuit Bar Association Pro Bono Program and Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts. Stellar efforts have earned a few associate awards for their individual contributions: “The cases were pretty big wins with the Legal Aid Society so the organization gave them accolades for their work.”
Pro bono hours
Interviewees said Fitzpatrick's diversity is pretty much what you'd expect in BigLaw. “It's not very diverse, especially in terms of partners, who are mostly white and male.” Associates blamed one factor in particular. “It’s not for lack of trying,” mused one, “but rather it’s the product of the IP sector.” Others concurred, saying: “The IP sector makes the candidate pool shallower. There aren't a lot of female engineers who also go to law school.” However, many insiders praised Fitzpatrick’s efforts as “there is an effort being made. The first-year class who have just joined are diverse and this is the beginning of them trying to put it into practice.”
"Epecially supportive of its women attorneys.”
“It's the airport test when it comes down to it."
“We have a unique atmosphere here. We all have science backgrounds and scientists in all fields generally like to collaborate,” Ha Kung Wong suggests. But it isn't just the science that's important. Insiders insisted that it's equally important to have “a personality that fits the firm's personality.” Wong likes candidates to be “creative thinkers because we have creative clients.” Overwhelmingly, the firm is looking for "team players.” One associate summarized that “it's the airport test when it comes down to it: would you want to be stranded at an airport with this person?”
Strategy & Future
Referring to the growth of electronics in particular at Fitzpatrick, Ha Kung Wong says: "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." Associates revealed that despite the huge focus on pharmaceuticals, “our biggest client is Canon.” Therefore, savvy juniors recognized that “we are trying to grow out from the model of the past and push the boundaries to the mechanical/electric side. We have a lot of PhDs but we want to push in the electrical direction.”
"We have a lot of PhDs but we want to push in the electrical direction.”
The firm is “healthy at the moment,” with all departments reporting an increase in workflow as “people seem busier firmwide.” This is comforting news for most juniors, who felt: “We've had steady work this year. Because of the revenue drop, the firm was equilibrizing in terms of associate numbers, but now we balance. Long may it last.”
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.
Fitzpatrick, Cella, Harper & Scinto
1290 Avenue of the Americas,
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 3
- Number of international offices: 0
- Partners (US): 54
- Counsel (US): 7
- Associates (US): 82
- Summer Salary 2016
- 1Ls: $3,076/week
- 2Ls: $3,076/week
- Post 3Ls: N/A
- 1Ls hired? Yes
- Split summers offered? Only in exceptional circumstances
- Summers 2016: 9
- Offers/acceptances 2015: 7 offers, 7 acceptances
Main areas of work
All areas of intellectual property law, including patents, trademarks, copyrights, unfair competition and trade secrets.
Fitzpatrick, Cella, Harper & Scinto has grown to approximately 175 attorneys in New York, Washington, DC and Orange County, California. 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.
• Number of 1st year associates: 9
• Number of 2nd year associates: 9
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $160,000
• Clerking policy: Yes
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:
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 2016:
Cornell Job Fair, Emory in New York, New York Interview Program, University of Connecticut NY Job Fair, and the Loyola Patent Interview Program.
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.