For all problems IP, there's no pick like Fitzpatrick.
THE firm's minimalist motto 'We Are IP' leaves no one pondering what it is that this brainy bunch do. And just in case it still wasn't obvious enough, Chambers USA gives the firm impressive marks for its IP work both in New York and nationwide. Unsurprisingly, that particular focus tends to attract a particular kind of person: “Most people here are engineers or scientists of some kind so we all tend to be a bit nerdy!” sources admitted. This went down a treat as it meant associates “instantly had something in common.”
Although Fitzpatrick's expertise focuses on intellectual property, within that sphere the firm spans every industry you could possibly patent. We're talking pharmaceutical, electronics, life sciences, energy, telecommunications and automotive, just to name a few. “The firm made a name for itself in doing branded companies versus generic companies litigation, though we have branched out a bit now. We certainly still do a lot in that field, but we've diversified a bit.” Famously, Fitzpatrick was involved in the first ever Hatch-Waxman case for Merck & Co back in the 80s, and the area remains a strength for the firm. That said, the firm's client roster has certainly expanded on from pharma companies, and now includes big names such as Canon, American Express, Calvin Klein and IBM.
Newbies almost exclusively begin in the Big Apple, while DC traditionally takes one or two a year. New York has more of a focus on patent litigation, and DC patent prosecution, though litigators have occasionally been found in DC and vice versa. Litigators have assigning partners and a weekly survey to “let the partners know what you're working on, if you need more work, and how much time you think you'll have available.” However, many also found they could get work more informally “from partners you've already worked with.” Patent prosecutors have a docket for work distribution and are supervised by one partner.
“As a junior, you're not just relegated to menial tasks."
Litigators still do a hefty amount of work on Hatch-Waxman lawsuits for pharma companies (representing the branded side), though the range of clients has expanded to include biomedical device companies and electronics companies like Phillips and Canon. Tasks have included “drafting discovery requests and responses, drafting briefs and letters to opposing counsel, legal research, and of course doc review which is always fun...” Sources also had experience writing expert reports and deposition outlines. “As a junior, you're not just relegated to menial tasks. You'll have to do some, but generally they let you be very involved.” Recently, there's also been an uptick in due diligence work: “If, say, a big company is looking to acquire a smaller company, we'll do the due diligence on the IP side and give our opinion on the strength of the portfolio before the purchase.” The due diligence teams are usually small, so client contact is pretty common.
On the prosecution side, juniors saw a higher portion of mechanical and electronics clients – “there's been work regarding fire protection systems, sprinkler systems, printers and fixing devices for printers.” Sources mentioned that “we get a lot of applications that have been filed in foreign countries, so either we file them in the US Patent and Trademark Office, or work with clients to draft the applications so they originate in the USPTO.” Tasks involve everything from drafting the application “all the way to issuance and enforcement against competitors.” Some also tackled inter partes review (IPR), which operates under faster timeframes than traditional litigation. Juniors here felt their responsibility was “relatively high for someone at my experience level.”
Training & Development
“For new first years they do a two-week boot camp with a bunch of trainings,” followed by periodic training on various things like motion practice, collecting evidence and writing. Juniors found the annual training program through NITA (the National Institute of Trial Advocacy) to be “very helpful” as it tends to go through “all aspects of a trial, so you get to practice getting facts from witnesses, taking depositions, writing motions – the whole gamut.” Other than that, juniors found “hands-down learning, hitting the ground and just doing it” to be an effective way to learn. Annual reviews provide formal feedback, usually around November time. These also “give you a chance to raise any concerns you have about your own development.”
"You can have a conversation about normal topics with people, not just limited to work.”
“It's very close-knit,” said juniors about the culture. “Since it's a smaller firm and everyone has similar backgrounds, there's a lot more of a sense of community.” Some initially presumed that “a bunch of people with scientific backgrounds who are also lawyers wouldn't be a great mix,” but then found that “the people here are really great. Everyone is friendly and you can have a conversation about normal topics with people, not just limited to work.” Every year associates mention the "nerdy vibe," but in a way that makes colleagues endearing and interesting. This isn't exclusive to Fitzpatrick; sociable nerds seem to find their natural habitat in patent law.
The firm goes to some effort to give its lawyers a break from the patents. There's the Fitzpatrick Olympics (“we break into teams and do things like rock climbing, basketball, bowling…”), and we also heard of attorneys “going to see Jerry Seinfield doing standup, a private tour of the Guggenheim, and cooking classes.” The bulk of events happen in the summer, but “associates have impromptu happy hours and do stuff on the weekends sometimes.”
“When you look at the firm or the website, it's not the most diverse firm in New York, but every year there are more and more women and minorities in the summer classes.” The firm is aware that “engineering and science tend to be more male-dominated,” so “they're certainly making an effort there.” For instance, one source highlighted that “the last first-year class was all women, and one guy.” Fitzpatrick has an active diversity committee, and a Women's Initiative Program.
Hours & Compensation
The firm doesn't set a hard target for hours, though it is “encouraged to do around 180 a month.” Juniors noted that “there will be months when you're under and it's not like you'll get in trouble for that.” Associates appreciated a certain flexibility over day-to-day hours, though most added they'll “stay as long as it takes to get the work done.” That said, “there's no one patrolling the halls to see if you're in at 9am.” When we asked our sources about their hours, most mentioned getting in at 9am and leaving at a time that allows them to see the family and take the dog out – between 6 and 7, unless there's a trial coming to a head. “During the week it's obviously more difficult, but for the most part, on weekends I have time to go out and do my own thing.”
“There's no one patrolling the halls to see if you're in at 9am.”
After last year's salary uncertainty, this year associates were pleased to report Fitzpatrick had matched the market raise. Bonuses were still a source of some uncertainty: “They say bonuses are discretionary, but it's not the most transparent process.” Some speculated that factors such as hours, quality of work, and how the business is doing might affect an attorney's bonus. Sources added: “A few years ago they started the initiative of combat pay – if you've done substantially more hours than others, you'll be rewarded, but we're still not entirely sure how that works.” The firm tells us that everybody gets a discretionary bonus, even if they don't hit the hours target.
Every pro bono hour counts toward billables, though “it is up to the individual attorney as to how committed they want to be to pro bono.” The firm send out a plethora of opportunities, but “also allows the associates to branch out and find their own opportunities if they want.” Fitzpatrick partners with organizations such as the Legal Aid Society, and Catholic Charities in DC. Matters have included immigration and asylum cases, housing matters, disability matters, and domestic abuse cases, with some IP and copyright-related matters being on offer too.
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 2,219
- Average per US attorney: 19.2
“Private outdoor terrace where we can have lunch, and where the happy hours are held.”
Sandwiched between MoMA and Radio City Music Hall, the firm's midtown location has everything on its doorstep and is “easy to get to from anywhere.” Many praised the “fully stocked fridges with different kinds of free soda,” as well as the “private outdoor terrace where we can have lunch, and where the happy hours are held.” The DC office is also in a well-connected, central location – “you can get to it without having to drive.” It's near “a wealth of restaurants, shops andhistorical sites.” The office itself has been recently renovated, which associates felt has “really spruced up the place.”
Strategy & Future
Many felt management were “not really forthcoming” about the firm's strategy for the future.Some speculated that “competition is up, as now every firm has a patent litigation practice, whereas before it was a more niche practice.” That said, “most people here are still comfortable.” Every source we spoke to admitted that “management could be slightly more transparent.”
Partner Mike Sandonato tells us: “As always, we're looking to increase the pool of our talent by hiring excellent entry level candidates as well as lateral candidates,” but in terms of other investment, “we have no immediate plans to open a new office – we're very happy with the national footprint that we have now.” He estimates that the split between the firm's main practices is “about 75-80% litigation and about 20-25% patent prosecution.” Looking ahead, Sandonato adds that “we have a large number of trials coming up, and we're excited about the future of both our life sciences and technology practice areas."
Having a background in science or tech is pretty vital to the role. Hiring committee chair Ha Kung Wong explains why: “You have to be able to understand and communicate to others about it. Judges, although very knowledgeable on the law, may not have had experience with the technology. The same goes for juries. The law in itself can be complex and challenging to communicate to a lay person – how it then intersects with technology can be even more challenging.” As a result, candidates need to be passionate. “The best conversations in interviews are when you ask about a candidate's previous experiences, and they're passionate about what they did – they explain it to me, go into detail about it, communicate why it's important and convince me it's something that's interesting. They're going to be advocates for their clients so they need to be passionate and able to communicate.”
At interview, Wong warns that “there's a fine line between confidence and being egotistical. You do want to promote yourself by highlighting your skills, abilities and interest, but not go over the top with artificial superlatives.” He adds: “Being responsive to questions is the most important. For someone to deflect or change topics, it doesn't show they have the ability to deal with issues spontaneously. It indicates that they instead prefer to discuss something rehearsed, which isn't being responsive.”
Questions themselves tend to start with experiences of tech and law and why the candidate is interested in the “unique field” of IP. However, once establishing this and that they are “fantastic on paper,” Wong says: “We don't want to know everything they know on their particular scientific background, we really want to know what type of person they are, and if they can be passionate and communicate their ideas.” One source reflected on their interview experience and mentioned that “when I interviewed, we talked about baseball! They wanted to get to know me, not just ask a set of routine questions.”
Interview with Fitzpatrick partner Mike Sandonato
Chambers Associate: What highlights from the past year would you want to flag up to students interested in your firm?
Mike Sandonato: In June, we had a very successful trial where I was lead counsel in the Northern District of Georgia for Canon. We were protecting important toner bottle technology and suing two infringers. After a two-week trial in federal court in Georgia, we obtained a jury verdict in our favour on all issues, including infringement, wilful infringement and damages. And since then, the court has granted our motions for a permanent injunction and enhanced damages.
We're also litigating a set of smartphone cases in federal court in Delaware on behalf of our client Philips, enforcing a portfolio of patents on technical features related to graphical user interfaces, voice encoding, video streaming and content protection. Those cases will not go to trial until 2019, but we've had very good results so far in both the district court and in related IPR proceedings before the patent office. There have been close to twenty IPR challenges filed against the patents, and we already have defeated many of them, and also defeated the defendants' efforts to stay the district court cases pending the IPRs.
CA: Given that our readers wouldn't be joining your firm for another couple of years, what's the general strategy going forwards? What do you hope the firm will look like in a couple of years?
MS: Our patent litigation and prosecution continues to be extremely active. We have a large number of trials coming up, and we're excited about the future of both our life sciences and technology practice areas.
CA: Where will the firm be investing? Any plans to open new offices?
MS: We have no immediate plans to open a new office – we're very happy with the national footprint that we have now. As always, we're looking to increase the pool of our talent by hiring excellent entry level candidates as well as lateral candidates.
CA: What has the firm done and what does it plan to do with respect to the challenging economy?
MS: As always, we keep our finger on the pulse of changes. Sometimes a change might give rise to a little less work in one area, so we look for opportunities in other areas. It’s sometimes said in our industry that the existence of IPRs has reduced patent litigation, but that's not always the case. In the Philips cases, for example, what we are seeing is parallel IPR and district court proceedings, since the district court proceedings were not stayed.
CA: What is the current split in work between litigation and prosecution?
MS: About 75-80% is litigation, and about 20-25% is patent prosecution.
CA: How would you define the firm's character or culture?
MS: There's a couple of important facets to our culture: we're very collegial and team-oriented, with a heavy focus on professional development. We very much believe in giving up-and-coming attorneys as much experience as they can handle. We look for opportunities to get young people in the court room as soon as possible.
CA: What is the recruiting like across your three offices?
MS: New York is our main office – DC is smaller, and California the smallest. We actively recruit every for all three, though not in the same volume.
CA: What was Fitzpatrick like when you joined and how has it changed?
MS: In a lot of ways it's the same, in the sense that it was a collegial and team-oriented environment, with the mission of obtaining the best results for clients. That hasn't changed at all. Our client base is richer and deeper, and we're a larger firm, but our core principles have remained the same.
CA: Any advice or words of wisdom for our student readers as they try to enter the legal profession?
MS: You are embarking on an extremely rewarding profession, but one that takes a great deal of commitment. Be sure that it is what you want to do. If it is, by choosing patent litigation or prosecution you're choosing an intellectually stimulating profession that will keep you challenged throughout your entire career. But be prepared to work hard, and be prepared to get comfortable working outside of your comfort zone.
Fitzpatrick, Cella, Harper & Scinto
1290 Avenue of the Americas,
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 3
- Partners (US): 49
- Of Counsel (US): 5
- Associates (US): 55
- Main recruitment contact: Nicole Cohen (email@example.com)
- Hiring partner: Ha Kung Wong
- Diversity officer: Elizabeth Holowacz
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2018: 6
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018: 2Ls: 9 Summers joining/anticipated 2018 split by office: New York: 9
- Summer salary 2018: 1Ls: $ 3500 2Ls: $ 3500
- Split summers offered? Only in exceptional circumstances
Main areas of work
American, Boston College, Boston University, Brooklyn, Cardozo, Columbia, Fordham, George Mason, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, New York Law School, New York University, Notre Dame, Pace, Rutgers, Seton Hall, St John’s, University of New Hampshire and the University of Pennsylvania, Yale
Cornell Job Fair, Emory in New York, New York Interview Program, University of Connecticut NY Job Fair, and the Loyola Patent Interview Program Recruitment outside of OCIs: We are happy to receive direct submissions from 2L law students throughout the year, and 1L law students beginning on December 1st.
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.
This Firm's Rankings in
Chambers USA Guide 2017
- Intellectual Property: Patent (Band 3)
USA - Nationwide
- Intellectual Property (Band 4)