"Entrepreneurial" Kilpatrick is a lot more than just an IP firm.
BACK in 1893, when the inventors of a sickly-sweet morphine substitute felt they were probably onto something, they turned to an IP firm to register their new brand. And thus the Coca-Cola trademark was born, registered by a firm that was to become Kilpatrick Townsend. Since then, the firm has been busy growing through mergers, and 2015 saw the launch of the firm's first Texas office after it merged with Dallas-based litigation boutique Crouch & Ramey. This new addition brings the firm's US office roster to 15 (it also has attorneys in Shanghai, Stockholm and Tokyo).
The firm's broad geographic spread – spanning both coasts and several states in between – is largely thanks to the 2011 merger between California-based Townsend and Crew and Atlanta fixture Kilpatrick Stockton. Both legacy firms were themselves products of historic mergers. Both had long been known for their stellar IP capabilities and the IP practice remains highly respected today. But, as one junior rightly pointed out, “we're a full-service firm with an incredibly strong IP base.” Other robust practices where juniors can get involved include corporate, construction, labor, litigation and real estate, to name a few.
After rotating through three practice groups during the summer program, rookies rank them in order of preference. Around three-quarters of juniors tend to head into the various subgroups within IP. The remainder are split between Kilpatrick's litigation and CFRE (corporate, finance & real estate) departments. Although each group has access to a formal workload system where juniors can indicate their availability, some teams “don't seem to use it too much.” Most assignments come from senior attorneys “reaching out to those they're interested in working with.” But juniors needn't just wait to see what comes through the door as “we're an entrepreneurial firm. If you want to reach out to partners they appreciate the initiative and find something for you.”
IP associates join one of five subgroups: patent litigation; trademark & copyright; medical & mechanical devices; chemistry & life sciences; and electronics & software. Attorneys in the last three groups tend to predominantly work on patent prosecution (applying for patent status), though they're not restricted from working on patent litigation matters. Trademark & copyright juniors are required to work on both sides. “Depending on the complexity of the case, I could run the litigation or just be one of the hands,” one patent litigator outlined. Regardless of complexity, technical and legal research is almost a given. Interviewees had also drafted discovery requests, reviewed deposition transcripts and prepared senior attorneys for depositions. Over on the patent prosecution side, juniors “meet with inventors or in-house attorneys to learn about the invention and draft patent applications complete with technical drawings. We file it and then work back and forth with the patent office to make revisions to the claims.”
“It's a bit of a chess game.”
Sources acknowledged that even though tasks on offer “can appear repetitive, we're always looking at different technologies. Someone may make one claim about the science involved; our job is to say 'we view it another way' and prove our point is valid. It's a bit of a chess game and I really like that aspect.” Others pointed out that the firm “gives you responsibility so that you can become an expert. The partners are interested in developing a specialist area for each associate but it does pigeonhole you. Only one or two people here know more about my niche than I do, which is great but it can't be the only thing I do. It's a double-edged sword.”
In Atlanta “the atmosphere depends on the level you're on.” The IP floor, for instance, has “a very laid-back atmosphere. It's just very collaborative,” with chairs being dragged into partners' offices for team meetings. “If someone new walks by, people pop their heads out of their office to ask who they are.” The greetings don't stop once you become a familiar face: “I always get a good morning when people walk past my office.”
“They have a magnetic aura.”
One interviewee felt this attitude might surprise some people, as “I don't know if you'd describe most lawyers as fun, and patent law is the most nerdy and esoteric area of law, but everyone is extremely friendly. People crack jokes that are not just nerdy, they're actual jokes.” Another IP junior put this ambience down to the team “attracting people who others want to be around; they're charismatic. They don't have to be chatty or funny but they have a magnetic aura about them.” Beyond the IP pale, “if you go up a couple of levels it doesn't have the same feel. The litigation floor is a bit more intense.”
Compared to the IP boutiques in town, Kilpatrick's Seattle base is “probably more buttoned up.” But associates here felt “people are really friendly and easy to talk to. I've known a lot of attorneys and there is not a lot of ego here.” Although lawyers “get intensely into their work, it doesn't get super intense.” If someone becomes overloaded colleagues are generally up for “transferring off matters. People are willing to help out.” Down in San Francisco, “people ring each other with questions. It's not competitive at all.” Just like in Atlanta, the patent prosecutors are “a little quieter than those on the litigation floor where four people are working on one document."
Atlanta welcomes the largest concentration of Kilpatrick rookies, followed by Seattle and San Francisco. The rest are spread sparsely around most of the firm's 15 offices. At the time of our calls we also found juniors in Charlotte, Denver, Los Angeles, Raleigh, San Diego, Silicon Valley, Walnut Creek and Winston-Salem.
“We have two nerve centers.”
Atlanta is also considered Kilpatrick's de facto headquarters although management is split between here and San Francisco. “We have two nerve centers due to the merger. Currently our chairman is in Atlanta and our managing partner in Silicon Valley; it used to be the other way round.” Our sources tended to work most closely with offices in their region: “Typically I'll be working with the East Coast,” articulated one Atlantan. “Lots of people spend time in another office to interact more with other teams.” Cross-office interaction appears visible early on but opportunities “grow as your career progresses.”
Training & Development
New starters are all flown to one location for practice group boot camps. The “three-day intensive training session” covers things like “what's needed to respond to an office action or conduct an interview.” This is topped up around the fourth year for “more advanced topics.” Litigators additionally attend a two-day mock trial where they “prepare and present to partners” and can also take advantage of a three-day deposition training. A professional development series brings in speakers to “chat about improving and tightening legal writing or client development.” It also, handily, covers “dealing with difficult clients.”
First-years are assigned a senior associate as mentor (mid or senior-level attorneys are paired with counsel or partners). But there are plenty of informal mentors around as “lawyers are funny; they love to talk and feel important. If you ask someone to mentor you they get really excited about it.”
In the Bay Area “there's quite a lot of immigration” matters helping children gain visas and asylum. “Some are fleeing drug cartels and violence; their family members may have been killed. All kinds of horrible things happen to them. It's rewarding to do something for someone with a very tangible result.”
“Fleeing drug cartels and violence.”
Kilpatrick's Atlanta office has “a whole program devoted to grandparent adoptions.” Come Saturday, some juniors here can be found hanging around the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation, “interviewing people who need help. It's a pretty good way to pick up pro bono.”
Domestic abuse and landlord/tenant matters or advising indigent inventors on IP rights were popular assignments across the firm. Attorneys are required to complete 30 hours of pro bono a year and can credit up to 50 hours toward their annual billable target.
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 38,100
- Average per US attorney: 56
Hours & Compensation
Entry-level associates are required to bill at least 1,400 hours a year. Second-years and up shoot for an annual target of 1,900. “It's achievable but easier for attorneys in certain practices.” Patent prosecutors, for example, may struggle more than litigators. That being said, one interviewee felt: “This isn't the kind of place that looks at an associate and blames them if they're not hitting the hours. It's a team effort and partners take personal responsibility if not enough work is going around.”
“Achieving just the minimum is not going to get you an A+ review.”
For those able to meet the target, it's worth bearing in mind that “achieving just the minimum is not going to get you an A+ review. There's an understanding you should strive to go above it,” especially if you want to be seeing dollar signs in front of your eyes: “If you don't exceed the target by a good amount, don't expect a bonus.”
Although “lots of people are early birds” and in by 8.30am, how associates notch up their hours is generally up to them. “They don't insist we stay here for 60 hours a week. I may have to do 60 hours' worth of work but if I'm only in the office 40 hours a week, I can go home and be a decent parent.”
Sources praised the firm's supportive attitude toward parent attorneys: “It's one of the biggest things I love about this firm.” Juniors in Atlanta judged that “compared to most firms, especially in the IP area, we have a much higher percentage of female partners and associates.” Females are “still underrepresented” in Seattle. It's also “pretty homogeneous in terms of race. The Atlanta office is more racially diverse, but it's in a city with a large African-American population.” The Bay Area “seems fairly diverse. I think it compares favorably to others.”
Strategy & Future
2015 saw the opening of Kilpatrick's Dallas office to “better support our Texas client base,” managing partner Susan Spaeth tells us. “We are looking to have our office footprint better match our national and international client base.” Spaeth is keeping tight-lipped about the possibility of additional offices to service this commitment but explains: “Our firm is team-centric. When we look at strategic growth it's more around what growth we need to have in different practice offerings and where that affects a particular geographic region. We are very interested in further growing our corporate offering in California, for example.” While IP will continue to be the firm's front runner, Kilpatrick will “further expand and support our corporate and commercial litigation depth and breadth” across the USA.
We check in with managing partner Susan Spaeth
Chambers Associate: Kilpatrick recently launched an office in Dallas by merging with Crouch & Ramey. What was the decision behind that?
Susan Spaeth: There were a number of points that made Dallas a great place for us to open an office and to open with Crouch & Ramey. Firstly, we're looking to better support our Texas client-base. Secondly, we have a strong presence on both coasts, but until Dallas, Denver was our only office in the middle of the country. We are looking to have our office footprint better match our national and international client base.
Crouch & Ramey are a great group of litigators. Cole Ramey is their top lawyer and has a spectacular reputation. He's a phenomenal trial attorney. The office is mostly commercial litigation which fits well with our commercial litigation practice. We felt both sides of the combination had the same goals and ideals of client service, and that by working together we could be that much stronger.
CA: Any other geographic areas you're considering moving into, either in the US or abroad?
SS: At the moment we are looking into other areas but we're not ready to release to those public.
CA: Which of your current offices are you particularly investing in?
SS: Our firm is team-centric. When we look at strategic growth it's more around what growth we need to have in different practice offerings and where that affects a particular geographic region. We are very interested in further growing our corporate offering in California, for example.
CA: So what is the firm's general strategy going forward?
SS: We need to continue to excel and support our terrific IP practice, whether it's trademark, copyright, patent or litigation. At the same time we will further expand and support our corporate and commercial litigation depth and breadth. We've recently expanded our white collar practice by hiring a lateral partner into our Atlanta office and our chemical patent practice by hiring a group of attorneys into Washington, DC. Across the country we've grown our corporate and tax regulatory teams and we've had a great opportunity to expand our bankruptcy practice in New York.
Our emphasis is still very much on corporate growth, in different geographic regions, including California. We are working to pull together and hire additional folks into the corporate security and privacy team. That's an area where we have a lot of strength coming already from our corporate and IP practice, as well as litigation.
CA: Any advice or words of wisdom for our student readers as they try to enter the legal profession?
SS: Look for a firm where you feel you fit well in terms of cultural goals. That firm should also have development goals for its associates. Look for a firm that demonstrably illustrates to you that you will get substantive work and the firm cares about your development as an attorney. Look for a firm that gives associates meaningful opportunities. Do what you like. Do what you enjoy as the practice of law is demanding and it's easier to do a demanding job that you enjoy. And with people you enjoy spending time with and for clients that you can invest your time and emotions into. We work so hard and want to be in a place where the work is meaningful and interesting, with like-minded people who care about their clients.
CA: Is there anything else you think it's important for students to know about the firm?
SS: We host super callback weekends for law school recruitment. I attended the West Coast weekend this year. By the end of the Friday dinner several of the candidates were saying how they could tell, by watching our associates interact with one another, that we really do work across office and across teams. They could tell our associates were happy with their work and were not siloed or in fiefdoms because when we brought them into the room, associates from different offices were happy to see each other and chat about cases they worked on. I was very excited to see that was not just a platitude we said to our potential summers, but they could feel it and see evidence of how we operate as a firm. It was really fun for me in management to hear that factor is self evident if you hang out and spend time with us.
Recruitment committee chairman Charlie Henn talks us through Kilpatrick's unusual recruitment process
Chambers Associate: Kilpatrick hosts an assessment day instead of following the typical format for callback interviews. What was the reason behind the decision to change?
Charlie Henn: A couple of years ago the hiring committee sat down to take a hard look at the callback process. We thought creatively about whether the way law firms have historically conducted callbacks through a series of one-on-one interviews made sense in today's markets. We thought it really didn't; we felt we weren't getting a full picture of how the candidates would perform in real world circumstances at a law firm. We weren't getting good information on teamwork, collaboration, and creativity in trying to solve client problems in a group. Once we realized we weren't seeing these things we sat down to come up with an innovative methodology which led us to Super Saturday.
CA: What does the process involve?
CH: We bring everyone in the night before and hold a dinner for interviewees and our attorneys. A client of the firm talks a little about Kilpatrick from a client's perspective, explaining what their experience of the firm is, what kind of work we undertake for them and what they like about us. Otherwise it's a chance to socialize and get to know each other.
CA: Do you host separate events for each office?
CH: We hold one for our East Coast offices and one for the West Coast. The philosophy for bringing everyone together was to consider and compare people. Under the old system our interviewers found it hard to remember what they thought about students they'd interviewed three weeks earlier. We weren't able to compare people so we condensed the time space between viewing the candidates.
CA: So what takes place on the Saturday?
CH: There are essentially three pods people rotate through. The order is different but everyone does all three. The first one is a traditional one on one interview with attorneys from the particular department the interviewee is interested in.
CA: What are you looking for during that interview?
CH: Certain departments look for different things. Patent attorneys might inquire about research and a candidate's background while an M&A lawyer will probably be not so focused on those topics. We do try and identify characteristics we think make good and successful long-term attorneys. We try and get a sense of experience, leadership experience, examples of resilience and diligence, good oral communication and the ability to be socially adept.
CA: What else are candidates asked to do?
CH: Our other two pods have a reputation for being a bit different and are what we think makes us more effective and unique. The first is designed to present candidates with a series of logic problems. They divide into teams of four or five and have to work through problems. We structure it like a treasure hunt rather than a scavenger hunt. Each team starts with a clue and has to solve it to get the next one, and solve that clue to get the one after until they reach the end. The clues are located all over our offices so they're getting to see the physical space too. We embed an attorney in each team to observe, not to help, and see how the students work as a team. Do they play well together? Do they display natural leadership abilities? Are they respectful of their team mates? Do they bring outside the box solutions to move the ball forward? These are the kind of things you wouldn't get in a one on one interview. This pod is about the process not about finishing; it's not a competition where at the end only one team gets a job.
We work with an outside theater company in Atlanta who designed the puzzles and who interact with the candidates as part of the treasure hunt. The team might go into a room where an actor is performing a poem and the applicants have to listen very closely to it to figure out the clue. It's fun and creative but it gives us loads of information on problem solving.
CA: And what's the final pod?
CH: The third pod is broken into two parts. The first section is about creativity; the details are a secret but we present our candidates with a creative problem and they have to work together to come up with something they haven't thought about before and present it. This part is primarily about the creative process.
The other component is to have them do a short writing exercise. We found that under the old system when someone handed in a writing sample it would have been revised 25 times and wasn't solely their work as it had input from professors. We wanted to get an actual view into a candidate's writing abilities so we came up with a short and painless writing exercise. It's not a legal topic because we didn't want people to feel they had to study for it.
At the end of the day everyone gets together. The creative presentation involves a video and everyone gets to watch each other's. They tend to be funny so people enjoy watching themselves. After that, everyone gets to go home.
CA: This is the third year you've run this program. What has the feedback from participants been like?
CH: I've heard very good things from candidates and when I go on campus, students I haven't even interviewed come up and say it sounds good. Even those candidates who decide to go to another firm have been very positive about it and felt it was unique. People also say it gives them a good perspective, not just on the firm, but the type of people the firm is recruiting as they're meeting lots of other candidates. It's nice for the students to look around and say, 'these are the people I want to work with in the summer class.' There are real benefits to having a model which brings people together.
CA: So if they make it onto the summer program, how can they impress?
CH: I tell our summers this is a nine week long interview. The firm is looking to see if they do excellent legal work first and foremost. I think we do a good job of getting the right people into our summer class. Anyone who works hard and writes well doesn't usually have an issue. We want to see their best.
More on diversity
At Kilpatrick “the leadership is very old, male and white but the associates are a lot more colorful.” Juniors pointed to a number of “empowered minority and female partners who are decision makers. Audra Dial is our [Atlanta] office managing partner and she's phenomenal. I think diversity is on the right track and they're moving as fast as they can but people might feel impatient.”
The Women's Initiative in Atlanta recently hosted drinks to celebrate two female IP associates making partner. But they don't need a celebration to get together: “They bring in client-focused speakers and the diversity coordinator is always inviting us to events and conferences in the city. We also do fun things. Last year we went to the zoo and brought our kids so they could interact with other attorneys' children.” Every Halloween, Kilpatrick kids can be found trick or treating round the office. The firm's daycare center is just a few blocks from the Atlanta office. Emergency childcare means that attorneys can still make it in to work, even if sick kids have to stay home. The firm offers six weeks of parental leave and “I never felt like anyone thought I shouldn't be taking it,” one interviewee claimed.
Kilpatrick also runs LGBT affinity group KT Proud. Pride month, along with Hispanic Heritage Month, Black History Month and Asian American Month are celebrated by the firm, with groups of attorneys in different offices planning activities for each month. In between the big events, the diversity and inclusion group “shares information to broaden our horizons: I got an email the other day describing holidays, like Diwali, which belong to different groups.”
Kilpatrick scrapped the traditional callback interview format a couple of years ago. “We felt we weren't getting a full picture of how the candidates would perform in real-world circumstances at a law firm,” hiring committee chairman Charlie Henn explains. “We weren't getting good information on teamwork, collaboration and creativity in trying to solve client problems in a group.”
Instead, the firm devised 'Super Call-Back Weekend'. Dinner and drinks with the firm's attorneys on a Friday are followed by a task-filled Saturday. Aspiring attorneys are put through their paces in a one-on-one interview, a writing exercise and group tasks including a client challenge. Read our online interview with Charlie Henn to find out more.
“See if people are fake or genuine.”
Current juniors were on board with the changes: “I think it's better. Some people don't interview well, or they interview well but can't work in groups. The assessments get at things which wouldn't come out in interviews.” And dinner the night before allows attorneys to “see if people are fake or genuine. So much of this job is not academic as much as tolerating the people around you.”
Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP
1100 Peachtree Street,
- Head Office: Atlanta, GA
- Number of domestic offices: 15
- Number of international offices: 3
- Worldwide revenue: $416,404,000
- Partners (US): 238
- Associates (US): 220
- Summer Salary 2017
- 1Ls: $2,981 - 3,462/week
- 2Ls: $2,981 - 3,462/week
- Post 3Ls: $2,981 - 3,462/week
- 1Ls hired? Yes
- Split summers offered? Yes
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
- Summers 2017: 27
- Offers/acceptances 2016: 22 offers, 16 acceptances, 3 outstanding
Main areas of work
Mergers and acquisitions, securities, domestic and international tax, employee benefits, financial institutions, global sourcing and technology, government relations, real estate finance and capital markets, real estate investment and development, chemistry and life sciences, patent litigation, trademark and copyright, electronics and software, medical and mechanical devices, bankruptcy and financial restructuring, complex commercial litigation, construction and infrastructure projects, environmental and sustainable development, government enforcement and investigations, insurance recovery, labor and employment, native american affairs.
Kilpatrick Townsend’s attorneys fuel progress for innovative businesses of all sizes, types and markets. With more 600 attorneys and professionals in 18 offices, we work together to make businesses smarter, more protected, and more successful. Kilpatrick Townsend had a record-breaking 130 attorneys honored by their peers in The Best Lawyers in America® 2017. The firm garnered national first tier rankings for antitrust law, commercial litigation, construction law, corporate law, employee benefits (ERISA) law, insurance law, litigation - antitrust, litigation - construction, litigation - ERISA, litigation - intellectual property, Native American law, patent law, real estate law, technology law, and trademark law in US News – Best Lawyers® 2017 “Best Law Firms.” The firm’s 2016 Summer Program was ranked among the nation’s top 10 for the second straight year in a row in The American Lawyer’s Summer Associates Survey.
• Number of 1st year associates: 16
• Number of 2nd year associates: 11
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $120,000-180,000
• 2nd year: $135,000-195,000
• Clerking policy: yes
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
Emory University, Santa Clara University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Georgia, Wake Forest University, University of Virginia, George Washington University, Howard University, Duke University, University of California, Los Angeles, Columbia Universtiy, Harvard University, UC Berkeley, Georgetown, Stanford University, New York University.
Summer associate profile:
We seek students who have demonstrated academic excellence (top 20%) and possess strong analytical and interpersonal skills. Participation and leadership in extra-curricular activities preferred. Technical backgrounds in engineering and science (eg, Electrical Engineering, Physics, Computer Engineering, Inorganic and Organic Chemistry and advanced degrees in Biological Sciences) are required for patent practices.
Summer program components:
Our Summer Associate Program provides students with the opportunity to do substantive work in a variety of practice areas. Summer Associates can rotate among practice teams with a hiring need for which they have the required technical skills. Summer Associates also participate in three progress evaluations to review attorney feedback on all work product. The Summer Committee members in each office serve as mentors for the course of the program, providing guidance for evaluations, assigning work, and coaching associates as they rotate teams and ensuring a positive work/life balance.