This antitrust and IP wizard just opened a new office in San Francisco and is busier than ever.
JUST as J.K. Rowling released Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone into the world (in 1997 for all you muggles out there), three Wall Street warlocks set off from their megafirms to create something new. But instead of alchemy and astrology, Stephen Axinn and his pals were specialized in a different kind of wizardry: antitrust and intellectual property. This boutique is now recognized in Chambers USA for antitrust both nationally and in DC and New York. The firm also picks up a nod in Connecticut for its third, smaller yet robust, litigation practice.
"Kind of like a startup."
The firm’s origins and relative youth lead it to be “very free-form in feel, kind of like a startup. If you have a business idea, you just sort of – raise it. I’ve never had an idea shot down.” Business development is on everyone’s mind right now at Axinn. The firm’s triad of offices on the East Coast (New York, DC and Hartford, Connecticut) have been joined by a brand spanking new office in San Francisco. For a firm that holds its “tight-knit” culture close to its heart, this is definitely a big deal...
Strategy & Future
“We’re absolutely committed to not merely integrating the San Francisco office, but substantially growing it,” new managing partner Matthew Becker vows. Given California is such a life sciences and technology hub, it’s not surprising this firm has opened up shop here. “We’ve historically done and continue to do a substantial amount of work for several companies in Northern California, including Google and McKesson," says Becker, "so we thought the fit was natural and the timing was right to develop our presence in the Bay Area.” Junior associates were totally stoked at the idea. “It’s super exciting," one beamed. "The office extended the offer to us all early on, saying, ‘If anyone wants to come, they can.’” Becker tells us 2018 saw growth across all the firm's practice areas and that it was an “extremely productive year – our most productive year ever in terms of revenue.”
Axinn is an antitrust and IP boutique with a third, small litigation department. Though there were no litigation juniors for us to interview in our 2018/19 research we heard the team hired “a chunk" of new lawyers in summer 2018, "so it’s a growing practice.” So watch this space. The New York office is split 50/50 antitrust and IP; Hartford houses IP and litigation; and DC works mainly on antitrust with a handful of IP attorneys. At the time of our research half of juniors were based in New York and half in DC. However, there’s a lot of inter-office and cross-practice working. Work is assigned through a staffing partner, andwe heard that “you can tailor your experience and ask for specific things if they’re available.”
Axinn’s antitrust department works on both deals and litigation. There’s also a fledgling criminal litigation practice thanks to some recent laterals. Most antitrust associates are “coming in with an economics undergrad or an internship at places like the DOJ, FTC or an economics thinktank.” So it’s no shocker that the work here is “pretty academic.” Juniors have to undertake “extensive industry research” and prepare presentations for the government. Meeting government officials and visiting the DOJ are regular occurrences. Newbies can expect to oversee the merger review process, manage contract attorneys, and get heavily involved in depositions. One interviewee was particularly excited to tell us the extent of their responsibilities: “I’m not just writing the interview outline, I’m conducting the interview!”
Antitrust clients: Tyson Foods, Google, and Independence Blue Cross. Defended Stanley Black & Decker against allegations that it conspired in a widespread boycott of SawStop safety technology.
The IP team exclusively works on patent litigation, with no patent prosecution. “We’re mostly focused on generic small-molecule pharmaceuticals,” one interviewee further revealed. This means fighting to allow companies to produce generic (cheaper) versions of blockbuster medicines. There’s also a growing niche for biosimilars work, where the drug is not identical, but extremely similar to another. We heard from one junior in this department: “Most of what I do is legal research.” Rookies will then use this research to work with experts to produce expert reports and prepare them for trial. Attending trial is something most associates get to do. One told us: “Some of my work involved handling papers, but I did have a larger role: I was in charge of witnesses and experts, and I did other organizational tasks.” Some juniors recently managed to work on an appeal to the Federal Circuit, with one “writing substantial sections of the brief to the Federal Circuit, based solely on my analysis!”
IP clients: Johnson & Johnson, Par Pharmaceutical, and KVK Tech. Represented Zydus in patent litigation to defend its generic version of Ablify, an antipsychotic drug.
“You have two days of orientation at the beginning and then you’re straight into it!” one interviewee told us. Yes, Axinn attorneys get “thrown into the deep end,” but don’t worry as “there are always life preservers!” The buoyancy aids in question are partner and associate mentors who “you’re encouraged to reach out to whenever you want.” The emphasis on one-to-one mentoring creates what some associates described as a “culture of mentorship: I recently became an unofficial mentor to a summer associate already. I’m okay with losing an hour of my day to help someone.”
"Drum up business and tap your connections.”
Outside of mentorship, Axinn associates are able to bolster their career with their own entrepreneurism. “We’re told to pretend you’re an equity partner and drum up business and tap your connections!” a source said. The firm also has marketing groups focused on specific topics within IP and on geographic locations in antitrust. By the end of their first year, Axinn associates are supposed to be members of at least one group. The groups “get involved in marketing and let you see what the firm’s doing in terms of getting clients.” We heard some juniors have been able to travel to South Korea, China and Europe to sweeten potential clients.
Hours & Compensation
To celebrate its most profitable year ever, Axinn gave all associates a summer bonus “to say thank you and let us know how well things are going.” This happened in summer 2018 along with a salary increase to match the market – “they were quick to hop on that train.”
“It has been non-stop!”
The firm’s recent success has also made lawyers really busy. “It has been non-stop!” one interviewee exclaimed. Ten to 12-hour days are the norm, with Hartford associates typically arriving and leaving earlier. Billing 2,000 hours will see associates with a full bonus, and 1,800 gets them a smaller portion. Given how busy things are, there’s been “no problem at all meeting the billable requirement!”
Despite this, associates told us that work “hasn’t riled me up most weekends.” There’s also a flexible working policy allowing associates to work from home that helps dissipate the pressure. We did hear of a few “hiccups” with this system though. “Even though it’s on paper, you can get pushback from some more old-school partners. I’m surprised at their rigidity!” one source reported.
Interviewees told us life at Axinn has “recently got a little wild!” The firm is definitely in “challenge mode,” which has led to a small amount of attrition in the New York office. And at a firm with only 73 attorneys, a handful of departures is big news. Our sources believed the attrition was a "temporary" issue. “It’s tied to one or two matters that got much larger than anticipated, and people burned themselves out," one interviewee reported. "It’s not because of the overall culture.”
Interviewees were also positive about the firm's ability to address this issue because of its startup vibe: we heard that management “listens to what people want – the avenues of communication are great.” Through regular associate liaison meetings associates have gained more training and a better appraisal system. Associate feedback was also able to help ease the problems leading to attrition. One told us: “Everyone was at 100% and no one could chip in extra, so we communicated that we wanted more people on the ground – and they hired more people!”
“The avenues of communication are great.”
For a firm that’s making large changes, interviewees assured us that any recent turbulence “is just growing pains.” Matthew Becker echoes that sentiment: “Our culture is extremely important to us. Of course, as we grow maintaining that culture becomes more and more challenging. We foresee continuing to grow substantially, but at the same time, we grow carefully. We do try extremely hard to preserve our culture in the course of growing.”
Diversity & Inclusion
In our last edition we reported on a historic gender imbalance at the firm. This year we heard praise for the firm making “a huge effort to hire more women, and not just at a junior level.” This includes Tiffany Rider, a partner nabbed from Skadden, and a few senior associates. Pretty much every interviewee spoke of quarterly women’s group meetings. These are “pretty popular and well attended. I’ve been to all except one,” one associate told us. “It’s important to understand what it’s like being a female attorney in a male-dominated profession.” Also mentioned was the supportive attitude around parental leave, the nature of which extends also to those needing to take a career break for personal reasons. “They’re always very accommodating," we heard. "Nobody bothers anyone when they’re away.”
Though some were critical of the firm’s efforts to bring in lateral attorneys of color, many associates noted that there’s “a good percentage of people who are international and multilingual, even though it’s a small firm.”
Up to 100 pro bono hours can count toward associates' billing target. However, “if you go over the cap you can ask for permission to extend it.” Pro bono remains high on the list of Axinn juniors’ priorities, but interviewees said recently it has been “hard to focus on it.”
Typical pro bono work ranges from housing discrimination matters to asylum cases. Also available is some “soft IP – things like trademark disputes. Some even have an international component!” These opportunities find their way to associates through regular emails listing opportunities. But juniors have to be quick. One source told us: “I applied for a couple of matters but they’d already gone – it’s more competitive than I thought!”
Pro bono hours
- For all US offices: 3,118
- Average per US attorney: 64
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 234
Interviewees outside OCI: 1
Axinn conducts OCIs at 17 schools, attends three job fairs and conducts resume drops at three or four schools per season. At each location, interviewers meet with around 15 to 20 students. The firm attends the NEBLSA and Lavender Law job fairs. The Loyola Patent Job Fair is also an important source of candidates for Axinn – a larger number of IP students from that program tend to receive callback invites. Two IP attorneys conduct interviews at this fair.
Interviews are conducted by partners or associates who are alumni of those schools. Hiring partners at the firm tell us interviewers look for “bright, motivated and team-oriented” individuals who have a demonstrated interest in the firm’s practice areas: IP, antitrust and litigation. Candidates will be asked behavioral-type questions, such as describing a situation where they proved to be a reliable teammate.
Top tips for this stage:
“Having a summer internship at the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Justice, or the state equivalent of those goes a long way to demonstrating an interest in antitrust.” – a junior associate.
“We look for someone who’s interested in what we’re interested in. When big decisions come out of the DC Circuit, people here are tracking it. Not just because our work is in it, but because we’re interested in it and love it.” – a junior associate.
Applicants invited to second stage interview: 67
Successful candidates are invited to three or four half-hour interviews with partners and associates, before a lunch with two associates. Here, interviewers will be gauging “candidates’ abilities to think analytically, their interest in our practice areas, and their fit within a team-oriented work environment.” Hiring sources continue that “candidates should be prepared to discuss one of their writing samples in detail, examine legal issues they have studied or analyzed from all angles and provide examples of how they embody the attributes we value.”
Top tips for this stage:
“They like to see there’s some real intellectual interest in antitrust. My interview was a lot like that – they were making sure I had the chops!” – a junior associate.
“Be knowledgeable, be passionate, be engaged, be yourself.” – Hiring partners Ted Mathias, Nick Gaglio and Don Hawthorne.
Successful candidates are hired directly into their desired practice group on the firm’s summer program. which runs for ten weeks from mid-May to the end of July. Summer associates typically get work assignments within their respective groups, but there can be opportunities to work on projects outside of their group as well. Work is assigned by the recruitment staff, but attorneys at the firm can also assign tasks directly.
Summer associates are assigned two mentors and get regular training programs. Social events range from smaller team-building programs to larger office-wide outings. Hiring sources tell us “summer associates can expect to travel to other offices and have ample opportunities to attend depositions, court hearings and trials.” Summer associates receive offers directly from their chosen practice group, and they tend to stay in that group throughout their career at Axinn.
Top tips for this stage:
“We encourage summer associates to seek out opportunities of interest, such as working on particular matters of interest (including pro bono opportunities) and sitting in on depositions.” – Hiring partners Ted Mathias, Nick Gaglio and Don Hawthorn.
Interview with managing partner Matthew Becker
Chambers Associate: Are there any updates from the past 12 months you want to tell us about?
Matthew Becker: Both of our core practices have been growing substantially over the past year. It’s been an extremely productive year – our most productive year ever in terms of revenue. We’ve seen very dramatic growth in all of our practices: antitrust, IP, and litigation.
In the antitrust practice, we’ll handle several very large deals including a deal for Silver Lake Partners relating to sports management transactions. We have over the last several years developed a very substantial litigation practice. We’ve handled antitrust litigation matters since the inception of the firm, but over the last few years we’ve really developed it, which has been critical to the firm. So we’re handling a number of high profile antitrust litigation cases.
We’ve also seen growth in IP – we focus on trying high stakes patent cases and we’ve handled these cases in a whole array of technologies. The focus tends to be on life sciences cases. We’ve seen an emergence of patent litigation in the biologics area and a number of medical device patent cases.
CA: The firm opened an office in San Francisco this year. Could you tell me a bit about the firm’s strategy to expand onto the west coast, and why San Francisco in particular?
MB: The firm as you know specializes in antitrust and IP. We viewed northern California as having a high concentration of our prototypical client. There’s plenty of sophisticated life sciences and technology companies in the region.
We’ve historically and continue to do a substantial amount of work for several companies in northern California including Google and McKesson. So we thought the fit was natural and the timing was right to develop our presence in the Bay Area.
Also the pool of legal talent in the Bay Area is a real plus. As a smaller firm geographically based on the east coast, recruiting from west coast law schools has been challenging. We have already been recruiting at the top Bay Area law schools for the past five years with good results, for example, we have a first-year associate joining us from Berkeley next fall.
We’re absolutely committed to not merely integrating the San Francisco office, but substantially growing it. We fully intend to have a full team on the ground in northern California – we now have two partners in the office both of whom were formerly on the east coast and have relocated to California. And we’ve already hired our first associate in San Francisco. They’re actively recruiting and we expect to grow substantially in San Francisco over the next few years.
CA: With the introduction of the new San Fran office, how do you envision the firm changing over the next 12 months?
MB: I don’t want to suggest in saying that I expect San Fran to be fast-growing that we’re in any way not committed to growing on the east coast: we’re in growth mode across the board. We’ve added three new antitrust partners – two in New York and one in DC – since just last summer and are very much in growth mode everywhere. San Francisco is an important new facet, but we do view our strategy as global across the offices.
I don’t envision the culture changing at all! We are a firm of about 85 lawyers. Our culture is extremely important to us – it’s been important to us since the day the firm was founded. We have a very collegial environment where very senior partners are working directly with junior associates. The co-founders of this firm and a number of partners have come from extremely large law firms and wanted to be able to practice at a very high level but in a more intimate environment. Of course, as we grow maintaining that culture becomes more and more challenging. We foresee continuing to grow substantially, but at the same time, we grow carefully. We do try extremely hard to preserve our culture in the course of growing.
I anticipate that many of our east coast partners will spend substantial time in our California office. We have a number of pending matters that take us to San Francisco. We do anticipate that our east coast partners will interact a lot with our San Francisco office, but we don’t intend to run office in north California just by having east coast partners temporarily in residence. We intend to build and grow San Francisco with the best possible legal talent.
CA: What was it about the profession that made you decide to become an IP lawyer?
MB: I was very drawn to IP because it merges an understanding of sciences in virtually every case with practicing law at a very high level. Although many successful patent litigators do not have some sort of science background, I and many of my partners do and we are all very interested in technological issues. Practicing patent litigation has given me the opportunity to deploy some of my technical background while allowing me to continuously learn about a whole new array of new technologies. No two cases are alike in the patent litigation area. There’s always a learning process involved which keeps it very exciting and interesting!
As I’ve become a more senior lawyer, one of the things I enjoy most is taking fairly complicated technologies and devising ways to explain those technologies in a persuasive way to judges, juries and folks who may not have a technical background or know anything about the case – and have to be taught about underlying tech efficiently. Every case is a new adventure and frontier. There’s a ton of variety and a whole layer to cases separated from the legal aspect.
CA: What makes Axinn stand out as a unique firm to work at?
MB: The opportunities to handle the size and sophistication of the cases that we handle, at a firm this size, where everyone knows each other – opportunities like that are very few and far between.
I believe that we have a very unique firm. We’re competing on cases we handle with huge, successful, prominent law firms and we’re able to successfully compete and get great results from our clients from a platform that’s quite different to what the mega-firms have. We love the culture we have, we love the environment we have. It’s extremely hard work – we work as hard as anyone else, but are able to handle these mega cases from a smaller platform. That is really unique.
Axinn, Veltrop & Harkrider LLP
114 West 47th Street,
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 4
- Partners (US): 27
- Associates (US): 47
- Main recruitment contact: Rachel Rosado (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Hiring partners: Nick Gaglio, Ted Mathias and Thomas Rohback
- Diversity officer: Jason Murata
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2019: 7
- Clerking policy: Case by case basis
- Summers joining/anticipated 2019: 12
- Summers joining/anticipated 2019 split by office: New York 3, Washington DC 7, San Francisco: 1
- Summer salary 2019: 2Ls: $3,654 per week
- Split summers offered? Case by case basis
Main areas of work
Antitrust, intellectual property and complex litigation.
Axinn combines the skills, experience and dedication of the world’s largest firms with the focus, responsiveness, efficiency and attention to client needs of the best boutiques. The firm was established in the late 1990s by lawyers from premier Wall Street firms with a common vision: provide the highest level of service and strategic acumen in antitrust, intellectual property and high-stakes litigation. Axinn’s lawyers have served as lead or colead counsel on nearly half a trillion dollars in transactions and, in the last 10 years alone, have handled more than 250 litigations.
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2019: Antonin Scalia, Berkeley, Columbia, Duke, Georgetown, George Washington, Harvard, Fordham, New York University, Stanford, UPenn, Washington University in St. Louis, University of Chicago, University of Connecticut, University of Michigan, University of Virginia, Yale
Recruitment outside OCIs:
We visit various diversity and practice group focused job fairs, including NEBLSA and the Patent Law Interview Program. Summer associate profile: Axinn looks for candidates who are not only bright and motivated, but have the attitude of ‘thinking like an owner.’ Axinn is not just a place to work, but a place to start your career with sophisticated practices that require being team oriented, a self-starter, analytical, resourceful and innovative. Axinn seeks students who have achieved academic excellence and are among the top 25% of their law school class. Top 10% class ranking, law review and moot court experience is preferred. For the antitrust group, Axinn prefers that candidates have an economic or finance degree/background. Science or engineering backgrounds are preferred for candidates who wish to work in IP. Patent bar admission is a plus for IP candidates.
Summer program components:
During their summer with Axinn, associates attend internal meetings and seminars to familiarize themselves with lawyers, clients and a range of projects that comprise our practice. In addition, Axinn attorneys and outside professionals provide training in such topics as legal writing, litigation strategy and how to effectively utilize firm resources and support services. Each training experience emphasizes ‘learning by doing’ and serves to enhance opportunities for summer associates to develop, exercise and build confidence in their skills. Each summer associate is assigned a partner and associate mentor, who are available to prioritize assignments and act as a sounding board. Axinn combines the prestige of a large firm with the collegiality of a boutique. Summer associates are invited to join events such as wine tastings, theater, sporting and museum outings and cooking classes.
Recruitment website: www.axinn.com
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2019
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 3)
District of Columbia
- Antitrust (Band 5)
- Antitrust (Band 2)
USA - Nationwide
- Antitrust (Band 3)