Lateral Look: Sterne Kessler

The uber brainy bunch at Sterne Kessler meld their technical know-how with their love of law.

If there’s one fact you should know about Sterne Kessler, it’s that it is the only law firm with a top Chambers USA ranking in patent prosecution, outdoing some seriously major BigLaw players for the top spot. That’s no mean feat for a one-office operation of just over 150 lawyers. Sterne has a formidable reputation in Patent Trial and Appeal board (PTAB), International Trade Commission, and Hatch-Waxman litigation, with the collective expertise of its associate roster covering a range of highly technical sectors.

View the firm's Chambers USA rankings here>>

Why did you choose Sterne Kessler?

The firm's strong reputation in patent litigation along with its stellar technical strength.

“It's the best IP firm in DC; the majority of attorneys had advanced degrees (e.g., Masters, Ph.D).

"Opportunity to focus on patent prosecution practice."  
"Its reputation as a high caliber IP firm and collegial work environment."


Strategic recruitment focuses 2022

Patent Preparation and Prosecution - Biotechnology & Chemical

The view from the firm: Our biotech and chemistry practice group works on the cutting edge of innovation in the life sciences, industrial biotechnology, specialty chemicals, and materials science. Our team represents award-winning technologies such as Bristol Myers Squibb’s Opdivo (the first immunotherapy approved for cancer treatment), AbbVie’s Humira, the University of California’s CRISPR gene-editing technology, and many other game-changing technologies.

We also represent some of the largest generic drug companies in the world, helping them navigate a pathway to offering lower-cost, lifesaving drugs in the US market. We are an early leader in bringing biosimilar technologies to market in the US. Most importantly, we have the best team in biotech and chemical IP – a team deep with scientific training (>40 Ph.D.s and many more advanced technical degrees) and legal acumen.

Patent Prosecution clients (general): Apple, Adidas, Capital One.

Recent highlight: Worked with The Regents of the University of California on patent matters related to their ground-breaking CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology.

Patent Preparation and Prosecution - Electronics 

The view from the firm: We are among the first to see the newest developments in a number of technology areas (wireless, semiconductors, nanotech, optics, lasers and LEDs, software and apps, etc.). It is fun and professionally exciting to work on getting patent protection for cutting edge innovations. Our work is overwhelmingly done directly with and for inventors – not U.S. applications originated by foreign law firms. Associates work directly with the most inventive minds in the US.

Our commitment to patent prep/pros ensures that our people and our teams have a deep understanding of patents (the real cornerstone of IP). We have an integrated litigation practice that puts a high value on technical expertise and patent knowledge – you don’t have to be a litigator to play an integral role in IP litigation at Sterne Kessler
We have a long established training program of one-on-one, group, and external training courses that help to build, maintain, and fine tune fundamental knowledge and writing skills needed to be a fully rounded attorney.

Patent Preparation and Prosecution - Mechanical & Design 

The view from the firm: Our mechanical and design practice represents some of the most well-known brand name companies in the world including Apple, Pepsi, adidas, TaylorMade Golf, Oakley, and many more – associates will be working on innovations for companies that are household names. Our design patent team is regularly lauded as among the most productive and best in the the world. We secured the design patents that were at the center of Apple v. Samsung, creating a judgment and final settlement in excess of a half billion dollars – this is the best design patent practice in the industry.

Our mechanical patent team works on diverse, cutting-edge technologies across a wide range of industries including medical devices, laboratory equipment, sports equipment, wearable electronics, automotive parts and systems, and many others.
The practice has a diverse body of client work including a robust patent prosecution practice (both design patents and utility patents in the mechanical arts), a leading PTAB litigation practice, and active engagement in district court and ITC litigation.
Our trademark and brand protection practice works hand-in-glove with our design patent team to strengthen and secure brands – including one of the most innovative anti-counterfeiting practices in the US.

IP Litigation (Trial & Appellate)

The view from the firm: Our trial and appellate practice provides an opportunity to work across diverse technologies and venues – ensuring that as an associate’s career advances, their knowledge, experience, and skills will grow as well. Our practice at the US International Trade Commission is in the top 5% of the most active practices at the ITC year after year. We represent both complainants and respondents at the ITC across technologies as diverse as LED lighting, biotechnology (anti-venom), road milling machinery, e-cigarettes, RFID sensors, and many others. Likewise, our district court litigation practice represents a diverse cross-section of technologies –pharmaceuticals, flat panel displays, state-of-the-art golf clubs, telecommunications systems, network security software, and many more. Our district court practice includes one of the finest ANDA litigation practices in the US, representing some of the largest and most sophisticated drug companies in the world.

We are able to leverage and gain synergy with one of the top PTAB litigation practices in the US. Our litigators are quite adept at working across venues – including across jurisdictions beyond the US. We integrate effectively with Sterne Kessler’s technology and patent practices. This enables us to tap deep the technical expertise of our 50+ Ph.D.s and the patent knowledge of our industry leading prosecution practice, arming our courtroom litigators with a tremendous advantage. Our appellate practice is staffed by a team of former Supreme Court, Federal Circuit, and other appellate clerks. Our appellate practice is among the most active at the Federal Circuit.

Litigation clients: Volkswagen Group of America, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, and Roku.

Recent highlight: Secured victory before the US Court of International Trade in New York as part of ongoing work for Wirtgen.

IP - Patent Trial and Appeals Board Litigation

The view from the firm: Sterne Kessler has industry-leading experience in all proceedings before the USPTO's Patent Trial and Appeal Board, including interferences, inter partes review (IPR), post grant review (PGR), covered business methods reviews (CBM), derivation proceedings, reexamination and opposition. The first "PTAB Firm of the Year" — we literally wrote the book on PTO litigation. We have litigated over 1,000 PTAB proceedings—more than nearly any other firm. Having the leading PTAB practice has a number of benefits: associates will become a better IP lawyer – seeing the strengths and weaknesses in our own and others’ patents as well as getting a diverse experience working on both Patent Owner and Petitioner sides of cases (we have a healthy balance).


Career development & the path to partnership



1: 1


partners made in 2022

associate : partner gearing

of junior associates intend to make partner




felt partnership was achievable for attorneys with children agreed the firm’s name adds value to their resume agreed partners
are nurturing
future leaders


The view from the firm: Sterne Kessler is dedicated to supporting the professional growth of all of our associates and helping them achieve their career goals.
We offer programming designed for each phase of an associate’s career. For example, those new to the firm participate in programs to help quickly learn the substantive and procedural elements of patent prosecution and litigation. For junior and experienced professionals alike, we offer programs that focus on core skills such as legal writing, oral communication, legal research, and management. These programs are taught by in-house professionals and outside experts. The firm also supports enrollment in external seminars and private coaching sessions.

Strong mentoring relationships are key to career development. At Sterne Kessler, newly hired professionals are assigned a Professional Development Advisor, a director in their practice group who helps smooth integration into the firm and offers guidance as their career advances. For many, this is a relationship that lasts throughout their tenure with the firm.


Hours & compensation


1,400 - 2,000 (Associates choose a level in 100-hour increments)



billable hours

average number of vacation days associates took in one year

average number of hours associates worked in one week




agreed they had a good work-life balance

agreed they could take vacation on their own terms

found the bonus allocation fair and transparent



  • 1st year: $205,000 (2,000 hours); $180,000 (1,900 hours)


The view from the firm: Sterne Kessler offers an industry-leading flexible hours program to all associates – professionals effectively decide for themselves what billable hour commitment is appropriate for them in light of their professional goals and the realities of their life outside the firm. Timekeepers can elect a billable hour goal in 100-hour increments between 1,400 and 2,000 hours. Compensation is adjusted on a sliding scale, consistent with the billable hour goal selected. Although the firm has no formal pro bono hours requirement, we encourage our associates to engage in pro bono activities. Associates working on pro bono matters are credited with up to 100 hours of billable credit anually. 


Is Sterne Kessler the right firm for you?





said they’d chosen the right firm

were happy in their current role

felt comfortable being themselves

What stands out about the firm's culture?

"The firm fosters a more horizontal management structure, instead of a vertical one. Namely, junior associates have the opportunity to take on challenging assignments that you otherwise wouldn't have the opportunity to take on at other firms. Moreover, progress hinges on merit, not class year.

“The attorneys say they care about each other and actually mean it.”  

"How welcoming everyone was, the support that was provided, and the absence of selfishness."


Diversity, inclusion and wellbeing






reported strong performance in inclusivity training

rated the firm for mentoring from diverse role models

of partners are women

of partners identify as ethnically diverse


The view from the firm: Sterne Kessler is committed to diversity and inclusion. Our staff and attorneys are encouraged to voice their ideas and to be themselves. Our firm aims to provide a workplace that is reflective of our global client base and the diverse cultural mix of the greater Washington, D.C. area in which we live and work. Headed by our diversity and inclusion committee (which includes the firm's managing director and a founding director), the firm supports many D&I events and initiatives throughout the year, including celebrating Heritage Months. During these celebrations, the firm recognizes the contributions and cultures of, as well as challenges faced by, certain historically underrepresented groups through events, initiatives, and resource-sharing.

This year the firm is observing African American (Black) History Month, Women's History Month, Asian and Pacific American Heritage Month, LGBTQ+ Pride Month, Hispanic (Latinx) Heritage Month, and Native American Heritage Month. As another of our key initiative, the firm is participating in the second iteration of Diversity Lab’s Midsize Mansfield Rule certification process, which runs from September 15, 2021 to March 14, 2023. 


Pro bono




pro bono
hours completed in 2021

    found the pro bono
work interesting


The view from the firm: Sterne Kessler’s pro bono practice aims to help empower disenfranchised and impoverished communities to promote and protect their intellectual property assets. Led by a name partner, our pro bono committee strives for "40 at 50," or 40% of DC lawyers doing 50 hours of pro bono per year (though the firm will give up to 100 hours of yearly billable hour credit). Our pro bono efforts fall into two major areas of work: IP centered (IP and ESC human rights, TMs, copyrights, and IP licensing issues), and not IP centered (immigration, amicus brief efforts, veteran’s appeals).


See opportunities at the firm here>>

Recruitment contacts: Rob Hashimoto, Legal Recruiting Manager

Visit the firm's website here>>