The times are a-changing at Irell & Manella, as the former full-service firm is embracing the litigation boutique life.
A new DC office
California-born Irell & Manella expanded its geographic footprint in 2021, adding an office in DC to its two existing Southern Californian bases in Century City and Newport Beach, with the aim of expanding its IP litigation team. The move ties into the firm's strategy in recent years to sharpen its focus on commercial litigation and IP. Although smaller than the typical BigLaw firm, some of the country's biggest companies continue to put their trust in Irell to work on extremely high-profile and high-value cases. The return of Andrei Iancu (former director of the US Patent and Trademark Office) to the firm in 2021 was another positive signal to associates.
"Quirky intellectual culture.”
The firm has a handful of rankings in Chambers USA – for patent litigation and life sciences in California, and a ranking for tax in Southern California. Nationwide, Irell is also recognized for its overall IP work. For juniors on our list, most of whom were based in the firm’s largest office, Century City, the firm’s drawcards were “its prestige and emphasis on patent litigation,” the “collegiality, early responsibility, and pay,” and “the firm’s quirky intellectual culture.” For those worried that you’ll need a PhD to get a look-in – often the case at IP firms – sources reassured us that “it’s more common to have a bachelor's in the sciences. There are a fair number of PhDs,” our sources admitted, “but there’s a wide range of backgrounds.” Ultimately, “you just need to be able to master whatever you’re doing, irrespective of whether you have a degree in that subject.”
Strategy & Future
For those wondering what the future holds, our sources were pretty adamant the firm will continue to “shift into a more litigious space. We still do transactional work, but that’s mostly hold-over partners.” The firm will be “bringing in new associates and the bulk of work will continue to be IP,” but sources also added that Irell “is trying to expand into complex business litigation, such as antitrust and securities. We don’t want to be just IP, even though patent litigation will be our bread and butter.”
The firm takes a relatively “free market” approach to work assignment: “Most commonly you’ll have partners reach out to you, or if there’s something that speaks to your background, you’re likely to be staffed on it.” However, there is also a “staffing committee that monitors how busy you are.” All juniors “come in as litigation associates,” but sources added “there’s no boundary between those focused on patent and those who aren’t. Everyone’s going to be doing some kind of IP work at some point.” Others reiterated that “unlike at a bigger firm, there’s no stratification between departments.” In addition, sources noted that “everything is very much cross-office. Everything that comes through the door you have the opportunity to work on.”
"We pride ourselves on trial and appeal work!”
The firm’s litigation work covers a range of sectors but can be largely broken into three broad areas: IP, life sciences and general commercial. In the IP space, the firm represents both defendants and plaintiffs, with clients ranging from start-ups to well-established tech giants and other Fortune 500 companies. There’s a good reason Irell is a go-to firm in the patent litigation space: it recently secured $2.2 billion – the second-highest patent jury award in history – for VLSI Technology against Intel. And that’s not the only big case the firm won: Irell secured a $300 million jury award for Pan Optis against Apple related to LTE tech patents, and was hired to help Centripetal Networks against Cisco Systems’ appeal of a $2.7 billion verdict against it for infringing on four of Centripetal’s patents. As one junior boasted: “If you need someone to help you, either plaintiff or defendant, we’re the people you call in. We pride ourselves on trial and appeal work!” Given the extent of the firm’s expertise, sources had been involved in the full range of tasks, including “drafting, prepping witnesses, plenty of doc review, depositions, outlines for direct and cross-examination, and communicating with witnesses.” In other words, if you can think of a litigation task, you can expect to do it at Irell.
It’s not just tech, either. Sources mentioned “it’s a lot of industries. There are patents in life sciences, digital-tech and apparel.” Several juniors, for example, spoke about the firm’s work for Skechers in several ongoing lawsuits against Nike. Irell’s life sciencespractice is equally well-regarded; firms that pop up on its patent litigation list are also represented by the firm for their life sciences litigation needs. Johnson & Johnson is probably the most recognizable, but is not the only high-profile client on Irell’s books. The firm also represents names including Juno Therapeutics, Bristol Myers Squibb, Celgene, Genentech, Berkeley Lights, and Personal Genomics. ”You have to do depositions and argue in front of judges from your first year,” one source highlighted. “I’ve argued four or five motions already and drafted more than I can mention.”
IP litigation clients: Skechers, USAA (United States Automobile Association), Johnson & Johnson, and Banc of California. In addition to representing PanOptis in a patent infringement case against Apple, it also successfully defended the company in a patent litigation against Tesla.
The lines often blur between the firm’s IP, patent and life sciences work and its general commercial litigationwork. As with the previous areas, the firm prides itself on being a go-to firm for companies going to trial. The firm represents many of the same clients mentioned above, but adds, among others, Uber, and the City of Pomona to an impressive list. Irell won $48 million for the City of Pomona against mining company SQM North America in an environmental trial brought for contaminating the city’s water. At a litigation boutique firm, which has just 26 partners and 26 associates we weren’t surprised to hear that “if you want to be challenged to learn a lot, this is a great place.” One interviewee added: “Most of the cases are four to six attorneys, so there’s plenty of responsibility to go around.”
General commercial clients: Uber, Fortress Investment Group and the City of West Covina. The firm successfully represented Kytch, a company that designed repair devices for McFlurry machines, in a trade secret and breach of contract case.
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: 2,000
Despite all this early responsibility, our survey indicated Irell’s associates worked reasonable hours (for BigLaw) – an average of just over 51 hours a week, compared to 2021’s market average of nearly 54 hours a week. That said, given the relatively small intake, our interviewees were pulling anything from 30 hours a week when slower, to 90 hours a week when busy – an average of “40-50 hours a week” was a good working estimate.
“Financially, Irell has always exceeded compensation,” sources added. “To the extent that it matters, if you come to Irell you’ll be among the best-paid associates in the country.” Associates are expected to reach 2,000 billables, but can count unlimited pro bono hours towards that target. It's also worth noting that Irell matched the most recent salary hikes, so juniors can expect to make a sweet $215,000 in their first year, with following years also keeping in line with the Cravath scale.
Speaking of pro bono, sources noted “we work with a lot of pro bono organizations – the firm has longstanding connections with the US’s largest pro bono firm, Public Counsel, and with low-income legal services provider Bet Tzedek.” Sources not only liked that “the firm gives you a lot of space to pursue pro bono,” but also that the type of matters were “a good way to develop your career.” For example, one explained: “If you’re doing an asylum case, you’re doing the whole thing in front of a judge. It’s all yours” – something that’s particularly useful at a firm that likes to go to trial.
Pro bono hours
- For all (US) attorneys: 2,409
- Average per (US) attorney: 34.4
Pro bono isn’t the only way to facilitate career development, we heard. In addition to “associate mentors,” sources mentioned “many informal opportunities for young attorneys. Those include gap lunches – lunch with someone two years your senior – once a month. Once you are at fourth year you get a partner mentor.”
"The odds of making partner are so much better.”
Our interviewees liked “the fact that we have such a small associate class; the odds of making partner are so much better.” In addition to the statistical probability, we heard “the line they tell is that everyone comes in with the potential to make partner. They want to build you up.” Sources also mentioned Irell’s “large alumni network, with contact info for those alumni. Irell sees itself as a place that young attorneys can come and contribute early on.”
As for the atmosphere at Irell, interviewees described it as “simultaneously collaborative and independent. People are willing to jump in and help if you need anything,” they explained, “but people trust your education and the hiring process and let people do the work.” As a result, this created “an environment where people take a lot of ownership of the work. It feels really wholesome.” And in this wholesome manner, one associate said “’family’ is the best word I can use to describe it. Especially in the office in Newport Beach, people care about my life more than just my work.”
“It’s an encouraging place for individuality.”
The majority also agreed that “the firm is filled with extremely bright people.” One elaborated: “Every trial I’ve been to, I’ve been amazed by the quality of the people. But the firm lets everyone live and be themselves.” How so? “We had a former NASA engineer, who was completely serious at work, but would let his hair down and dance at the staff party and no one would bat an eye,” our source explained. “It’s an encouraging place for individuality. I really appreciated that aspect.” Indeed, in previous years, we’ve mentioned that Irell had a certain quirky side to it, which was a view partially shared by this year’s interviewees too. “Some people have more nerdy tendencies,” admitted one, though was quick to add “when we have happy hours, we end up talking about American football, mostly. It depends on who you speak to.” Whatever your interests, “everyone can find their niche here,” sources reassured us.
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
“I would say that the diversity numbers at Irell have room for improvement,” confirmed one interviewee. “But there’s a recognition on the hiring committee about ways to fix and move forward.” Around 80% of second and third-years were male, but one source reckoned “there’s a good mix of men and women at both junior partner and senior associate level.” While “the firm is certainly focused on diversity and there’s a lot of good outreach to get quality candidates, you’re handicapped by how few women go into STEM degrees.” The majority of people on our survey were more positive about the firm’s mental health and wellbeing initiatives and felt that it was possible to get mentorship from a diverse range of partners. The survey also indicated that the firm makes partnership achievable for attorneys with children.
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: undisclosed
Interviewees outside OCI: undisclosed
Irell does most of its recruitment through OCIs – Berkeley, Chicago, Columbia, Harvard, Michigan, Northwestern, NYU, Stanford, UCI, UCLA, USC and Yale are always on the list. Candidates can also apply by sending in a resume, and the firm hits three job fairs too: Loyola University of Chicago Patent Law Interview Program and the Penn Regional Interview Program.
Where possible, alumni from the school conduct interviews there. They're looking for “communication skills, leadership qualities, initiative and creativity” on top of the standard academic credentials. The questions posed during the interview will be focused on drawing these out. Irell also recommends interviewees have their own questions to ask.
Top tips for this stage:
“We always ask some kind of legal question – maybe based on your favorite class or something on your resume – as we want to see candidates engage in substantive legal discussions, though you don't have to memorize rules.”– a 3rd-year associate
“Because we're a smaller firm it's important that recruits bring a new perspective and will practice law with integrity. We appear before the court early in our careers so we need someone who can be the face of the firm.”– a 3rd-year associate
Once they've reached this stage, interviewees can expect to speak with at least three partners and several hiring committee members as part of their callback interview. Whether they're at a morning or an afternoon session, they'll get a meal (lunch or dinner). Successful candidates are invited back to get to know Irell better before summer.
How to impress here? There aren't real differences to the OCI – it's all about candidate and firm getting to know one another better. By this point you'll have a pretty good idea of the work Irell does and the character of the firm, so should definitely have some of your own questions at the ready.
Top tips for this stage:
“One initiative the firm's taken is structuring callbacks more effectively to remove implicit bias. We'll ask standard questions in various areas to seek out qualities like leadership and creativity.”– a 3rd-year associate
“I talk to a lot of people who don't know how to sell their resume. Focus on what demonstrates creative thinking and leadership skills.” – a 2nd-year associate
Matching faces to names is one of the key roles of Irell's summer program – attendees are encouraged to work with as many attorneys as possible to see everything from depositions and trials. Day to day work is complemented by formal programs with exciting titles like 'Legends of the Firm' and 'Trademark Year in Review.' Pro bono is another key aspect of the summer – adoption proceedings are one of the most common options.
Weekend retreats and dinners are a means for attorneys to get to know summers. Successful candidates will be those who've thrown themselves into everything, and in doing so have shown off their professionalism, ability and judgment.
Notable events: Beach parties, karaoke, rock climbing, cooking classes, grilled cheese and beer tastings.
Top tips for this stage:
“We have an unbelievable support staff who are always willing to help and make sure you use all the resources available.” – a 3rd-year associate.
“A huge advantage of summering at a smaller firm is that when you come back, attorneys you've made connections with will inevitably be your mentors.” – a 3rd-year associate
Irell's summer program includes the chance to get involved in a mock wrongful death trial, which is overseen by a judge.
Irell & Manella LLP
1800 Avenue of the Stars,
- Head Office: Los Angeles, CA
- Number of domestic offices: 3
- Number of international offices: 0
- Partners (US): 26
- Associates (US): 23
- Main recruitment contact: (firstname.lastname@example.org) Alanna Cowan
- Hiring partner: Keith Orso
- Diversity officer: Kyle Kawakami
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2022: 9
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2022: 1Ls: 4; 2Ls: 7
- Summers joining/anticipated 2022 split by office: Los Angeles: 9 Newport Beach: 2
- Summer salary 2022: 1Ls: $4,135; 2Ls: $4,135
- Split summers offered? Yes
Main areas of work
Complex commercial litigation, including all aspects of intellectual property (patent, trademark, copyright and trade secret), business litigation, class action litigation, securities litigation, and appellate.
Irell & Manella is a law firm primarily focused on high-stakes litigation with offices in Los Angeles and Newport Beach, California and Washington, D.C. Our unique practice and culture offer opportunities for talented law graduates to excel early in their careers. The quality of our work and the flexibility of our organization attract associates with the highest qualifications. Irell’s preeminent reputation brings clients to us from around the country and abroad.
Law Schools and Resume Collections attending for OCIs in 2022: Law Schools: Chapman University School of Law; Columbia University Law School; Cornell Law School; Duke University School of Law; Emory University School of Law; Florida A & M University College of Law; George Mason University School of Law; George Washington University Law School; Georgetown University Law Center; Harvard Law School; Howard University School of Law; Loyola Law School - Los Angeles; New York University School of Law; North Carolina Central University School of Law; Northwestern University School of Law; Pepperdine University School of Law; Santa Clara University School of Law; Southern University Law Center; Southwestern University School of Law; Stanford Law School; Texas Southern University, Thurgood Marshall School of Law; UCLA School of Law; University of California - Irvine School of Law; University of California at Berkeley; University of California, Davis; University of California, Hastings College of the Law; University of Chicago Law School; University of Michigan Law School; University of New Hampshire School of Law; University of Notre Dame Law School; University of Pennsylvania Law School; University of Southern California Gould School of Law; University of Texas School of Law; University of the District of Columbia School of Law; University of Virginia School of Law; University of Washington School of Law; University of Wisconsin Law School; Vanderbilt University Law School; Washington University School of Law; Yale Law School
Recruitment outside OCIs:
Job Fairs & Interview Programs: Loyola-Chicago Patent Law Interview Program, Penn Law Regional Interview Program, The Law Consortium
Summer associate profile: We recruit law students from the top law schools who excel academically. Consideration is given to participation in law school activities, undergraduate record, previous work experience, references and other factors. We look for individuals who are motivated, creative, show leadership, have a strong work ethic and are serious about being a lawyer.
Summer program components: Our summer program is designed to allow summer associates to explore the various areas of our practice. Summer associates have the opportunity to participate in a mock wrongful death trial that is tried to a jury and presided over by a judge. Each summer associate is assigned a mentor and a work coordinator. Feedback is provided on each project by the assigning attorney and each summer associate has a mid-summer review to deliver additional feedback about his or her progress.
Recruitment website: www.irell.com
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2022
- Intellectual Property: Patent Litigation (Band 1)
- Life Sciences (Band 4)
- Tax (Band 3)
USA - Nationwide
- Intellectual Property (Band 2)