IP whiz Irell & Manella is an “intellectually diverse” place to work in the Golden State.
IF the characters in The Big Bang Theory gave up physics for law, you might find them a few miles down the road at Irell & Manella, a California-based firm focused on IP and complex litigation. Associates here described an “intellectually diverse” workplace, or in other words, “the firm is known for being pretty nerdy.” Partner Jon Kagan admits: "There may be some truth to that, but shows like The Big Bang Theory have helped mitigate any stigma from that observation." Indeed as one associate proudly explained, “we take on really complex cases, do intellectually challenging work, and come up with new solutions.” Is it just us seeing Sheldon in front of a whiteboard right now? It’s not a bad commute for the Pasadena-based crew either, as Irell is headquartered in Century City on Avenue of the Stars – fitting for a firm that works regularly with clients in tech and media. Irell also has a second office in Newport Beach.
Patent litigation in particular is a major area of focus for the firm. To give you an idea of the firm’s expertise in this area, consider the fact that the head of the US Patent and Trademark Office, Andrei Iancu, was Irell’s managing partner before taking on his current role. Chambers USA puts Irell as one of the best firms for IP in California, and it’s also highly ranked in this area at a national level. Securities litigation and media and entertainment litigation are another couple of stand-out areas for Irell in California, and the firm also picks up nods for its life sciences work and general commercial litigation.
Most juniors join the firm’s broad litigation practice, and with a free-market system for getting work, they can mix and match the type of cases they do. However for brand-new juniors, a work coordinator is on hand “and you’re assigned a couple of cases, so you don’t have to start looking straight away.” But after just a few months of “knocking on doors,” sources said they became so busy that “you’re not going out looking for work.” Such a system “can be challenging at times.” As one put it, “it’s hard to say no as a young attorney starting out.” And it’s easy to overcommit: “You want to be known as the person who gets things done.” Over time, juniors said, “you learn to say no, tactfully.”
With a firm headcount of around 100, there may only be a few attorneys working on one matter. “A lot of times it’s you and the partner,” associates said, which meant “there aren’t first or second-year tasks – you do whatever needs to be done.” Sources said this kind of setup “forces you to grow” but cautioned “it’s difficult to manage,” especially for people who prefer a lot of structure.
“I’ve gotten to do everything I wanted to do as a baby law student!”
About half of the associates on our list were focused on IP litigation, but almost all of them had done at least some work related to IP. As well as patent litigation, the firm’s practice handles patents, trademarks and copyrights, trade secrets, antitrust work. “I’ve gotten to do everything I wanted to do as a baby law student!” one happy associate exclaimed. Patent cases were a common fixture for junior associates – in this space the firm works with technology clients in “wide-ranging” industries including software, semiconductors, biotechnology, medical products, telecommunications and video games. On the non-patent side, associates had worked on trademark and trade secret cases. Tasks included “preparing and depositions, drafting discovery letters, and taking notes at trial.” One associate “got to defend an expert witness.”
IP clients: Networking firm Juniper Networks, Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, Skechers. Represented Philips-owned semiconductor manufacturer VLSI Technology in five infringement suits against Intel covering 21 patents.
Outside of IP, there was more to be found in commercial and securities litigation, as well as white-collar and class action defense work. Juniors here were equally happy with their responsibilities: “I was the most junior and the most senior associate on one case!” one told us. “Discussing strategy” was a particular highlight, as was “second-chairing a deposition.” Juniors also got to work closely with clients: “On most of my cases I have direct client contact.” Juniors said they “still do doc review,” but that there’s “a lot ofresearch and writing.” A highlight for one associate was being “the principal drafter of an enormous brief.”
Litigation clients: Uber, Walt Disney, Hulu, Warner Bros., oil and gas company PDC Energy. Represented United Talent Agency in a $100 million dispute with Writers Guild of America
Associates were well aware of Irell's reputation for intellectualism. One associate even went as far as to say: “The most striking thing about Irell is that you have to be a nerd.” Well, it’s certainly not a requirement you’ll see in the job description, but it’s fair to say that the firm attracts those of “a nerdy disposition.” But interviewees were adamant that there isn’t a type: “You could be a sports nerd or a theater nerd – it doesn’t matter, you’ve just got to have a little quirk.” From a junior perspective, “everyone is very smart, which can be intimidating,” said one associate. “But even though I always have a ton of questions, everyone’s willing to answer them.”
“You could be a sports nerd or a theater nerd – it doesn’t matter, you’ve just got to have a little quirk.”
In this regard, associates described a “nurturing” environment thanks partly to the size of the firm – the Newport Beach office is even smaller than the Century City base. “All of us are inherently competitive,” associates acknowledged, “but our competition isn’t negative against each other. We have informal get-togethers and happy hours where people show up to chat.” Something that newbies said everyone needs to get to grips with quickly is how each partner works and what they prefer from the junior associates. “One partner only gives out good work to people who are in the office,” one revealed. “Some partners want you in the office when you’re working with them, and others don’t care. You can work from home, so long as you don’t have anything on in the office.”
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: 2,000 target
“I’m busy, but not crazy busy,” one junior told us.So what does not crazy busy look like at Irell? “I usually start at 9am and log off around 9pm or 10pm.” Not everyone was working twelve-hour days, partly because of the free-market system: “It allows you to control your schedule.” One associate who subscribed to this mantra told us: “I work about eight or nine hours a day, but when it’s busy it can go up to 16.” During a busy stretch, one told us, “I was billing 12 hours a day, and no one cared that I billed nearly nothing the week after!”
Irell’s juicy associate bonuses are paid above the rate set by firms like Milbank and Cravath. To get this much coveted prize, associates are expected to meet the billing target, which sources found manageable. “I can’t imagine anyone have trouble meeting hours,” associates said, “but if you did you could do pro bono.”
Associates can bill all of their pro bono hours toward the target, but while sources felt “encouraged to do pro bono by the firm,” some said they were “simply too busy” to take on many cases. Irell partners with organizations including Lamba Legal, Kids In Need of Defense, American Civil Liberties Union, AMVETS Legal Clinic, Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project. Associates can also propose bringing in their own work to the pro bono committee, “and they usually approve it.” Our sources said: “Helping asylum seekers and refugees” in immigration cases was common, as were adoption cases.
Pro bono hours
- For all (US) attorneys: 6,767.1
- Average per (US) attorney: 97.6
Diversity & Inclusion
When it comes to diversity, “everyone at the firm thinks we can do better,” one source told us, “but we’re a small firm so if we lose one person, it’s a big deal.” That is, it has a bigger impact on the stats than it would at a bigger firm. At the recruitment level, Irell awards a $15,000 diversity scholarship to 2L students. The firm also recently revamped its interviewing process – associates told us: “We have questions that are designed to reduce implicit bias.” The firm also rolls out implicit bias training.
Our sources were confident that mental health issues were “something the firm takes seriously,” pointing to monthly mental health and de-stressing programs as a source of support. We also heard the firm provides counseling services to any associate who require them.
Associates had a strong sense that the firm “wants us to stay – they’re trying to keep their top talent.” As one confidently noted, “we’re incredibly marketable – we know it and the firm knows it. After being here I can do just about anything.” We heard of former Irell attorneys moving on to in-house positions or to work in government. Whether they decide to stay or move on, our sources felt supported: “Senior partners ask us what we want to do and how Irell can help.” Associates also found opportunities to talk about their futures with partners over lunch thanks to the firm’s mentorship program.
“We can make an effort to get our own clients.”
In terms of formal training, all first-years attend a retreat “focused on litigation, but also with transactional components.” There’s also two-day deposition training, “including a mock deposition with a court reporter, which is very cool.” Associates appreciated additional quarterly trainings for their first 18 months at the firm, which featured topics such as writing briefs and how to set out arguments. There’s a client development budget for associates, “so we can make an effort to get our own clients.”
Strategy & Future
Reflecting on a dip in headcount in recent years (it’s fallen by about 30 since 2017), associates said: “A lot of people are wondering what the future holds. Because we’re patent-focused, Irell might need to decide if it’s going to become a specialized firm.” Partner Jon Kagan reiterates the firm’s efforts to focus on commercial litigation and IP: “We used to have more practice areas and we were not as tightly focused on our core strengths. Over the past several years, however, we have been focusing the firm on those practice areas where we are recognized as being preeminent. We do not want to be an international law firm, but a lean and mean one focused on quality.”
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: undisclosed
Interviewees outside OCI: undisclosed
Irell does most of its recruitment through OCIs – the firm visits different schools each year, but 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: LA On Tour, 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
Applicants invited to second stage: undisclosed
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 corporate closings to 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 retired federal judge.
Interview with partner Jonathan Kagan
Chambers Associate: How would you describe Irell's current market position to our readers?
Jonathan Kagan: We are a high-end litigation firm that focuses on a difficult and complex cases. We are defined by the quality of our lawyers, all of whom are absolutely outstanding at what they do. We’ve been accused of being on a bit nerdy at times, and there may be some truth to that, but shows like The Big Bang Theory have helped mitigate any stigma from that observation.
CA: Will you be taking over as managing partner following the departure of David Gindler in 2019, or will the firm maintain its recently established management committee structure?
JK: That’s still to be decided. We’ll address the managing partner versus management committee issue at some point in 2020, but for now, the management committee structure is working well for us.
“At Irell, the feeling is ‘this person is really smart.’”
CA:Which of the firm’s practices have been performing especially well recently?
JK: IP is doing very well. And our success in the IP space just breeds more success – as we rack up more and more well-publicized victories in the IP space, more clients and potential clients want us to do their IP work – which allows us to be even more selective about the cases we agree to take on.
CA: Which practices or sectors have you earmarked for growth over the next year and why?
JK: We expect that the IP practice will continue to expand. We also believe that we will need to add resources to litigate complex business disputes and commercial litigation. What we’ve found is that many firms can handle generic disputes, including us, but we have an edge when it comes to the more complex issues. Those particularly thorny and important matters are a growth area for the firm.
CA:Have there been any other developments at Irell over the past year that you would like our readers to know about?
JK: We’ve been refocusing on the practices areas I've mentioned. We used to have more practice areas and we were not as tightly focused on our core strengths. Over the past several years, however, we have been focusing the firm on those practice areas where we are recognized as being preeminent. We do not want to be an international law firm, but a lean and mean one focused on quality.
“We do not want to be an international law firm, but a lean and mean one focused on quality.”
CA:What do you hope Irell will look like in five years' time?
JK: I hope that we keep our focus, and we grow the core areas of the firm. I want every single lawyer in this firm to be recognized as being the very best at what they do.
CA:Associates were curious as to whether the firm will hire more attorneys than it does now, given the decline in headcount at Irell over the last few years.
JK: In IP, we are blessed to have more work than people to do it and we’re always looking for more people – but only if they have the skills and willingness to perform at the highest levels of excellence. These people are not easy to find, but they are the bread-and-butter of our firm. If we find a group of brilliant people lined up outside the door, we’ll hire every single one of them!
CA:We also heard from associates that, given the focus on patent law, you might be moving towards becoming a boutique firm?
JK: That depends on what you mean by boutique. Firms are generally sorted in one of two camps: either a boutique, where there’s a handful of lawyers doing one thing; or a firm that’s spread all over the US or world that offers a wide array of legal services. We’re much closer to the boutique model, but we’re not a traditional boutique with a single speciality.
“We’re much closer to the boutique model but we’re not a traditional boutique with a single speciality.”
CA:Why do you think there’s still such a high gender imbalance among the firm’s partnership? (13% of partners were female at the last count)
JK: I don’t really know. We’ve had three women leave for the bench, it may be more, and the judiciary is also trying to diversify, which makes things more difficult for us. We’re a smaller firm so each attorney represents a much higher percentage – one or two partners leaving isn’t that bad, but if you have only 30 partners then you’re losing 5% of your female partners and that statistic looks awful. I think the numbers are going to improve over time and that it’s a short-term issue, and in other categories of diversity I think we do quite well.
CA:Do you think enough is being done to tackle implicit bias at law firms across the industry?
JK: I think more can be done. We do implicit bias training as there are probably a lot of people and indeed a lot of firms who don’t even see it as an issue. Once you’ve gone through the training, then you begin to recognize it’s a bigger problem than it seems.
Irell & Manella LLP
1800 Avenue of the Stars,
- Head Office: Los Angeles, CA
- Number of domestic offices: 2
- Number of international offices: 0
- Partners (US): 28
- Associates (US): 37
- Main recruitment contact: Alanna Cowan (email@example.com)
- Hiring partner: Keith Orso
- Diversity officer: Kyle Kawakami
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2020: 10
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2020: 2Ls: 13
- Summers joining/anticipated 2020 split by office: Los Angeles: 11
- Newport Beach: 2
- Summer salary 2019:
- 1Ls: $3,654 2Ls: $3,654
- Split summers offered? Yes
Main areas of work
Complex commercial litigation including all aspects of intellectual property (patent, trademark, copyright and trade secret), high-stakes business litigation, class action defense, 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. 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 and allows us to concentrate our physical presence in a single metropolitan area ensuring firm cohesion and a minimum of bureaucracy.
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2020: Law Schools: Berkeley, University of Chicago, Columbia, Harvard, Michigan, Northwestern, NYU, Stanford, UCLA, UC Irvine, USC, Yale.
Recruitment outside OCIs:
Job Fairs & Interview Programs: Loyola University Chicago Patent Law Interview Program, Los Angeles On Tour Interview Program (Otip), Penn Regional Interview Program.
Resume Collections: Cornell, Chapman, Duke, Georgetown, George Washington, Howard, Loyola (Los Angeles), Notre Dame, Pepperdine, Southwestern, Texas, University of Pennsylvania, UVA, Vanderbilt and Wisconsin.
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, 2020
- Intellectual Property (Band 2)
- Life Sciences (Band 4)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 5)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 3)
- Tax (Band 3)
USA - Nationwide
- Intellectual Property (Band 2)