Irell & Manella LLP - The Inside View

Hailing from the City of Angels, this firm is a haven for those with a penchant for patents.

Irell’s proof that good things do come in smaller packages. For our associate sources, the appeal lay within “being part of a smaller firm but still dealing with BigLaw matters.” Indeed, “with our shift into intellectual property litigation a couple years ago, we are now fairly unique in the market,” Jon Kagan, partner and chair of Irell’s hiring committee, tells us. “We have the ability to handle very large cases, but we still have the quality control benefits of being a small and focused firm.” One quick look at the firm’s Chambers USA accolades confirms just that. Irell picks up top-tier prizes for its California-based patent litigation work, and receives high praise for its intellectual property work nationwide. Described by our associate sources as having an “intellectual air,” it’s clear Irell really does put the intellectual in intellectual property.

But shiny awards and headline cases aren’t the only things that drew in our sharp-eyed sources. “I liked the thought of knowing everyone I work with and being known,” one interviewee added. With an overall headcount of just under 80 attorneys, there’s little room to hide. Irell has just three offices in total; the majority of juniors join the firm’s largest office in Century City, while a few others journey further south to Newport Beach. The firm’s also spread its wings beyond the Angel city with a venture into DC, which hires junior talent too!

Strategy & Future

Wandering eyes aren’t typically looked upon favorably. It’s lucky then, that Irell’s only got eyes for IP litigation. “We’re focused on general intellectual property and patents,” Kagan makes clear of the firm’s strategy. “We expect to be growing, but slowly and organically,” he adds. “I don’t expect us to have a drastic change of strategy as what we’ve been doing has been working so well for us. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”

And broke it definitely ain’t. “We’ve had a number of high-profile victories over the past year, and going back further as well – some cases take a while!” Take, for example, Irell’s successful representation on Netlist in a $303 million patent infringement verdict against tech giant Samsung earlier in 2023. It’s cases like these that set Irell as the crème de la crème in the world of patents and IP.

Read more from Jon Kagan under the 'Get Hired' tab.

The Work

Newbies join Irell’s broad litigation practice which encompasses general commercial litigation, IP litigation, and life sciences, representing both defendants and plaintiffs. Though associates’ practices are “predominantly generalist, the firm tries to pair people with technical backgrounds with cases that speak to their interests,” one associate shared. The firm largely follows a free market system, though there are also work coordinators on hand to help newbies. “It’s useful in your first year for your first several assignments,” a source explained. “You have that hand holding at the beginning, and then you pick up matters based on who you’ve worked with and word of mouth.”

Much of the firm’s work centers around IP litigation. On these types of matters, Irell represents clients from a multitude of industries, including life sciences and technology, on various patents involving software, semiconductors, biotechnology, and telecommunications (to name just a few!). As a junior associate, “your involvement is pretty broad depending on what stage each case is at,” a source explained. Juniors here find themselves working on anything from discovery motions, to doc review, to deposition prep and research for experts. There’s even the opportunity to go to trial – “It’s a busy time, but so exciting!” we heard.

IP litigation clients: VLSI Technology, Netlist, USAA. Represented semiconductor manufacturer Netlist in a lawsuit against Samsung involving computer memory patents.

“Honestly, I haven’t had to do a lot of the grunt work that people bemoan.”

Irell is also equipped to handle any general commercial litigation matters that arise from their IP cases, including arbitrations, appeals, and counseling. As well as representing large corporations and entities, in September 2022 the firm acted as co-counsel in securing a settlement for Quentin Tarantino in relation to a breach of contract, copyright, and trademark infringement lawsuit filed by Miramax. With leanly staffed teams, associates are exposed to substantive work from the get-go. “Honestly, I haven’t had to do a lot of the grunt work that people bemoan,” one pleased associate shared. “Much of my time has been spent working closely with a partner or two – it’s a great opportunity to see high-level partners in action!”

General commercial litigation clients: Uber Technologies, Fortress Investment Group, PanOptis. Represented tech startup Kytch in a lawsuit against McDonald’s which claims the fast-food chain attempted to destroy Kytch’s business.

Pro Bono

There’s no cap on the number of pro bono hours associates can bill (“It’s top-notch!”), and newbies are encouraged to undertake at least 60 hours. “A lot of associates get involved because there are plenty of matters that aren’t quite as time sensitive as client billable work,” we heard. There’s a broad range of matters associates can pick up, including asylum, domestic violence, housing, and adoption cases. On top of regular emails on available opportunities, associates explained, “There are a couple of partners who are pro bono coordinators, and you can pitch cases to them.”

Pro bono hours

  • For all US attorneys: undisclosed
  • Average per US attorney: undisclosed

Career Development

Our sources were in agreement on the firm’s “great mentorship culture.” An associate explained: “Partners spend a lot of time helping associates with writing and honing legal skills.” For example, “there’s a group of senior partners who put on a variety of CLE type programs, and ‘sleep learning’ sessions on Tuesdays where associates present on topics in the IP and patent realm.” On a more laid-back level, “as you think about your progression into your next year, you can reach out to your mentor to grab coffee and learn about what cases you should be on and who you should be working with depending on your experience so far.”

“…the ability to prove yourself early on.”

Speaking of progression, our sources gave partnership a thumbs-up for attainability. “By the nature of the size of the firm, your odds are a little higher,” one associate weighed up. “You have opportunities to get to know a lot of the partners who would be voting on your entry to partnership, coupled with substantive work from the get-go and the ability to prove yourself early on.”

Hours & Compensation

Billable hours: 2,000 target

Our sources were generally on track to hit the 2,000 hour target and unlock their above market bonuses, though we did hear that “the firm is very understanding of people who get very close but don’t quite make it.” When allocating bonuses, the firm also takes ‘quality non-billables’ into account. These include things like presenting, assisting with the summer program, business development pitches, and firm participation and citizenship.That being said, with the current influx of work, “it’s not hard to hit the billable hour requirement,” an associate proclaimed. “I reckon if you wanted to bill more than 2,000 you probably could!”

“…people aren’t being overworked.”

As with any BigLaw firm, the hours ebb and flow on a granular level. “On busy days I find myself logging off at around 9 or 10pm – of course taking breaks for dinner and what not! There are a handful of times I’ve been up until 1 or 2am,” one associate recalled. With that said, “the firm is very good about making sure people aren’t being overworked.” Though the firm largely follows a free market system, there are partners who check in with associates to ensure they’ve got a manageable portion on their plates.


According to our associate sources, “Irell’s culture is one of the attractive factors of the firm.” Described as having an academic air, we heard: “People are passionate about the projects they’re working on.” But it’s definitely not all work, no play.

On top of enjoying their work, “associates try to spend a lot of time together,” one source told us. This is facilitated by the firm’s generous lunch budget; associates are each given $35 to spend on lunches together. “Westfield Mall in Century City – (conveniently next door) – is a nice spot to eat, so I try to go into the office for that!” we heard.

The firm currently has no in-office requirement, and coupled with the fact that the Century City office is currently undergoing renovations, associates explained many people choose to work from home. “The firm has historically been understanding about people working from home, but the massive amounts of construction going on has made them even more understanding,” one source explained. Speaking of renovations, “My one complaint with Irell would’ve been that we have the oldest office building on the Avenue of the Stars in Century City,” an associate confessed. Luckily, that won’t be an issue for much longer.

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Our associate sources sang their praises for female representation among the more junior partnership classes, though agreed that they were yet to notice significant change in the overall makeup of partnership. There were some qualms over the representation of minority attorneys within the firm, with one source noting, “This is where the firm could change its hiring policies to encourage more diversity. Currently, the firm has a strict GPA requirement, and the law school you go to is a huge deciding factor that can sometimes be quite limiting when it comes to recruitment.” The firm attends OCIs at up to 50 law schools.

Get Hired 

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  

Summer program  

Offers: undisclosed 

Acceptances: 17 

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 'Intellectual Property at Irell’ 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: Summer 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  

And finally...  

Irell's summer program includes the chance to get involved in a mock wrongful death trial, which is overseen by a judge.


Interview with Jon Kagan, partner and chair of the hiring committee

Commercial strategy, market position and trends 

Chambers Associate: How would you define Irell’s current position and identity in the legal market? What differentiates Irell from its peer firms in the market?  

Jon Kagan: With our shift into intellectual property litigation a couple years ago, we are now fairly unique in the market. We’re of a moderate size – we’re not a small firm, but we’re also not a massive firm. We’re focused on general intellectual property and patents. I don’t think there’s any other firm positioned where we are in the space. We have the ability to handle very large cases, but we still have the quality control benefits of being a small and focused firm. We used to be more general practice like a lot of firms, but we’re now unique in the market. 

CA: Have there been any developments at the firm over the past year that you’d like law students to know about?  

Kagan: We’ve had a number of high profile victories over the past year, and even going further back as well – some cases take a while! 

We have more billion dollar and five hundred billion dollar plus verdicts that any other firm in the country of any size. Some firms really push volume work and advertise themselves as doing more patent litigation than anyone else, and they can do so because of the size of their firms, but when it comes to top quality cases, no one can touch us right now. 

CA: Are there any domestic or international events/trendsthat are affecting any of the firm’s practices at the moment? Are there any trends that you think are affecting the business of law firms more generally, and how is that playing out with your firm? 

Kagan: There are always changes going on in the US patent system, particularly with IPRs (inter partes reviews). Every time a new director comes in it can be a little unsettled. What’s going on in the US with IPRs at the patent office does have a big impact on us and the work we do. Another thing is the so called ‘101 issues’ in the US – it’s something that is developing. There was a case the other day about it. It’s an area that is somewhat unsettled in US law, so that is something creating a bit of tension in on going litigations. On the international front, it does seem like COVID is over when it comes to litigations. A year ago, I was still doing remote hearings and it didn’t seem like there were as many cases being filed, but we’re now back to normal at least in the IP world. 

CA: Turning to Irell’s office in DC which opened up in 2021 – does that office currently hire junior associates? What do the growth plans for that office (or other offices) look like?  

Kagan: We do hire junior associates in DC! It’s very much an office where we’re hiring. What we’ve found is that even though people are doing more remote work, there is a benefit to coming into the office and being together and collaborating. Having a physical location in DC gives us a place where people who would have worked remotely for us before can now get physical interaction. 

It’s been difficult to convince junior lawyers of the benefits of being in office. When I was coming up through the ranks, a lot of the best learning I did was watching other lawyers doing their work and talking about our cases and sharing ideas. It’s hard to sell juniors on those ideas, but I think having a physical location is important. 

In terms of growth strategy, it’s pretty much the same. We expect to be growing, but slowly and organically. I don’t expect us to have a drastic change of strategy. What we have been doing has been working so well for us and we’ve been able to attract top quality candidates and train them, and as they progress they can carry out the quality of work we’re looking for for our clients. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! 

CA: AI regulation is a hot topic at the moment and has been for a while – I know in October 2023 President Biden signed an executive order surrounding the use and development of AI. How do you predict the discourse around AI regulation will continue to unfold? How will it affect the work that Irell carries out? 

Kagan: This is a big issue at the moment. Right now, it’s more in the copyright space. Earlier this month, an order was issued on the Sarah Silverman case against Meta and OpenAI in relation to the engines being developed using their materials. It’s similar to what Google did with its index a few years ago.  

It’s really uncertain at the moment. It’s likely going to be analogous with what happened with Google and their mass scanning of books. Sometimes regulations may be the best way of doing it. 

The other way that AI is affecting all businesses is the extent to which lawyers are going to be relying on AI. Just like college students, there’s the danger that people might be using AI to do legal work. There’s no AI that’s been good enough to do that yet. We’re not yet at a place where that’s a real concern, but in the future it may be something to watch out for. 

Inside the Firm 

CA: What’s the firm’s approach to bolstering diversity, equity, and inclusion?  

Kagan: We have a diversity committee that is active in scheduling events for the firm, and we have diversity scholarships for applicants from law school. We’re a firm that has its roots in exclusion – we were started by Jewish lawyers when established law firms would not hire Jews. For many years, the head of our litigation group, Morgan Chu, who is Asian American, has been a prominent person in the firm. DE&I is integral to the founding of the firm and has been a part of us even before it was something that all firms started paying attention to. 

The Legal Profession 

CA: How do you predict the legal profession will change in the next five years? Are there any particular challenges the industry is facing? 

Kagan: Some of the biggest challenges we’re facing relates to those in-person interactions. It does seem that there is a trend away from in-person interactions as people move towards a distributed model of law firms. I think it’s important for our firm and our culture to keep going with the in-person experiences. It’s so important to the profession to have those interactions with each other and the opposing side. It’s a challenge to get people to come into the office and interact. If we go the remote way, everyone just becomes a commodity and they’ll end up going to places where they’re paid best. At Irell, we don’t treat our people like that, and we don’t want to hire people who feel like commodities! That in-person interaction is so essential to training and building and maintaining our culture. We’re a small firm with a particular culture and we want to maintain that. 

The Fun Bit 

CA: The hours in BigLaw can be punishing. How do you unwind at the end of a long day/week? 

Kagan: Usually, the way I like to unwind is just to sit down and watch some good old American football, but I can only do that for four months of the year! I’m also a pilot! Because the job is so tough, I think the diversion has to be demanding as well. I like to fly when I’m not so busy. 

CA: Is there a movie/TV show/books about lawyers or the legal profession that you particularly enjoy? And how accurate would you say it is? 

Kagan: I would say My Cousin Vinny is the best lawyer movie I’ve ever seen! I’ve used clips from it as a teaching tool in some of my lectures, but I wouldn’t say it’s accurate at all. It’s accurate in the same way you’d look at an impressionist painting and glean some insight for the real world. 

There’s also a show called Jury Duty where everyone apart from one guy on the jury is an actor. 

But if anyone is interested in getting into the legal profession, I still recommend law school!

Irell & Manella LLP

1800 Avenue of the Stars,
Los Angeles,
CA 90067-4276

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.

Firm profile
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 2024: 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

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.

Social media:
Recruitment website:
Linkedin: irell-&-manella
Twitter: @IrellandManella

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2023

Ranked Departments

    • Intellectual Property: Patent Litigation (Band 1)
    • Life Sciences (Band 4)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 2)