California dreamin’ of a litigation firm with a focus on patents? It exists IRL.
Sometimes important decisions can turn out to be quite simple. For Irell’s associate cohort, there wasn’t much hand-wringing when it came to choosing the firm for them: “If you wanna be in LA, and you wanna do IP litigation, Irell is the best in the business.” Our sister publication Chambers USA is inclined to agree: it rates Irell’s patent litigation capabilities among the best in California and also tips its cap to the firm’s prowess in IP on the nationwide stage. But that’s not all there is to this Fresh Prince’s story…
This SoCal local expanded its geographic footprint in 2021 with a foray into DC. The new location cements Irell’s desire to strengthen its IP and complex commercial litigation, appeals, USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office) proceedings and policy work. If you’re going to have that aim, you may as well do it with a former director of the USPTO, which is exactly what Irell did: partner Andrei Iancu is heading up the base in DC. More recently, the firm bolstered its patent offering in the capital by hiring a former Federal Circuit judge as counsel.
“...the opportunity to do interesting, complex work, all while knowing everyone in the office.”
While the DC practice may be the current hot topic, Irell’s main bases remain in California, where the firm picks up two further Chambers USA accolades for tax and life sciences know-how. Most of the juniors we spoke with were based in the firm’s largest office, Century City, while a few others were further south in Newport Beach. The firm’s matters certainly aren’t limited to the Golden State, however. For example, Irell recently secured a $948 million win for VLSI Technology against Intel Corporation in Austin, Texas. Ultimately, this “small firm with BigLaw work” proved a hit with our interviewees, who were “attracted to the opportunity to do interesting, complex work, all the while knowing everyone in the office.”
Strategy & Future
“Our strength is our ability to take on the most difficult and complex matters and achieve exceptional results,” says Jon Kagan, partner and member of Irell’s executive committee. “We have a deep bench of expertise at the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and that team is continuing to get even stronger.” On the subject of expansion in the capital, Kagan explains that “we were already very active before the USPTO, Federal Circuit and US International Trade Commission, so having a DC office also makes it convenient for our lawyers.”
“We intend to remain uniquely positioned to handle high-value, complex litigation,” Kagan tells us, which means hiring the best junior talent coming up through the pipeline: “Because our hiring standards are so high andour staffing is lean, we have the ability to provide more junior associates with larger and more meaningful roles in matters than many of their contemporaries at other law firms. For example, our junior associates are taking depositions, have speaking roles at trial, etc.” For more from Kagan, click on the ‘Get Hired’ tab above.
Incoming juniors join the firm’s broad litigation practice, which isn’t separated into distinct groups. Of course, “there are partners who specialize in different areas, but associates aren’t siloed to one group or the other.” The firm’s free market assignment system means associates are “free to reach out to anyone to see what they’re working on and if there’s room for them to get involved.” We heard that there’s plenty of work to go around, so partners frequently approach juniors with matters they may be interested in. As a safety net, “there are attorneys who are in charge of ensuring we have the right amount of work,” a source explained. Another informed us that if you’ve already got enough on your plate, “mentors can coach you on the best way to say no” to additional assignments.
“We’re not afraid to take cases to trial!”
Most of our sources had worked on IP litigation matters. Irell argues cases from both the plaintiff and defense sides and has an impressive roster of clients from the tech and life sciences sectors. If patents focused on biotech and semiconductors get you going, you’ll be in good company here. “I’ve had really cool opportunities to get involved in oral advocacy on high-stakes cases,” a third-year associate told us. “I’ve examined witnesses, argued motions, and gone to many trials. One thing about Irell is that we’re not afraid to take cases to trial!” Another aspect that sources liked was the number of smaller, discrete elements they could take ownership of, like conducting research into copyright and patent issues.
IP litigation clients: Johnson & Johnson, Skechers, and United Services Automobile Association (USAA). Represented PanOptis in a $300 million patent suit against Apple involving cellular technology used in iPhones, iPads, and Apple watches.
The firm’s litigation expertise extends to general commercial matters, which often arise from the IP cases it takes on. “Some of it stems from patent stuff and antitrust claims, and there are also a lot of contract disputes that we handle,” a source helpfully explained for us. “There are also a couple of partners who handle securities cases.” Our interviewees were involved in arbitrations where they were able to carry out research; communicate with opposing counsel; conduct arguments during pre-arbitration conferences; and “take the first pass at briefs.” Smaller arbitration matters were deemed particularly gratifying, as “you get to work directly with a partner and gain insight into the strategy.”
General commercial clients: Uber Technologies, City of Pomona, and Fortress Investment Group. Successfully defended Uber Technologies against a securities fraud class action.
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: 2,000 target
Hit the 2,000 target and you’ve unlocked your end-of-year bonus. Simple. With a good flow of work, our sources confirmed this target was well within reach - even more so with the inclusion of an unlimited pro bono allowance.Interviewees were generally on track to comfortably reach the target and we heard no concerns about missing it.
It’s hard to give an exact snapshot of what associates typically bill within a week, as “it’s so variable!” We did hear that “weeks at trial could mean billing 15 hours a day” with some weekend work, while slower weeks with no deadlines meant you could take it a bit easier: “It all depends on the life cycle of the matter!” What’s more, to ensure juniors aren’t over-burdened (or sat around twiddling their thumbs), they’re “assigned individual partners who are tasked with checking in” to make sure they feel on track. A sweet spot for juniors was working on “a small number of cases, each of which you’re very involved in.” For their toils, associates are compensated no less than the market rate. “I really can’t think of anyone who pays more than we do,” one source pondered...
“It’s all billable and you’re allowed to do as much as you want,” an interviewee happily conveyed when discussing Irell’s approach to pro bono. Juniors recalled frequently participating in pro bono clinics during their first year, but some had found it difficult to maintain the momentum due to the demands of standard billable work. Nonetheless, the firm has “a few partners who are very involved, and they make sure that information on local organizations that need attorneys is circulated.” We were told that there’s lots of immigration work to be done, with sources noting that it’s always easy to find cases: “You don’t have to do the extra work of finding pro bono work. We have a pro bono coordinator as a point of contact, and they send out weekly and even bi-weekly alerts for opportunities.” What’s more, first-year associates are encouraged to complete at least 60 hours: “The firm encourages you to get involved early as it’s a great way to gain experience quickly. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved!”
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys: undisclosed
- Average per attorney: undisclosed
“The mentorship aspect is strong.”
Our sources agreed the firm was invested in boosting their progression. “The mentorship aspect is strong – there’s both formal and informal mentorship with partners,” one commented. “They’re frequently checking in on the work you’re doing.” Another explained: “Irell is a small firm and doesn’t have the business model where the approach is ‘We’ve got 100 associates and the best are going to rise up while the rest fall out.’ I’ve never felt hung out to dry if I’ve made a mistake.” Interviewees agreed that this approach made the partnership feel attainable. “People are recruited with the full intention that they’ll be able to make partner if they want to,” we heard. “Most of the people making partner are people who summered at the firm.” Equally, “if it’s not something you want, there’s no pressure!”
Speaking of pressure, you’ll be hard pressed to find this lot succumbing to it. “I’ve never seen any big arguments in high-stress situations!” one interviewee told us. Phew. Our sources attributed this to the strong sense of cohesion within teams, particularly in the litigation group. “Our litigation teams are much smaller than those at a lot of our peer firms, so you spend a lot of time with the same people,” we heard. Another remarked: “As we’re a small firm, you can send out a litigation-wide email about an issue you’re stuck on and ask for pointers – but don’t worry, you’re not constantly getting spammed with that because there aren’t that many of us!” This, coupled with the fact that the firm “actively recruits people who fit in,” meant our sources were able to “relax and… live! That’s the best way I can put it!”
So, who are the people that fit in? “Everyone is so incredibly smart and down to earth, which makes them approachable and enjoyable to work with,” a junior summarized. “The social side is picking up again, so on Mondays we have a drop-by lunch and on Fridays there’s a happy hour. We also have Tuesday lunch and learn sessions, where all offices can Zoom in, so you can socialize with those who you wouldn’t usually see.” Interviewees were also keen to point out that Irell actively encouraged flexible working before it was cool and the done thing. “The culture’s always been ‘We don’t need to see you at your desk.’ As long as you’re doing a good job, you have the freedom to do it where you want,” a source told us. “I appreciate that we’re measured on our output and quality of our work.”
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
“We have a diversity committee that is committed to making the hiring process fair and removing bias as much as possible,” a source noted. “The firm’s desire is genuine,” they added, before highlighting that “the representation of women is increasing, which you can see in the partner promotions over the years.” Another interviewee agreed and commented that “there are lots of very successful women at the firm, and I work with several female partners.” Interviewees did feel that the representation of people of color was lacking and an area for the firm to improve on. On the recruitment front, Irell offered a Diversity Scholarship Award of $20,000 to several 2Ls who participated in the firm’s 2023 summer program and met the relevant criteria.
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 (I might swap this one out for 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. (I just want to make clear that summer associates can also be successful even if they don’t want to participate in everything – because that is OK too!)
Notable events: Beach parties (I would change this to Summer Party), 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.
Chambers Associate interview with Jonathan Kagan, member of Irell’s Executive Committee
How would you define your firm’s current position and identity in the legal market?
Jonathan Kagan, member of Irell’s Executive Committee: We are a high-end firm focused on litigation with an emphasis on intellectual property and other complex commercial litigation. Our strength is our ability to take on the most difficult and complex matters and achieve exceptional results. We not only have a lot of experience with these kinds of cases, but we love to litigate them. We are defined by the quality of our lawyers, all of whom are absolutely outstanding at what they do.
What are your core practice areas and sector priorities?
JK: We are known for IP litigation, particularly patent matters. We are fortunate to have clients that entrust us with their cases involving complex, consequential issues at the intersection of law and technology, and we have been able to achieve a string of major victories in this space. We have a deep bench of expertise at the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and that team is continuing to get even stronger. In particular, Kathleen O’Malley joined Irell earlier this year after serving as a Federal Circuit judge for over a decade. The group also includes multiple other former clerks from the Federal Circuit, as well as other appellate courts.
Have there been any developments at the firm over the past year that you would like our readers to know about?
JK: We opened an office in Washington, D.C., where we are stocked with fantastic lawyers. For instance, we have Andrei Iancu, the former director of the US Patent and Trademark Office, the aforementioned Judge O’Malley, and Michael Fleming, a former chief administrative patent judge, among others. Opening the office has allowed us to develop and strengthen our IP and litigation practices, especially in the areas of appeals, USPTO proceedings and policy work. We were already very active before the USPTO, Federal Circuit and US International Trade Commission, so having a D.C. office also makes it convenient for our lawyers.
Are there any domestic or international events/trends (legal, economic, political, social) affecting the work conducted by the firm or the way in which it is structured and run?
JK: We are less affected by negative external events than other firms due to the nature of our practice, which is high-value, complex, non-commodity litigation. That focus, along with our conservative fiscal management, allows us to weather economic downturns and other adverse events. For instance, during the pandemic, we did not have to have furloughs, pay cuts or layoffs, unlike many other firms. It was the same during the Great Recession.
What is your firm's strategy and how do you expect the next year to unfold?
JK: Our strategy is to continue doing what we are doing, which is to focus on our core strengths and continue to achieve excellent results for our clients. We intend to remain uniquely positioned to handle high-value, complex litigation. We will continue to focus relentlessly on quality and client service.
How is the firm evolving to accommodate the needs/expectations of the next generation of lawyers?
JK: The next generation of lawyers, at least the ones at Irell, want early responsibility. They don’t want to be stuck doing document review or writing research memos for the first three years.Because our hiring standards are so high andour staffing is lean, we have the ability to provide more junior associates with larger and more meaningful roles in matters than many of their contemporaries at other law firms. For example, our junior associates are taking depositions, have speaking roles at trial, etc.
What is the greatest challenge facing the firm in the next decade? How about the legal market more generally?
JK: The greatest challenge for Irell is always finding attorneys that meet our strict hiring standards, and are capable of doing work for clients at the level we - and our clients - expect from Irell attorneys.
What is the firm’s approach to bolstering diversity, equity, and inclusion? Are there any initiatives that are new or that have been working particularly well that you would like to flag?
JK: As a firm that was founded in response to the discriminating practices of law firms in the 1940s, a focus on diversity has always permeated our culture, and we are continually striving to improve our efforts to recruit, retain and advance lawyers from under-represented groups. For instance, we host a number of events and trainings targeted at inclusion, including sessions on unconscious bias and featuring key figures and diverse attorneys who are making a difference. Additionally, the firm offers Diversity Scholarship Awards of $20,000 to a select number of second-year law students who, in addition to meeting certain criteria, receive and accept an offer to participate in the firm's summer program.
What advice do you have for students and junior associates who are just about to embark/have just embarked on their legal career?
JK: I recommend theyreally lean into the work they are doing. Take ownership of the matters they are working on and take advantage of every opportunity. Look at every experience as a learning opportunity and never stop learning.
Irell & Manella LLP
1800 Avenue of the Stars,
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, 2023
- Intellectual Property: Patent Litigation (Band 1)
- Life Sciences (Band 4)
USA - Nationwide
- Intellectual Property (Band 2)