AmLaw on IP Associate Satisfaction

Congratulations to Finnegan Henderson for ranking second in American Lawyer’s midlevel associate satisfaction survey. In discussing Finnegan Henderson’s success, the article talks a little about the relevant satisfaction of IP associates compared with other associates:

Throughout our survey, IP midlevels reported slightly higher satisfaction levels than their non-IP counterparts. Of the 6,568 associates who participated in our survey, roughly 8.3 percent said they are primarily IP lawyers, and, as a group, they gave their firms higher scores than the non-IP associates on all 12 of the questions that we use to determine a firm’s composite score. The five areas where the gaps between IP respondents and non-IP respondents were greatest are likelihood of being at the firm in two years (3.96 for IP respondents; 3.65 for non-IP respondents), interest level of work (4.24; 4.02), satisfaction level of work (4.07; 3.85), management openness about finances (3.59; 3.39) and how clearly the firm communicates about partnership chances (3.14; 2.97). IP respondents also had an edge over non-IP respondents in training and guidance (3.73; 3.6) and overall satisfaction with their firm (4.21; 4.05).

These scores may have something to do with the field itself and the midlevels it attracts. IP associates tend to be older and have significant work experience or training outside the law, often in science or technology. In addition, IP is intellectually abstract — a still-developing body of law that increasingly commands the attention of big business and the public.

No industrywide studies have been done on the composition of the IP bar, but our survey results and interviews with practitioners suggest that IP associates are more likely to have taken time off between college and law school. While 57 percent of non-IP associates in our survey took a break between the two, 65 percent of IP associates did. In most cases, IP associates spent that interim period either getting an advanced degree in science, technology or engineering, or working in one or all of those fields.

“Very often [IP associates] are second-career attorneys,” says Anna Tsirulik, a managing director with the recruiting firm Major, Lindsey & Africa. “Either they are young guns with a computer science degree who worked as a software engineer for two years or, very often, people who had a true career practicing as a mechanical engineer for 10 years. With that seniority come wonderful traits like maturity and judgment.”

IP associates with a background in academic science or technology relish the opportunity to pursue that intellectual passion in a different venue. Most didn’t leave the lab bench for the legal bar because they were tired of studying science; rather, they were tired of doing research. Finnegan associate Nicole Valtz says that as a researcher, “only 5 percent of what you do works.” But as an IP lawyer paid to learn about cutting-edge science and technology, “we only see that 5 percent.”