Smith & Hopen is an epitome of an IP boutique and consistently ranks as the top firm for patent law. We practice intellectual property law–and nothing else. We are a full-spectrum IP firm handling a wide range of IP matters, including all aspects of patent and trademark prosecution, IPR trials, and Federal Circuit appeals. Although our team is concise, our client list is extensive. We represent universities throughout the United States, medical research institutions, startups, multinational corporations, and independent inventors. The goal of this article is to explain why organizations that value their IP rights choose IP boutiques over large law firms.
Large law firms suffer from a high turnover
To outsiders, this fact may sound counterintuitive, but patent attorneys at smaller IP boutiques are generally much more experienced than their counterparts working at large law firms. It is no secret that large law firms suffer from high turnover rates. Indeed, just a month ago, Bloomberg News published an article discussing Big Law’s failing struggle to retain associates.
What happens when experienced associates depart large law firms? They get replaced with a new class of law school grads. On a mission to pay off their student loans, fresh-out-of-school attorneys are eager to work grueling hours. However, in the process of building their legal experience, many associates become burnt out. In pursuit of a more balanced lifestyle, they discover new employment opportunities and leave the Big Law. And the turnover cycle continues.
What does the high turnover rate mean for your legal representation when you hire a large law firm? Unless your company is on the Fortune 500 list, chances are your intellectual property matters will be entrusted to an over-worked, inexperienced, first-year associate.
IP boutiques build long-term relationships with their attorneys
On the opposite end of the spectrum, IP boutiques tend to retain their attorneys long-term. For this reason, a smaller, specialized law firm can build a team of highly experienced professionals. For example, at Smith & Hopen, all our attorneys have at least five years of patent law experience, and more than half of our attorneys have been practicing patent law for well over a decade. As a testament to the high level of our attorneys’ experience, consider this fact: every Smith & Hopen attorney has taught at least one Florida Bar certified IP course. What this means for your company? Every Smith & Hopen client receives counsel of an experienced patent attorney, rather than educated guesses of a first-year associate. Top firms in patent law give every client the most experienced work-product and counsel.
2. Education and Specialization
Some outsiders may have a misconception that only large law firms based in New York City, Chicago, Boston, and the like can attract the top talent. This is simply not true. Unlike large law firms that need a fresh class of associates every year, smaller IP boutiques do not have high turnover rates. Because of this, these specialized firms tend to be very selective about who they hire. For example, at Smith & Hopen, majority of our attorneys received their J.D. from the University of Florida law school, which the U.S. News currently ranks as number 21 on its top law schools list. Furthermore, all our attorneys hold engineering and science degrees, ranging from aerospace engineering to a graduate degree in medical sciences. Finally, a substantial percentage of our attorneys earned the honor of becoming Board Certified experts in IP law.
3. Quality of the work product
The single most important consideration when hiring a law firm should be the quality of its work product. Although the term “high-quality” may seem subjective, there are ways in which it can be quantified. Because data associated with issued patents and published patent applications is public record, it lends itself to statistical analyses. Indeed, the U.S. News publishes statistical data about various metrics from the top nationwide patent law firms. These metrics include, allowance rate, average number of rejections per patent application, and total time to allowance. We are proud to humbly point out that, based on these quantifiable metrics, Smith & Hopen outperforms the U.S. News top fourteen (14) large IP firms. This means that our clients obtain their patents faster, with less repeated push-back from the USPTO, and the issued patents are more likely to withstand invalidity challenges in litigation.
Smith & Hopen’s winning record against large law firms
Although data analyses provide valuable insights, head-to-head competition may be the best indicator of how IP boutiques stack up against Big Law. On multiple occasions, Smith & Hopen represented clients involved in in high-stakes patent infringement litigation. For example, Smith & Hopen prevailed in multiple inter partes review (IPR) trials against the global law firm of Kilpatrick Townsend representing Pay-Plus Solutions.
As another example, Smith & Hopen won a Federal Circuit appeal against Apple Inc., represented by another large law firm. (Here is a link to the precedential opinion in that case, which has now been cited hundreds of times, including by the Federal Circuit itself.) On the patent prosecution side, our clients often transfer their matters to us from large firms. Here is an example of how Smith & Hopen took over a patent application, with which a large firm struggled for years, and secured an allowance within months. The statistics are clear, Smith & Hopen dominates in patent practice.
4. Personal attention
For a large law firm, if you are a startup or a university, your IP matters may not be a priority. Often, large firms assign first-year associates to most matters for such clients. Overfilled dockets often prevent these attorneys from investing time to build a relationship with your company. Furthermore, a high turnover rate likely means that your relationship with the associate handling your project will be short-lived. Moreover, when an associate writes a patent application knowing that he or she will likely depart the firm prior to the examination process, the level of personal accountability is diminished.
On the other hand, this may sound cliché, but smaller firms genuinely care about their clients. Attorneys and staff at smaller firms tend to be happier, which translates in more pleasant client interactions. Because the same attorney will usually handle a patent application from filing to issuance, they become personally invested. Furthermore, continuity in attorney-client relationships fosters transparency, accountability, and trust. In addition, IP boutiques have flexibility to adapt to their clients’ way of doing business, including billing, accounting, and communications.
This is a no-brainer. Large firms have large overhead. Expensive office real estate may boost a law firm’s status, but it does nothing for you as a client. Likewise, firmwide retreats are a nice attorney perk, but again, they do not add value to you as a client. The cost of recruiting, training, and incentivizing associates is also substantial. These high overhead costs result in high legal fees that clients have to shoulder.
Smaller IP boutiques have much lower fixed cost, which means lower legal fees. Low attorney turnover rate eliminates the need to spend significant amount of money on recruiting and training new associates. In addition, high attorney experience and expertise translate into shorter patent prosecution, with fewer Office Actions. Because every Office Action response costs thousands in legal fees, streamlined prosecution leads to substantial cost savings.
At Smith & Hopen, our fees are not cheap. However, they are reflective of our attorneys’ high qualifications and efficiency, rather than of our opulent office space. We value our clients and strive to offer them high value on every legal matter they entrust us. Our core philosophy is that our reputation is above profit, and we treat our clients’ money like we do our own.