With all indications pointing to a tepid-at-best job market for 2012 law graduates, Knobbe Martens Olsen & Bear is a hot spot.
The intellectual property law firm, based in Irvine, Calif., recently hired 30 entry-level associates from the class of 2012 -- an especially high number considering the midsize firm totals 265 attorneys.
Managing partner Steven Nataupsky attributed the number mainly to high demand from clients pursuing applications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Most of the new hires will work on patent prosecution, as opposed to the firm's patent litigation side, he said.
"It's just a direct result of so many clients emerging from the dark days of the recession," Nataupsky said.
The new associates represent 11.3 percent of all of Knobbe's attorneys, based on the data it reported for the 2012 NLJ 250 survey. Last year, the firm hired about the same number -- 34 first-year associates, or 12.8 percent of its attorney totals. The NLJ 250 is The National Law Journal's annual ranking of the nation's largest law firms by headcount.
Knobbe's hiring percentages top some of the most prestigious law firms in the country. For example, first-year hires from the class of 2012 at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom totaled 106 associates, according to a firm spokeswoman -- about 6 percent of its overall attorney headcount. Chicago-based Kirkland & Ellis hired 155 law graduates from the class of 2012, representing 10.7 percent of its total attorneys.
Another IP firm, Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, also showed respectable first-year hiring. The Washington-based firm with 371 attorneys brought aboard 30 first-year associates, said managing partner Barbara McCurdy. That's 8 percent of its attorney total.
More than client demand is driving the associate numbers at Knobbe, where they have remained steady for the last three years. It's essentially a lockstep shop, paying attorneys based on years of experience -- a system that can scare off potential laterals, especially litigators, who are accustomed to merit pay.
To stay competitive by having enough lawyer talent, the firm's strategy is to grow organically rather than hire lateral partners, Nataupsky said.
"Our value system is different," he said.