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Dennis Crouch just may be the best-known third-year associate in patent law. Whether anyone realizes he’s a third-year associate is another matter. From his blog, Patently-O, Crouch writes about every patent appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (yes, every last one), discusses new rules of practice and points out patent filings and events — all with the authority and workman-like writing style of a veteran patent lawyer. But Crouch, who turned 31 on April 30, graduated from law school in 2003 — a date that goes unmentioned on his long, blog-based bio — and started Patently-O less than a year into his career, a time when most associates are happy just to have mastered the combination to the office restroom. No matter: In two years, Patently-O has won Crouch thousands of fans, a book deal and speaking engagements galore. It’s also landed his firm, Chicago’s McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff, new clients. Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that Crouch is only a beginning lawyer. At its core, his blog is like a cyberspace associate, doing the grunt work so partners don’t have to. That’s just fine with the “partners” — IP lawyers from all over the country — who read Crouch’s postings. “I go there almost every day,” says John Dragseth, a partner at Fish & Richardson’s Minneapolis office. “Patently-O is easily the best IP blog out there. It’s complete, it’s timely, it’s fair. He does not take wild positions but instead acts more as a patent law reporter. And the kid updates it every day, though he does not seem to work weekends.” Crouch is fairly obsessive about timeliness, checking the Federal Circuit’s site when it is updated each morning and immediately noting new cases on his blog. He spends about an hour a day blogging, on top of his day job, but don’t feel too sorry for him: Blogging beats billing. “People cut me slack on hours,” says Crouch. “Last year I had about 1,900 billable hours — a little bit under the average here — but when you count the blog, my total hours are a bit more than average.” Little wonder that the firm gives Crouch a break. He may get the buzz, but it gets the business. The first job came two months into the blog’s life, when a small software development company hired Crouch to do patent prosecution. More work came after Crouch wrote a review of Pellegrini v. Analog Devices, a 2004 Federal Circuit case. Gerald Pellegrini, the inventor of a new design for an electric motor control, who lost the suit, asked Crouch for help on his appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Crouch, working with a partner, got a couple of weeks of work advising Pellegrini on his petition for certiorari. Pelligrini fared less well: His petition was denied. Crouch has also landed work for his firm prosecuting business-method patents and was hired by a group of hedge-fund analysts to advise them on the recently settled patent suit against the maker of the BlackBerry. All told, Crouch says blog readers have brought the firm “less than $1 million” worth of business. Crouch isn’t earning anything extra thanks to the new work. “I get paid the same as everyone else,” says Crouch. Although he could have been pocketing $11 a month more than everyone else: The firm offered to pick up the blog’s maintenance costs. But Crouch pays the tab himself, wanting to maintain some distance from his firm. “A lot of my readers [from other firms] tell their clients to read it,” says Crouch. “If this looked like a newsletter from my firm, people wouldn’t go there.” Given Crouch’s definition of distance, law was probably a better career choice than cartography. There is a link to McDonnell Boehnen on the blog’s home page, and Crouch’s bio notes that the firm is “always excited to take on new clients and new cases.” Yet in the blogosphere, where lawyers aren’t exactly shy about pitching themselves and their firms, this is relatively low-key. Crouch also links to other IP blogs, even those by other associates, including the Daily Dose of IP blog, by Mark Reichel, a 2002 law school graduate and an associate at Ice Miller in Indianapolis. The real payoff, says Crouch, is still down the road: The better the blog does, the better Crouch may do when he comes up for partner. At 62-lawyer McDonnell Boehnen, lawyers at all levels are expected to bring in clients. Early into his first year, Crouch says, “the rainmakers at the firm put on a show for the associates, explaining how they get clients. There is this sense of encouraging young lawyers to get business.” That early-on meeting got Crouch thinking of newfangled ways to drum up clients and led to the blog. “I don’t know lots of CEOs or in-house counsel,” he says. To be sure, Crouch does get more out of his blog than the satisfaction of keeping patent attorneys updated on case law. As co-author of “Patent Application Practicing,” he earns $10,000 to $20,000 a year in royalties. His co-author, retired IP lawyer James Hawes, approached him after reading Patently-O. Crouch has given talks, at the Chicago Bar Association and other venues, on legal marketing through blogging. In April, Crouch co-hosted a two-day conference on blog law and legal blogging in San Francisco, with Catherine Kirkman, a fellow blogger and partner at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. There, Crouch — who may well have been the most junior lawyer at the show — played blogging’s elder statesman, giving the introduction and introducing speakers. He was also checking his e-mail — in case any of the 38 partners back in Chicago needed a memo or anything.

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