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LOS ANGELES � When calculating the latest round of associate salary increases, DLA Piper singled out one group of associates for a higher scale: patent litigators. In a move away from lock-step compensation, those first-years � no matter what office they’re in � will be placed on the higher $160,000 scale, while other California associates start at $145,000. “I am a believer in listening to the marketplace and making sure you’re in line with the market,” said J. Terence O’Malley, DLA’s co-managing partner for the United States. DLA’s move may put more pressure on other full service firms that want to keep up with IP boutiques. Patent litigators, who often boast science and engineering degrees, are some of the most sought-after young attorneys. The practice is in high demand with clients, who are willing to pay premium billing rates. Because of that, recruiters say, many firms already offer patent litigators higher overall compensation, though many firms are reluctant to disclose bonuses and other inducements they may provide. And if other firms are raising base pay for patent litigators, they’re keeping it quiet: Several contacted firms declined to discuss pay arrangements for this practice. Avis Caravello, a San Francisco-based recruiter, says these litigators often qualify for special bonuses, and sometimes higher base pay. “It’s a fairly common practice for firms with strong patent practices,” said Caravello. DLA has always compensated attorneys with a technical or science background in some form, O’Malley said, but decided to raise base pay after competitors made moves, such as when intellectual property boutique Fish & Richardson raised associates in its Silicon Valley, San Diego and other offices to the $160,000 scale adopted by New York firms in recent months.
‘IP is important enough to clients that it does command higher rates.’

PETER DEVLIN Fish & Richardson

As the U.S. economy has evolved to be more knowledge-based, it’s become more important for law firms to have talent specializing in that area, said Peter Devlin, the president of Boston-based Fish & Richardson. And clients are willing to pay for it: “IP is important enough to clients that it does command higher rates,” Devlin said. Foley & Larder IP Chairwoman Sharon Barner wouldn’t comment on whether the firm singles out IP talent for higher pay, but acknowledged the competition for these associates is fierce. “It’s going to get more competitive because the value of patents and intellectual property is going to continue to grow,” Barner said. Other firms with patent practices, including Morgan, Lewis & Bockius and Townsend and Townsend and Crew, declined to discuss compensation.

Read our latest coverage of patent law and intellectual property issues, from Silicon Valley to the U.S. Supreme Court.

On the recruiting side, the demand for these associates is “unbelievable,” said Peter Ocko, a managing director in Los Angeles for the legal search firm Major, Lindsey & Africa. “Every day, we’re flooded with requests for patent litigators.” So much so that Ocko said law firms often offer him financial incentives for top-notch patent associates. Anyone who can bring an advanced degree is highly valued, he said, especially in areas such as electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, chemical engineering or physics. That type of technical expertise can really come in handy when you’re evaluating patent infringement claims: “You have to have a base understanding of the design and function of what you’re talking about, and that’s not something that you learn in law school,” Ocko said. DLA’s O’Malley said he doesn’t expect any backlash from the hundreds of non-patent associates his firm employs in California. The firm has about 80 patent lawyers in the U.S. “I think most associates are pretty sophisticated about the market, and they understand that what you do and where you do it affects compensation,” he said.

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