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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.