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Sometimes, rules must go by the wayside. Like most firms, San Jose, Calif.-based Skjerven Morrill MacPherson has a long partnership track — seven years, in fact. Nevertheless, this year two associates were elevated to partner after a mere five and a half years at the firm, which is particularly notable considering the firm laid off 11 associates in October and another 18 in January. Surprised? The young Skjerven partners weren’t. “I knew it was definitely a possibility,” said the youngest of the fast-moving associates, Fabio Marino. “I had a pretty sound inkling that it was going to happen.” The 32-year old computer programmer turned lawyer said the firm maintains open communication with its associates and lets them know where they stand on the road to partner. Marino said the firm factors in not only an individual’s performance, but special qualities the candidate brings as well. Marino began programming computers when he was 11 years old. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1990 and a master’s in computer science in 1991 from University of California at Los Angeles. For three years, he worked as a software consultant and system architect. One year after entering the workforce, Marino says, he was promoted to a managerial position. His background directly ties in with what he does at Skjerven — representing domestic and foreign clients in intellectual property law. Merino’s specialty is preparing and prosecuting patents for software and Internet-related inventions. Italian-born Marino is also fluent in Italian and Spanish. Marino began working for Skjerven as a law clerk while he studying at Hastings College of the Law. He received his JD in 1996 and works in the firm’s San Jose office. Tom Chen was also promoted nearly two years ahead of Skjerven’s typical track. Chen, 39, said he knows some firms have a very rigid partner track and would not consider elevating an associate so early. But at Skjerven, he said, the philosophy dictates that an associate is named partner when the firm’s management deems the person is ready. Chen received his undergraduate degree in physics from UCLA in 1985. Four years later, he earned a master’s in electrical engineering from California State University, Northridge; in 1993 he received another advanced degree in electrical engineering from University of Southern California. For four years, Chen worked in the missile systems group at Hughes Aircraft. At Skjerven, Chen works as a patent prosecutor specializing in technologies such as electrical circuits and semiconductor memories and processing. Chen speaks Mandarin and English. He received his JD in 1996 from Pepperdine University and works in the firm’s Newport Beach office. And while it doesn’t happen all the time, Skjerven has elevated partners early before. Over the past three years, in addition to Chen and Marino, the firm has named three partners with less than six years experience. In each instance, the candidates held advanced degrees and had outside industry experience.

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