Jamaica Szeliga remembers some of the moments that helped convince her to move her intellectual property practice to bigger, general service firm.
First, a recruiter got her attention with talk of moving her practice to a larger platform. When the call came to her at Chicago-based boutique Leydig, Voit & Mayer, she listened, because her work over the years had begun to involve more types of law and to intersect with more firms.
Then, around the same time that she began to interview with Seyfarth Shaw, her IP boutique learned it would need to work with a larger law firm on litigation it had expected to handle for its client independently.
“I needed to go to a place that could service a large litigation when it came in the door,” Szeliga said. “I don’t want to lose out on opportunities simply because we don’t have enough people. It made it really clear my practice was not going to be as robust in litigation” at a boutique.
This week was Szeliga’s first as a partner at Seyfarth, where she hopes to build more business as an Abbreviated New Drug Application (ANDA) litigator.
Szeliga’s trajectory has become increasingly well-worn, especially as the lateral partner market remains active and large firms expand specialized practices related to technology, life sciences, health care and other IP-intensive areas.
Dean Fanelli and Thomas Haag, who operated their own IP shop, also joined Seyfarth last year. The bulk of two other IP firms, Kenyon & Kenyon and Novak Druce Connolly Bove & Quigg, tied up with larger, more diverse partnerships last year too. Kenyon & Kenyon’s lawyers are now at Andrews Kurth, and Novak Druce is part of Kansas City-based Polsinelli.
“The market continues to be ripe for consolidation. IP boutiques that exist will be under further pressure,” Greg Novak, the boutique name partner and now Polsinelli vice chairman, said. General service firms “targeting and courting other boutiques is going to be a routine practice.”
In short, the rules have changed in the IP field. The creation of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board five years ago reinvented how companies litigate patents, moving many patent disputes into a quicker, less costly litigation venue. That helped to tighten competition in IP even as general service firms, looking at a shrinking pie of market share on all legal service fronts, wanted to reinforce and expand client bases. Why not give clients more reason to hire them, and make IP one more selling point?
Factor in the boom of emerging technology and bio companies, and many IP lawyers at boutiques are hitting the limits of their practices. Younger companies engage the patent bar early. They need legal help to clear regulatory hurdles, handle taxes, raise venture capital and other investments, and—if all goes well—advise on mergers and initial public offerings.
“I’m not referring out IP work. I’m referring out a lot of peripheral work that comes in based on IP work,” Szeliga said. “Companies come to me to build patent portfolios, but they also had tons of other needs.”
Even outside of the boutique-to-large-firm pipeline, IP partners are on the move.
For example, Polsinelli is adding to its Novak Druce-core group again with the addition of Michael Morency from Foley & Lardner in Boston.
Ropes & Gray has lost several IP partners, including many who joined the firm in its 2005 merger with IP boutique Fish & Neave, to such firms as McDermott, Will & Emery, Jones Day, Sidley Austin, Paul Hastings and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison over the past year.
And McDermott saw four IP partners split in Houston last week to join the Midwest-based firm Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease. The group sought a firm structure where they could charge lower billing rates, according to the Texas Lawyer.
Nicole Jantzi and Paul Schoenhard, who moved from Ropes & Gray to McDermott this year, said they wanted a more entrepreneurial firm.
“For Paul and I, we’re both about to hit 40 and we’re at that stage where we want to make a name for ourselves and break out of the pack. This just seemed like a really good time,” Jantzi, now a partner in D.C., said.
Not all lateral partners are following the siren’s song of Big Law. Michael Joffre and John Christopher “J.C.” Rozendaal moved from Kellogg Huber Hansen Todd Evans & Figel to the mid-sized D.C. IP boutique Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein & Fox last week. Both will become practice co-chairs in IP litigation and appellate.
“I don’t think we’re leaving anything behind. We have a great relationship with the folks at Kellogg Huber, and we enjoyed our time there,” Rozendaal said, emphasizing the technical skills Sterne Kessler has on staff. “Our plan is definitely to handle the district court litigation and appeals from here.”
Contact Katelyn Polantz at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @kpolantz.
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