New York City, NY - July 12 2016: Aerial view top of Metlife building next to grand central terminal in the Manhattan skyline surrounded by building rooftops
New York City, NY – July 12 2016: Aerial view top of Metlife building next to grand central terminal in the Manhattan skyline surrounded by building rooftops (Shutterstock)

While some large law firms are cutting back on their intellectual property practices, California-based Knobbe, Martens, Olson & Bear is in expansion mode, as the IP-focused firm prepares to move five lawyers to a new office in New York.

The move, set to take place in early May, will give Knobbe Martens its second presence on the East Coast. The firm opened an office in Washington, D.C., nearly a decade ago. The Big Apple base, which will be Knobbe Martens’ eighth office, will be located near Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan.

Knobbe Martens partner Robb Roby will relocate from the firm’s headquarters in Irvine, California, to lead the new outpost. He will transfer to New York with Knobbe Martens partner Thomas Yee and associates Dan Fischer and Zach Hong, all of whom are currently based in Irvine. Mitchell Hadley, another Knobbe Martens associate in San Diego, will also join the New York team.

Steven Nataupsky, managing partner of Knobbe Martens, said a major factor in his firm’s decision to set up shop in New York was a burgeoning venture capital market that had the second-most deals of any U.S. metropolitan area in the final quarter of 2016, according to Dow Jones VentureSource.

New York’s growing startup scene—the city is home to companies like Blue Apron Inc., Buzzfeed Inc. and WeWork Cos. Inc.—drew Fenwick & West to open an East Coast office last year and has driven other Am Law 200 firms to bulk up their local emerging companies’ practices.

“When I grew up in New York, there were areas of the city you simply didn’t go to,” Nataupsky said. Now, he said, some of those same neighborhoods are full of entrepreneurs.

Knobbe Martens’ new office will also serve the firm’s existing clients in New York, which Roby said include companies in the luxury goods, pharmaceutical and software sectors. The new locale will also be convenient for traveling to Delaware’s courts, where Nataupsky said many litigation matters the firm has recently handled end up, as well as to other clients of Knobbe Martens in Europe.

Carolina Paschoal, a former Kirkland & Ellis partner now serving as a vice president and IP counsel at Kate Spade LLC, called Knobbe Martens “one of the key firms” on which the New York-based fashion designer relies. Having the firm closer to the company’s corporate headquarters, she said, would make her work easier.

“We obviously are a very visual company,” Paschoal said. “A lot of the things we do … you need to see them to have a discussion. Having them close so they can come for a quick meeting and walk over and look at it will be great.”

Knobbe Martens’ hiring strategy also played a role in its move to Manhattan. The firm, which has almost 300 lawyers, makes only a few lateral hires. Instead, leaders at Knobbe Martens prefer to grow their firm by adding associates straight out of law school and eventually promoting them to partner. Roby noted that Knobbe Martens is known for its relatively short, six-year track to partnership.

Nataupsky said the pool of law school graduates with degrees in engineering, mathematics, science and technology—a virtual prerequisite for practicing IP law—is shrinking, and being in New York will make it easier for Knobbe Martens to recruit from law schools in the northeast.

“We’ve seen a number of associates come from mid-Atlantic states to California, and they’ve really been fantastic, but they really want to be on the East Coast,” Nataupsky said. “We have a number of New Yorkers who came to us and said, ‘We’d like to be back there.’”

Those former New Yorkers include Roby, who graduated from the New York University School of Law, and Yee, who received his undergraduate degree from Columbia University. The fact that New York is home to many large firms, including IP specialists like Fish & Richardson, doesn’t bother Nataupsky. In fact, he cited Ropes & Gray’s recent decision to retreat from patent prosecution work as proof that there will be more client opportunities in the city than ever before.

Though many IP-centric firms have seen their litigation pipelines dwindle due to the increased prevalence of resolving patent disputes in new government venues, Knobbe Martens saw its bottom line grow in 2016. The firm’s gross revenue rose 3.3 percent, to $220 million. Nataupsky said his firm’s patent prosecution practice was experiencing increased demand for its services.

“It’s not like we’re opening an office and trying to staff it with 100 people,” said Nataupsky, noting that the scale of Knobbe Martens’ operations helps it manage costs.

The firm’s New York office will probably grow to about a dozen lawyers, he said. Knobbe Martens expects to hire a full summer associate class in New York for 2018.

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