Want a spot on McDermott Will & Emery’s intellectual property team? You’d better bring more than a law degree to the table. Of the group’s 200-plus lawyers and patent agents, 70 percent hold technical or other advanced degrees.
"You need that combination of deep technical experience and expertise together with trial lawyers who really know how to talk to judges and juries," said Boston partner Sarah Chapin Columbia, who leads the firm’s IP litigation practice.
Leveraging that in-house expertise played a part in the firm’s successful representation of Seikagaku Corp. last year. In August, a Boston federal jury found the Tokyo-based company and its U.S. distributor hadn’t infringed on another company’s patents for a treatment for knee pain associated with arthritis.
Columbia, who led the case with litigation partner Michael Kendall, head of the firm’s white-collar and securities defense practice, said their team included three attorneys with doctorates in the sciences. Those lawyers "worked hard with us in understanding the scientific issues in the case," she said, working "arm-in-arm" with the trial lawyers.
Clients appreciate lawyers with advanced degrees who bring experience in a particular field, she said, because "they have somebody who’s on their team who can talk with their engineers and scientists at a very comfortable level."
Besides building up life sciences and pharmaceutical work, the firm has beefed up its practice before the U.S. International Trade Commission. Columbia said the firm realized early that the commission would prove an important venue on the electronics side and made an effort to hire more lawyers with ITC experience, including former commission clerks. "We’ve focused on doing a better job of telling our clients and the market about our ITC experience," she said.
Columbia said the firm’s litigation expertise has made it a go-to for clients facing trial. She cited the firm’s recent representation of Fairchild Semiconductor International Inc. as a recent example. Fairchild hired the firm a few months before the first of several trials was due to begin involving a dispute with a competitor last year.
Research In Motion Ltd., the company behind the BlackBerry devices, has hired the firm under similar circumstances, Columbia said. "We try cases. Clients, I think, when they see their case is going to need to go to trial, they very often call us up and say, ‘Can you jump in here?’ "