How do I build a future in IP?

I’m a 2 year PQE IP associate at a nice firm but I feel like I am kind of going nowhere and am worried that I may be sidelined as the firm is focusing on corporate and finance.

Question: I’m a 2 year PQE IP associate at a nice firm but I feel like I am kind of going nowhere and am worried that I may be sidelined as the firm is focusing on corporate and finance. The people are really nice and I really enjoy working here, but I don’t see much of a future. There isn’t many IP boutiques left, so where should I go? What options do I have?

Answer: This complaint is a relatively common one among IP associates. The truth of the matter is that non-contentious IP is very often a support activity, and very few of the big firms can be said to have it as a primary focus. Where IP does tend to be a focus – usually IP litigation – the niche firms excel, but you’re right, there aren’t many of them.

It depends what you want out of life; if you are a litigator, it may be that you are better off in a niche firm, or perhaps a US firm with a patent focus. If you’re on the non-contentious side, you have a stark choice: stay with a big firm, earn decent money and work on a lot of support work, or strike out to a smaller firm where you can more easily build a business with less pressure on fees.

Mark Brandon is a recruitment consultant at First Counsel

Answer: You are at a good point in your career to take a look at the market. If your firm is focusing on developing the corporate and finance side of the practice, then the political power to promote you, when partnership is something in your sights, is not as strong as it could be at a firm committed to developing its IP capability. In addition, you won’t find it easy to build your own practice at a firm viewing IP as a ‘support’ function and your ability to build business is crucial in dictating your progression prospects.

It is not necessarily only the boutique IP firms that will make a good alternate home for you. There are a number of strong, City, full-service practices that have very respectable IP offerings that would be well worth investigating.

Kristi Edwards is a consultant at Hughes-Castell

Answer: Even firms with corporate or finance focuses do generally produce decent spin-off work in IP, but, as you may be finding out, this can have a transactional focus, so if you don’t want to stay a slave to the corporate team for the rest of your career, you’re right to think about your strategy at this stage.

There are plenty of options. Those boutiques you mention are still out there and still recruiting, particularly in ‘hard’ IP and media. Alternatively, in a couple of years you may want to explore a career path in industry with, for example, a pharmaceutical company, media organisation or telecommunications giant. Start to think now about what sort of IP work you really enjoy, as it’s too easy to remain a generalist for too long and you may end up spreading your experience thinly. Position yourself correctly in a firm that will give you hands-on experience of the work you want to do. Then, whether it be partnership you pursue or a career in industry, you will be developing the skills needed to get you where you want to go at four-five years’ PQE.

Nicola Morris is an associate at Shilton Sharpe Quarry

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