Job watch: IP

In recent years intellectual property (IP) specialists have become more prominent, both in private practice and in-house, as technology giants go head to head over valuable patents. That said, in certain circles IP law continues to be regarded as something of a niche area, attracting a mix of lawyers with commercial nous, boffins and those who might want a life less governed by the dictatorship of the M&A all-nighter.

In recent years intellectual property (IP) specialists have become more prominent, both in private practice and in-house, as technology giants go head to head over valuable patents.

That said, in certain circles IP law continues to be regarded as something of a niche area, attracting a mix of lawyers with commercial nous, boffins and those who might want a life less governed by the dictatorship of the M&A all-nighter.

“There will never be a huge demand for IP expertise in comparison to other practice areas,” confirms Ria Aird of Glass Consultancy who, “but there has been a steady flow of new roles on the market. Much of this is in hard IP or patent litigation rather than soft IP, although there are soft IP litigation opportunities as well.”

Aird says IP lawyers with three to five years PQE are particularly in demand, adding that the rise of IP’s importance to a range of organisations has meant this has been highly profitable recently, particularly within patent litigation.

“The smart phone wars are an excellent example,” says Aird. “Many boutiques and larger firms are beginning to see this as a growth area, and therefore are bulking up their expertise. However, this is being done in a controlled and relatively moderated manner as there are always going to be large peaks and troughs to this kind of work.”

Jonathan Firth, managing director of Michael Page Legal, says in London IP has remained a relatively steady practice area for recruitment over recent years.

“This has included firms recruiting into both their contentious and non-contentious IP practices,” adds Firth, “while in the North there is less demand as only a few specialist firms undertake this work.”

There is a shortage in the market for strong candidates with one to five years PQE, adds Firth, while demand for in-house IP lawyers has always been high, particularly around copyright, branding and licensing.

“In the current market the requirement for IP is often paired with IT in relation to digital media, online retail and advertising,” says Firth, pointing out that demand has also increased for lawyers who specialise in contentious IP in the past six months.

“Lawyers looking to get into this area must have previous relevant backgrounds or experience, for example in the fields of science, technology or medicine, as hiring clients are becoming more reluctant to accept anything less,” says Firth.

DMJ Legal consultant Joanna Yardley agrees.

“There is a demand for lawyers who are able to demonstrate experience dealing with a broader range of experience or roles that are pure contentious IP positions,” says Yardley. “This is either focused on patent litigation or at the junior level dealing with a range of soft and hard IP. The boutique IP firms have been particularly busy and are building up their teams. These models have been particularly profitable over the past few years and are seen as a very attractive option for City trained IP lawyers.”