IP is a hot field, as demonstrated by the "American Lawyer" associates survey. Lawyers with technical or industry-specific skills are increasingly in demand at top general practice firms, while business leaders understand the importance of protecting their ideas. 2

IP is a hot field, as demonstrated by the “American Lawyer” associates survey. Lawyers with technical or industry-specific skills are increasingly in demand at top general practice firms, while business leaders understand the importance of protecting their ideas.

Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner hovered around fiftieth place in The American Lawyer’s midlevel associate survey rankings-respectable, but unexciting. A few years ago, that all changed: The firm jumped to twenty-second place in 2004; it leaped to seventh in 2005. And this year, the Washington, D.C.-based intellectual property firm claimed second place, finishing behind only Rochester, New York’s Harter, Secrest & Emery.

To hear Finnegan’s leadership tell it, such success just goes to show that sometimes nice guys do finish first: “We invest a lot in trying to make this a nice place to work,” says former managing partner Christopher Foley. “We try to avoid cliques and emphasize working together.”

Of course, “collegiality” is a claim that most firms make and few firms deliver on. But Finnegan has the numbers to back it up. In the areas of partner-associate relations and associates’ relations with their peers, Finnegan ranked second out of 175 firms nationally. Since 2003, the firm has also moved up on questions involving its billable hours policy and attitude toward pro bono, ranking tenth and thirty-fifth this year, respectively.

The seeds of change were planted when Foley took over in 2001 and overhauled the firm’s part-time and pro bono policies. Since then, the firm has focused on improving communication with associates.

But if Finnegan’s lawyers are teddy bears within the firm, they are bulldogs in court. And the firm’s litigation success may also be a big factor in associates putting Finnegan at the top of the midlevel rankings.

Growing recognition of the firm as an IP powerhouse (Finnegan was named IP Litigation Department of the Year by The American Lawyer in January) means more work that associates can sink their teeth into, firm leaders say. Finnegan finished in first place on this year’s survey in interest level of work, first in training and guidance, and second on midlevels’ satisfaction with their work.

“The diversity of the IP work here is what’s great,” says Timothy Lemper, a Finnegan associate. Because it focuses on IP, the firm staffs specialists in every legal niche in that practice area. Such bench depth means that associates are regularly exposed to clients with complex or unusual cases.

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