Tremendous career potential for in-house lawyers

  • Recruitment to in-house patent teams will become increasingly harder
  • Practitioners will need to become more imaginative in how they recruit
  • Companies need to sell the benefits of working in-house

“Recruitment is a real challenge,” says one in-house patent counsel. The bad news is that in many ways this will get worse in the future. 

Nearly every current or former in-house counsel interviewed for this report had a frustrating story about an attempt to hire where it was impossible to find someone with the right skills or the right scientific background. Some IP counsel believe they face further challenges too, compared to other disciplines. For one thing, the systems are not set up to identify good patent attorneys. For another, laments one in-house counsel: “Generalists tend to get promoted in corporate legal departments, so IP lawyers often find they hit a ceiling.” To add to this, some fear that the millennial generation will be more focused on money than today’s in-house lawyers, making them more likely to practise in law firms despite the attractions of being in-house.

In the face of these difficulties, future heads of intellectual property will need to be more imaginative when recruiting staff. They will need to go beyond the usual hiring systems, making use of social media and peer networks. They may also need to look more at recruiting people such as engineers and analysts internally and training them to take on IP responsibilities. “It is easier for people who have been in product planning to move into IP management and strategy than for traditional IP managers to become more strategic,” as one patent counsel contends. Above all, they will need to be more conscious of diversity, particularly as the skills required of in-house counsel and the needs of IP departments change.

The good news is that many people interviewed for this report believed that an in-house career will have a lot to offer in the future. “The potential for in-house lawyers is tremendous. It is more rewarding and desirable. It used to be for retired people who didn’t want to work hard. Now they are leading the field,” says one practitioner. This reflects a belief shared by some that as automation replaces much of the work done by outside counsel, that role will become less attractive whereas the more creative, strategic work that can be done only by in-house counsel will grow in importance. Moreover, while the financial rewards of working in-house are never likely to equal those in private practice, there are other attractions – notably stock options which, in the case of start-ups, can be very attractive.

The challenge for in-house patent attorneys is to make themselves integrated and indispensable to the business they serve. We will explore how to do that in "Conclusion: seeing intellectual property beyond the legal issues".

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