Conclusion: patent practitioners need to be more commercial animals

  • There will be no excuses for not using technology
  • IP lawyers need rebranding
  • Law firms will become like other businesses

It is highly likely that law firms will follow accountants and management consultants down the road of consolidation and innovation. As one practitioner points out, AI technologies such as natural language processing promise to do to words what spreadsheets did to numbers in the 1980s and 1990s – “and as lawyers, especially patent lawyers, we all ultimately work with words”. Another practitioner adds: “You need to have a consultancy mindset.”

To survive in this environment, practitioners will have to accept and implement new tech tools – or even develop them themselves. It is telling that one IP service provider interviewed for these reports revealed: “Many partners and senior fee earners don’t use the systems. They don’t even log on. It’s younger partners and associates who do.” In the future, there will be no excuses. “People that provide good AI toolsets will make a lot of money,” predicts one practitioner. “Law firms have to be able to see how the world is changing and anticipate where it is headed. AI is going to become a bigger component,” adds another.

Alongside this, patent practitioners will need to become better business advisers. “Lawyers are going to have to develop into more commercial animals to meet client needs”, says one in-house counsel. Much as they might like to think they already do that, patent practitioners have a long way to go. Clients say they want more creativity in enabling deals and sales, more preparedness to go beyond legal issues and more imagination in finding solutions to business problems. “With some patent attorneys, every time you ask a question, the answer is: file a patent!” bemoans one in-house counsel.

However, they have to do this while maintaining their professional standards and underlying duties. One client in Asia says: “Lawyers are looked at as lawyers. If a lawyer tries to start giving business advice, most clients are quite sceptical. That’s different from consultants and accountants.” Another adds: “There is a market for IP consultants and strategists, but you really need to get under the skin of the client’s business.”

In short, law firms – including IP firms – will increasingly behave and think like other B2B businesses. They will have more diverse staff, offer a range of services, outsource where necessary and above all use automation to become more efficient. IP practitioners are not going to disappear, but they will change. They will need to be equally comfortable in the boardroom and the courtroom, innovative, transparent, creative and commercial. Many have a long way to travel.

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