Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Legal 500 or Famous Five? When the holiday option is best

Managing Intellectual Property publishes league tables for IP firms in different countries. Sole practitioners are unlikely to be mentioned. The more clients one has, the more likely it is that a number of clients will recommend one.  One practitioner is likely to have fewer clients than two -- and two are likely to have fewer clients than four or five.

A sole practitioner, no matter how effective he or she is, will be limited by the amount of work he or she can do. In addition to billable work, sole practitioners and partners in small firms will generally also spend time doing accounts, marketing and other tasks that are dealt with by dedicated staff in larger firms. Many sole practitioners do more billable work and earn better than junior partners with similar experience in a larger firm, but they still won't rank in the league tables.

In Israel, the International Business Directory, Dun & Bradstreet, ranks patent firms only by size. When they publish their annual rankings, most Israeli business papers base an article on their press release. The headline in the accompanying newspaper articles usually relates to leading firms. This means that the smaller firms, no matter how good they are, will never be mentioned and can't be leading firms (it also explains why fully or semi-retired staff members have their licences paid for by the firm so that they can play the numbers game, and why there is more than one patent attorney with Alzheimer’s that is still listed as practising to make up numbers).

I assume that Dun & Bradstreet rankings for IP firms in other countries are generated the same way and receive similar press coverage.

Established firms, including small ones, tend to work for a solid core of regular clients. One does, however, need constantly to try to bring in new clients, as existing clients do sometimes disappear. Sometimes they run out of cash. Sometimes they are taken over. Sometimes their patents all issue or are abandoned. It hardly matters why, but such clients cease to generate work and need to be replaced. In a recession, and the world seems to have been in one since about 2008, there is less work around. Existing clients often do less IP related work. New clients typically come in by recommendation, and I am not convinced that participating in international conferences and holding events necessarily works. However, I still attend conferences and hold events because it is fun.

I have a number of nice certificates showing that I have accumulated academic qualifications, and one stating that I am a licensed practitioner, and a new one each year showing that I pay my dues. However I don't have trophies and medals as a leading practitioner since directories rarely assess practitioners, but rather assess firms. I was, therefore delighted to be recognized as a Leading Practitioner by a UK based company, ACQ, that publishes a directory of leading practitioners in which I can take out a full colour advertisement for a small fee. I can also purchase a trophy with my name engraved on, or more than one (for office, conference room and mantelpiece).  It does seem a little self-indulgent to purchase such trophies and to pay for an advertisement in a magazine that no-one reads in order to leave it on one's coffee table in the waiting area. For the same money we could have a family holiday.

Are clients sufficiently gullible to be taken in by such trophies? Presumably. After all, the companies offering them have been around for a while. Someone buys their trophies. I did go into the ACQ website, and can see that there are patent firms that pay to advertise there.

Posted for Michael Factor by Jeremy

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