In an article published in the July/August issue of Managing IP magazine, Nicola Dagg, Daniel Lim and Katie Coltart of Kirkland & Ellis talked about the challenges firms face to develop and retain young, talented lawyers and the benefits of an empowering working culture

Challenges and duty 

The authors first appreciated the structural challenges in firms and how busy practices can easily lose sight of developing and retaining the best young practitioners that are below the level of partner or equivalent (i.e. associates). “…[T]his is an issue felt particularly acutely in the legal profession, which has historically been dominated by hierarchical structures that reward seniority and longevity over youthful potential and performance,” they noted.

In spite of this, they argued that senior practitioners have a duty to take action: “…[T]hose of us in particular who have benefitted from the trust, responsibility and mentorship invested by more senior practitioners at an early career stage, which in many cases will have translated into opportunities for accelerated development and advancement, have a duty to 'pay forward' that same investment into the next generation.”

It’s easy to lose young talent

Failure to take action can lead to the loss of the best young talent in a firm, something that is likely to be picked up by the market. “… [A] fresh wave of 'new law' firms and start-ups has also emerged to service changing client needs and appeal to the different priorities of the new generation by offering a different model and styles/types of work compared to the traditional powerhouses of the corporate legal world,” the authors said.

They continued: “…[T]he specialised nature of IP work, steep initial learning curve and increasing emphasis placed on IP by clients and firms of all sizes makes an already-trained young IP lawyer a particularly hot commodity in the lateral market. In this environment, the most talented up-and-coming lawyers have an attractive skill set that leads to no shortage of alternative career opportunities both within and outside of the law – moving to a competitor, in-house, or even to related professional fields like consultancy, finance and venture capitalism.”

Practical steps 

The authors provided seven practical tips, based on their experiences, on what senior practitioners can do to show a genuine commitment to talent development and retention. “Critically, there is no one-size-fits-all answer or simple clickbait checklist...,” they warned, adding: “…[O]ne of the most important points to appreciate and embrace is the individuality of each team member.”

Partners and other law firm professionals, including HR and marketing/business development executives, will find this article interesting.

You can read the full article here or pick up a free copy of our July/August issue at Managing IP events or other the IP events we’ll be attending this year.

How Managing IP plays its part

Managing IP has been researching firms and practitioners since 1996. Each year IP STARS research analysts conduct extensive research into firms in more than 70 jurisdictions. Among other things, the researchers take account of team stability, i.e. hires and departures, and note firms that are conscious about building for the future and those that are still heavily reliant on their long-established senior practitioners. Read about IP STARS research here.

Following market feedback in recent years, we launched our official Rising Stars list in 2018. The list is a special annual publication to recognise some of the best up-and-coming IP practitioners below partner level (i.e. associates) who contribute to the success of their firms and clients. Learn more about the list here. Readers can find the young practitioners that we recognised as rising stars in 2018 on this website (click on the practitioners tab on a firm's page)The 2019 edition of Managing Intellectual Property Rising Stars will be published in October 2019.

About the authors

Nicola Dagg, Daniel Lim and Katie Coltart are IP partners in the London office of Kirkland & Ellis, a firm ranked for patent litigation in the UK. All three lawyers joined the firm in 2018. Dagg is rated as an IP star (patent star) while Lim was recognised in 2018 as a rising star.