This week came the news that Houston-based Andrews Kurth will add the 55 remaining lawyers at Kenyon & Kenyon. This in effect signals a sad end for a firm whose proud history stretches back to 1879. The shell of the company will be wound down.
As the Wall Street Journal noted in an interesting article following the announcement, Kenyon is the latest in a string of IP boutiques to close in recent years.
"In 2005, for instance, Ropes & Gray LLP acquired then-prominent intellectual-property firm Fish & Neave," said the Journal. "By then, two other stalwarts in the field, New York’s Pennie & Edmonds and Los Angeles-based Lyon & Lyon LLP, had both gone bust, with lawyers decamping to other firms. Several smaller intellectual-property firms have been acquired or dissolved more recently, including Morgan & Finnegan LLP, whose lawyers joined Locke Lord LLP in 2009."
With this latest deal, another storied firm is about to disappear – although the Kenyon name will live on through the new Andrews Kurth Kenyon name for the IP and technology practice – but this does not mean the end for the IP boutiques.
As the Wall Street Journal noted, some IP firms have managed to stay independent. This includes 370-lawyer Fish & Richardson, 350-lawyer Finnegan Henderson Farabow & Dunner, and 280-lawyer Knobbe Martens Olson & Bear.
The demise of Kenyon does suggest, however, that size is critical. Steven Nataupsky, managing partner at Knobbe, told the Journal: "I think those midsize (intellectual property) firms, if not balanced, have really struggled."
The news came the same week that Managing IP published our latest cover story, on a number of boutique firms set up in the 1960s that would transform the market. Many of these still exist today, showing that the IP boutique model is still viable.
These firms include the firms now known as Knobbe Martens Olson & Bear, Bereskin & Parr, Finnegan, Oblon McClelland Maier & Neustadt, and Fross Zelnick Lehrman & Zissu. The piece includes a look back at the circumstances that allowed these firms to crop up. They struggled at first, however, before reaching the critical mass that would allow them to survive.