The IP STARS 2021 survey data revealed in-house clients’ views on 12 factors when choosing a law firm for intellectual property work and the likelihood of changing their current IP law firm. The majority of respondents agreed those factors were essential to their decision-making process and said it was unlikely they would change their law firms soon.


About the survey

We conducted a survey last year (February 2021 to May 2021) to gauge in-house client sentiment on choosing IP law firms, the likelihood of instructing new firms soon, and their top three IP concerns. We presented 12 factors and asked how essential they were when choosing law firms (we had four answer options including 'strongly agree' and 'strongly disagree'). The question about changing law firms had five answer options, from 'likely' to 'very unlikely'. See the infographics below. These two questions received 962 responses. 

Nearly all the respondents were employees, including general legal counsel and IP practitioners, representing a diverse range of companies in different industries. Many of the companies are medium-sized and large enterprises. The respondents were spread across 55 jurisdictions, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States.


CSR and diversity valued

We asked how essential diversity and inclusion (D&I) and corporate social responsibility (CSR) are in the selection process. Nearly 80% agreed (25% strongly agreed) that both issues are essential, while the rest disagreed (2% and 4% strongly disagree on CSR and D&I respectively).

We have observed that company executives and in-house counsel are increasingly vocal about these issues, and some companies (for example, Novartis and Intel) now ask law firms about their D&I credentials. Many law firms are now proactive about CSR and D&I.


Team strength and cross-border capability

Clients, especially multinational corporations, want the strongest legal team to represent them in different jurisdictions. It did not come as a surprise that 95% of the respondents agreed that the depth of a firm’s IP team is essential, while around 90% value a firm with an international network or cross-border capability.

On the other hand, 12% did not agree that having an international network is important. This response is also not unusual when one considers that IP is territorial in nature and a small IP owner can decide to protect and/or enforce its rights in only one jurisdiction. Furthermore, a multinational IP owner can find a relatively small law firm which is based in one jurisdiction to coordinate or advise on its IP work in other jurisdictions.


Legal costs and client management

Client management, fees and billing are all essential to the decision-making process of nearly all respondents. Fees would, of course, depend on the type of work, client, and firm, but all clients expect transparent billing and a good working relationship.

The COVID-19 pandemic served as a wake-up call to firms that still lag far behind their competitors in technology. Technology can help reduce costs, increase efficiency, and ensure service continuity. According to 86% of respondents, it is essential for IP law firms to be innovative and use technology when delivering services. Overall, the data suggests that firms that are responsive, accessible, innovative, and conscious of legal costs would score well on client management. 

Note: See the other infographics in the appendix.


Reputation goes a long way

Nearly all the respondents (97%) also agreed on the importance of sector knowledge and, as expected, all the respondents said that IP practice area knowledge is a must. Reputation was also at the top of the list, with 94% of respondents agreeing it was essential.

A firm’s sectoral and IP practice area expertise and track record help build a strong reputation in the market, which makes it more likely to be explicitly or implicitly recommended by clients or rivals (see the power of rival advocacy). Clients can also take account of industry recognitions such as rankings, which can also be classified as a recommendation. It is not surprising that 90% agreed they would choose a recommended firm.

Note: See the other infographics in the appendix.


Clients unlikely to look elsewhere soon

Sadly, the pandemic is still affecting lives and businesses. There will be clients that have already made or are planning to make difficult decisions, such as legal budget cuts and changing firms, and those that have decided not to change things at this time.

Considering the 12 factors explored by the survey and the pandemic, we asked respondents to indicate the likelihood of changing their IP law firms within 12 months. The overwhelming majority (81%) believed they are likely to stick with their current IP law firm, while 5% said change is likely. The rest were undecided.

Clients can, of course, decide at any time to change their law firm for different reasons, including client dissatisfaction. However, one would imagine they would want to have their trusted legal advisers in uncertain times.

The likelihood of continuity should not make IP law firms become complacent. The survey has highlighted some of the areas firms can work on to keep their clients satisfied and strengthen the likelihood of being retained in a competitive legal market.


About the IP STARS survey reports

Managing IP uses the annual IP STARS survey data to produce reports highlighting key trends and issues facing IP owners and users.

Our previous survey reports: 

  • The 2016 IP STARS in-house survey report here
  • The 2017 IP STARS in-house survey report here