For our second IP Leaders Corner interview, Prüfer & Partner’s managing partner Jürgen Feldmeier talked about his career in IP, the role and qualities of a managing partner, firm management during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the impact of the pandemic and the UPC system on law firms.
When did you decide to pursue a career in law?
This decision was made while I was still studying mechanical engineering when I realised that technology alone would not be enough for me. At that time, I was looking for a career that complements my technical degree.
How did you get into the IP profession? Did you experience significant challenges?
I browsed through the internet and came across WIPO in Geneva as an international organisation that deals with IP. I found that fascinating. Having become aware of IP, I also quickly found the connection to the EPO and eventually discovered the profession of a patent attorney which would eventually become the goal for me to strive for. So, I started training in a patent law firm whilst studying. As this was a perfect match, they hired me directly after my graduation.
Why and/or how did you join your current firm?
While I was completing my law studies for patent attorneys, I met my current colleague and partner Dr Dorothea Hofer. Dorothea was one of the best in the course and we met again and again at training events after graduation. At some point she asked me if I wanted to join Prüfer & Partner (P&P). That was the beginning of a lengthy career at the firm.
What are the responsibilities of a managing partner?
As a managing partner, you have a responsibility not only to your clients but also to your staff, especially in times like the COVID-19 pandemic. During the pandemic, I had to organise and provide the digital infrastructure for remote working, take care of staffing matters remotely, and adapt our working environments to meet safety regulations. You have to like to deal with these types of challenges otherwise you are not the right person for a managing partner position.
But above all, the needs of our clients are paramount because we can secure our future as a firm only with our clients' full satisfaction.
Why is the role of managing partner important in a law firm?
Only with a successful managing partner can the economic success and stability of the firm be achieved. Therefore, it is important to fill the position of a managing partner.
What do you enjoy most about your role? What makes your role/work fulfilling?
The variety of responsibilities makes the managing partner role fulfilling. You are an IP practitioner dealing with legal issues and, on top of that, you also have staff and client management responsibilities.
How do you ensure your firm delivers high quality services to clients?
We achieve this in three ways. First, we have a strong team of lawyers who follow our credo of striving for the best solution for our clients, with the highest quality and fast response time.
Secondly, we have competent teams in different departments which are under the leadership of experienced practitioners. The teams openly exchange ideas, and they are assembled on a case-by-case basis to guarantee the highest quality work.
Third, despite our medium size, we have been practising quality management for many years and are ISO 9001 certified. We have a process structure that is reliable in terms of deadlines and digital workflows that are lean and securely control every process from receipt to dispatch.
How would you describe the culture in your firm?
Our firm culture is characterised by a strong sense of community. We believe that better results can be achieved within a team and that high performance can be secured in the long term within a team. The passion to achieve the best results drives and makes us take continuous training seriously.
This team spirit also ensures a very low staff turnover, so that our experience remains in-house, and we can rely on each other and our clients get the feeling that they are in the best of hands here.
If you have corporate social responsibility initiatives in your firm, please briefly tell us about one or two of them, why you have them, and the impact or achievement(s)
It is clear to us that our employees' commitment requires balancing. That is why we cultivate familiar structures and a lively exchange within the teams and create favourable conditions for our employees with effective work-life-balance offers like part-time models, remote working options, sabbaticals, etc.
Furthermore, we know that the road to success cannot be taken for granted. Hence, we pass on a part of our success to people who require help. For this reason, P&P has been sponsoring an SOS children's village and social organisations such as the Aktion Kinderschutz e.V and Hoffnung für Menschen e.V.
How did your firm deal with the COVID-19 pandemic to minimise its impact on your clients and business?
We have fully digitalised our office so that almost all employees can work from home, with high-quality working tools such as laptop, docking station, two monitors, and VPN connection to a server-based working environment.
All work steps are mapped in our advanced lawyer software and monitored by a programmed deadline regime to ensure that everything is done on time. The client does not notice a thing.
If meetings, online negotiations in office rooms or other reasons make personal appearance in the office necessary, we have a complete hygiene concept which is organised and monitored by an employee, including the control of the increased hygiene requirements for the cleaning staff. In addition, our meeting rooms have been equipped with the best air filter systems.
As managing partner, what were the key challenges and lessons during the pandemic?
Normally, I would assume that the key challenge would be to organise and ensure a functioning digital working environment. However, as this was already solved in our practice to 100%, the key challenge for us was, in my opinion, to take the right decisions without the regular forecast ability of several months as this period has been shortened to only some few weeks.
You were never sure about what would happen next; you wondered whether the pandemic would lead to a breakdown of the economy and how our clients would be affected, etc. You feel responsible for all the people working in your office and you feel their insecurities. So you work hard to provide a safe environment as much as possible.
Could you please share up to three positive highlights or developments in your firm in the past 18 months?
First, we did not have a COVID-19 case in our office, and the pandemic did not affect our ability to work because of our digital infrastructure. Secondly, there was no economic impact on our business because of our broad client base. Lastly, we were pleased to see that virtual proceedings before the patent offices and courts did work better than we ever had expected.
What advice would you give to someone who is interested in becoming a partner in their firm?
If you want to contribute and be creative, you will also succeed in becoming a partner in your firm. That is our philosophy, and, in my opinion, a law firm would do well if it does not put the brakes on initiative and commitment if it fits in with the overall image of the firm.
What qualities and skills are required for the role of managing partner?
The qualities of a managing partner include the willingness to take responsibility, both for your own decisions and for the common good of the firm; entrepreneurial thinking and actions; and the ability to win and retain clients.
What advice would you give to someone who is interested in joining the IP profession?
The person should ask whether he or she is enthusiastic about a job combining technology/science, law and language and do a taster training to know if it is suitable.
When choosing a firm, you should pick the one that guarantees excellent training. Unfortunately, you will find law firms where trainees are mainly used more to make money and their training is not taken seriously.
Looking ahead, to what extent do you think the pandemic will affect how law firms or IP firms operate?
Firms will work much more digitally in the future and possibly use new legal tech more. There may also be purely digital law firms that do not have a physical location at all.
What are the key challenges and opportunities in the next decade for firms in your jurisdiction and/or region?
I think that law firms like ours (which offer patent prosecution and litigation services) will be challenged if the Unified Patent Court and the Unitary Patent (UPC) system comes into existence. Smaller law firms will find it very difficult while medium-sized and large law firms will be in the better position to cope with the international nature of the work and its strict rules.
As the firm’s managing partner, what is your top priority for next year?
Preparing our firm and clients for the UPC system.
What is your favourite food and sport?
I love spicy Asian food a lot! I love skiing, playing squash, running, and, as I live close to a small lake, stand-up paddling.
Could you share a fun and interesting fact about you?
I am a family man with five children, which means that I don't really need a hobby besides work.
Jürgen Feldmeier is a patent attorney with a background in mechanical engineering. He deals with patent applications and disputes before the patent offices and courts in Germany. He became Prüfer & Partner’s managing partner in 2001.
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