As the global economy becomes increasingly based on intangible assets, the role and importance of intellectual property legal practice has grown. But IP is different from many other legal practice areas.
"The days when you can be all things to all people are gone," says Andy Shaughnessy. Instead, clients want "pinpoint precision," he says, and are sometimes even prepared to create what amounts to a "virtual law firm" of top lawyers from different firms in the case of a specific piece of intellectual property litigation. Andy says it does not makes sense to market his expertise to semiconductor manufacturers, for example, because he practices primarily in the highly specialized area of pharmaceutical patent litigation.
Many firms are organizing internally along industry-specific lines, and market externally on an industry-by-industry basis. However, as Andy notes, this is not limited to the patent area. In trademarks, for example, he says a vital target market is the manufacturing sector, so it makes sense for practitioners to become involved with organizations like the Canadian Manufacturer's Association.
While marketing should be directed at the key decision makers, says Andy, a firm's efforts have to be very focused. For many firms, this means involvement in some of the many organizations geared toward intellectual property law, such as the International Trademark Association, the American Intellectual Property Law Association and the intellectual property law section of the American Bar Association. More importantly, says Andy, involvement in committees in these organizations is essential for developing the important relationships that lead to files.
Many firms also hire engineers, scientists and other technical consultants to round out their teams so that they can offer their clients a deep pool of talent to help in the drafting of complex patent applications.
An important source of work for many IP firms is reciprocal business that flows back and forth between firms. For many Canadian IP lawyers, this means directing marketing efforts toward the types of organizations mentioned by Andy that have an international or United States focus. Andy also seeks out new clients by engaging in "guerilla marketing", which essentially involves cold-calling selected potential clients. Once you have targeted a desired client, contacting them and proposing to give a presentation on an important point of Canadian law often yields positive results.
Within a full-service firm, there are also opportunities to cross-sell to lawyers in other practice areas. This can be difficult, Andy admits, when partners are busy and focused on their clients' more immediate interests. There is an onus lawyers looking to grow their practice to show how the firm can offer another service to an existing client.
Whether it is a large full-service firm, a boutique or a smaller firm, developing relationships is key to increasing business. It is important to develop contacts with other law firms and with other types of professionals, such as accountants, whose clients may occasionally need IP advice.