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Surely there’s a job for every Patent Attorney?

Phillipa Field, consultant at Fellows and Associates, discusses the ongoing need for candidates with an electronics background, and whether the supposed urgency is truly reflected in firm’s hiring habits.

Since I joined Fellows and Associates in 2012 one could say that I have learnt a fair bit, with one fact becoming glaringly obvious from very early on; patent attorneys with a background broadly in electronics are extremely high in demand. With this in mind, you would think if we found candidates in this area then placing them would be a straightforward process. This actually isn’t the case in all instances.

Of course I’m not saying they are not placeable. We currently have ongoing instructions from a number of firms across the UK looking to find high quality attorneys with a background broadly in electronics, at all levels. Firms are continuing to communicate their need, either through speaking to us, advertising directly or through word of mouth with peers; however the issue seems to be that once seemingly suitable candidates arise firms are still periodically displaying hesitation.  

The need for firms to grow their electronics teams is widely known across the industry, perhaps resulting in suitable candidates’ confidence growing and realising that they have some bargaining power when making their next career move. This is where the reputation of a firm is paramount, because even if past faults have been remedied, old truths and mistruths die hard. As the advocate for many firms in the IP sector we do our best to rectify the sometimes inaccurate views of firms and educate candidates on the realities of what it would be like to work there. However, some firms need to be more visible to the candidates they are trying to recruit and be armed with a defined brand message educating potential candidates on the realities of what they can offer.  For example, there has been an uptake of social media with more and more firms joining, or beginning to regularly post, on platforms such as Twitter and Google+. This can contribute to the visibility of the firms but there does need to be a level of dedication. A neglected account, or one that is heavily updated but only in sporadic bursts, will not add anything to a firm’s reputation.  

The way business is done has changed and this is as true for IP firms as it is for everyone else.  It is no longer adequate to quietly operate behind closed doors and survive solely on historic reputation. We have learnt from experience that firms can go to great lengths in order to secure candidates.  It is not uncommon for internal policies and remuneration structures to be overlooked for an individual, or even amended for all staff in order to accommodate an incoming attorney.  Coinciding with the rise in demand for attorneys is the rise in firms fighting to keep their staff. If a firm is successful in tempting a candidate sufficiently in order to reach a formal offer, then they may still be susceptible to a counteroffer particular if their reasons for leaving can be addressed therein (and this may not be purely financial, it could be working arrangements, career opportunities, etc.). So why are firms who sometimes make a significant leap in corporate policy to attract some candidates not snapping up all of those who come to market?

It is quite common for firms to show initial interest in a candidate allowing them to reach first (and in some cases second) stage for the process to then completely break down and the candidate be back at square one. It might be that although firms are in desperate need for attorneys to supplement their growing work load, they are still looking for (and can afford to wait for) additional qualities. Firms are not blinded by the fact a candidate has a desirable technical background and are still taking other factors into account, and probably rightly so. Personality can play a huge part when joining a new firm, whether you’re quietly focused on the job at hand or striving for the next rung on the ladder can determine where your career plays out. Thus, it is important to ensure a new recruit can get along with their peers because if a personality clash takes place it doesn’t really matter what technical specialism they are. Further on the issue of personality, is the need for business development experience (or the desire to gain some). This is becoming more apparent in the instructions we receive, with firms needing commercially savvy attorneys that can provide an outstanding service to existing clients as well as the confidence to go out and win new business.  Having said that, we have had a few recent instances where a candidate has had quite negative feedback from one firm only to receive excellent feedback from another – recruitment quite often comes down to not the technical skills of a candidate but whether the interviewee and interviewer get on well in their meetings.

Recruitment has been a little more risk averse over the last few years.  It is not uncommon for a process to be put on hold by a firm after a round of first interviews in order for a brief to be revaluated.  There may well be times when an element of pressure born from a pressing staffing need adds undue urgency to the process and it is only after meeting a number of candidates that a firm realises they are not getting the attributes they actually need. In comparison there are some firms who very much know what they are looking for, however in this case their defined brief is the very thing that is holding their recruitment back. There can be an unwillingness to move away from the specified brief to allow for some form of flexibility. Whether it is looking to Europe to widen the pool of potential candidates, or to allow for more or less senior candidates than they had originally intended, firms are hesitant in moving the goal posts or considering less conventional candidates.  This is understandable but not without risk: if a position remains unfilled for a considerable period of time that might ultimately be worse than hiring a not quite ideal candidate at an opportune time.

There are a great deal of opportunities for electronics attorneys but firms are in need of fully rounded attorneys with personable skills as well as a desirable technical background.  Proving the former is a matter of opinion, it can make securing a new position more difficult than it might first appear.  Or, maybe, there’s just no pleasing some people.

 

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Fellows and Associates
81 Oxford Street
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W1D 2EU
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