Most Lucrative: Intellectual Property


Intellectual property (IP) is another hot practice area. It’s growing, and its practitioners are paid well.

“Business today is knowledge-based and technology-focused, making the protection of patents and trademarks a thriving practice area,” the Robert Half Legal guide says.

PayScale reports lawyers in IP and patent law may be paid 11 percent above average, but another report suggests the bump could be even bigger.

Practice Panther pinpoints IP law as the top-paid practice area, with an average salary of $155,037.

“Dealing with patent, copyright and trademark law, IP law is booming, with new companies opening daily,” the company wrote in a blog post.

And, the CounselLink report found the year-over-year increase in median partner rates exceeded 4 percent for both trademark and patent practice areas.

A majority of IP litigation work is going to the nation’s biggest law firms, according to another CounselLink report. In 2014, the 50 largest firms had 61 percent of that work, up from 36 percent in 2011.

Patent cases filed in U.S. district courts rose by 15 percent last year, surpassing all years but 2013, which remains a record high, according to a year-end report by Lex Machina, an IP litigation research company.

“If you have experience in IP, then you’re going to be in strong demand, especially in a number of large metro areas,” Volkert said, citing tech hubs such as New York, D.C., Boston, Chicago, the San Francisco Bay Area and Southern California.

The National Law Journal publishes an IP hot list each year, and this year 15 top law firms scored big wins for clients, including in the high court. Key cases affected the technology, banking, music, sports and entertainment industries.

Boston-based Goodwin Proctor represented two clients in key cases that were decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in early 2015. In a patent case concerning Teva Pharmaceutical’s lucrative multiple sclerosis drug, the court overturned a long-standing Federal Circuit practice  and ruled that appeals courts should review claim-construction findings for clear error rather than from scratch, the journal reported. Goodwin Proctor also represented B&B Hardware in a case regarding its trademark of a metal fastener brand name. The court ruled that courts are bound by the findings of the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.

It’s a niche practice area, so a specialized background can be helpful in landing a first job, and then climbing the career ladder.

Becoming a patent attorney may require a technical background, such as engineering, chemistry, biology, physics or computer science. Experience in advertising, publishing or the music industry also could be good background for copyright or trademark practice.

If an attorney intends to practice patent prosecution, a second post-graduate test is required. Commonly called the patent bar, the examination qualifies attorneys to correspond with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.