Lateral partner movement continues in the world of intellectual property law. As we noted in Morning Docket, four partners and one of counsel are departing from Finnegan Henderson, one of the leading IP-only firms in the country.

Where are they going? What else is going on over at Finnegan? And what does the future hold for large, IP-focused law firms like Finnegan?

Here’s a report from Thomson Reuters News & Insight:

The Washington intellectual property law firm Finnegan Henderson Farabow Garrett & Dunner said on Friday that it is losing five trademark lawyers who are expected to form their own IP boutique.

The departing lawyers are former trademark practice leader David Kelly, partners Robert Litowitz, Linda McLeod and Stephanie Bald, and of counsel Lynn Jordan, a firm spokeswoman said in a release on Friday.

She said that the lawyers remain employed at Finnegan and that a departure date has not yet been determined. The name of their new law firm was not provided.

We obtained a copy of the Finnegan release, which we’ve posted in full on the next page. Kelly and Litowitz are prominent players in the trademark law space, as noted by Am Law Daily:

Litowitz — who has more than 30 years of experience litigating cases involving patents, trademarks, and other IP issues — is listed on the Finnegan website as being a member of the firm’s management committee. Kelly, who focuses his practice on trademark, Internet, and unfair competition issues, was recognized by sibling publication Legal Times as one of the D.C. area’s top 10 “leading lawyers” in the trademark and copyright fields in 2008.

There have been a few notable departures from Finnegan over the past year or so. For example, last August two patent partners, Les Bookoff and Roland McAndrews, left Finnegan to start their own boutique firm, Bookoff McAndrews.

We’ve heard vague rumblings over the past few months about lawyer departures from Finnegan possibly being on the upswing. But the statistics don’t seem to bear this out, at least not yet. We reached out to the firm to inquire about how headcount changed last year. Finnegan reported to us that total attorney headcount was 371 in 2011 and 369 in 2012, and total partner headcount was 147 in 2011 and 145 in 2012. So headcount seems to be stable.

And Finnegan turned in a decent (but not spectacular) financial performance last year. According to the Blog of the Legal Times, gross revenues hit $348 million in 2012, a 1.8 percent increase from 2011, and profits per partner grew by 2.7 percent, to $1.16 million. Those are solid numbers.

But seeing another group of IP partners leaving Finnegan to start a boutique does raise an interesting question: does the model of the large, IP-only law firm still make sense? Or are we going to see them all go big or go small — i.e., get absorbed into general-practice Biglaw firms, as Fish & Neave was gobbled up by Ropes & Gray, or break up into lots of little boutiques, focused on different specific areas of IP law? Put another way, are there enough synergies and cross-selling opportunities between the various branches of IP law for big IP-only firms to make sense? Feel free to discuss in the comments.

This is all, of course, quite speculative. As of now, Finnegan Henderson continues to thrive. And Kelly and Litowitz — or Litowitz and Kelly (which ordering has a better ring to it?) — probably will too. Best of luck to them and their colleagues as they launch their new firm.

UPDATE (4/29/2013, 3 p.m.): The new boutique, called Kelly IP, is now on the web.

(You can flip to the next page to read the complete Finnegan Henderson statement, which touts the firm’s continuing strength in the trademark law area.)


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