Has the “mojo hand” lost its mojo?
In 2008, a paralegal at Weil Gotshal alleged in a lawsuit that Matthew Powers, co-chair of litigation at Weil at the time, ruled over his domain with the “pimp hand” and the “mojo hand.” The “pimp hand” was used to intimidate and coerce, while the “mojo hand” was used to stroke and cajole.
In 2011, Powers, one of the nation’s leading intellectual-property litigators, left Weil to start his own firm, Tensegrity Law Group. In leaving Biglaw, he also left behind a stable of blue-chip clients, focusing instead on representing plaintiffs on a contingency basis.
Two years into his new venture, some observers are wondering whether Matt Powers has lost his powers….
IP lawyers are buzzing about an article by Julia Love that appeared a few days ago in The Recorder. Here’s how the piece opens:
In nearly three decades atop patent litigation, Matthew Powers collected all the trappings of Big Law success: Nine-figure victories. Stately homes. A top Chambers ranking. Three ex-wives.
There was little left to accomplish — and then fearsome patent litigator John Desmarais left Kirkland & Ellis in 2009 to found his own firm, armed with a vast collection of patents from Micron Technology and a bold plan for monetizing them. His move showed that by crossing over to plaintiffs work, a seasoned defense lawyer could get some skin in the game and nab a fortune unattainable in Big Law.
A fortune that he shares with his associates. Desmarais pays $20K above market (i.e., $180K to first-years, $190K to second-years, etc.).
Is Matt Powers enjoying similar success at Tensegrity? The jury is still out:
Assessing Powers’ new operation, Tensegrity, is a popular parlor game among IP litigators in Silicon Valley. Some say Powers has achieved less at the two-year mark than they anticipated: he has yet to try a case for plaintiffs at Tensegrity, and he hasn’t acquired any patents either. He was hobbled by his awkward departure from Weil, Gotshal & Manges, where he co-chaired the litigation group. And he may have been a step too late: The political debate over trolls has intensified, with policymakers threatening actions that could hinder plaintiffs lawyers in the courtroom. Plus, with greater appreciation for IP as an asset class, competition for patents has stiffened — and Powers says he is just now pursuing such deals.
The Recorder notes that during his time at Weil, Powers tried as many as seven cases a year — a big number of Biglaw. At Tensegrity, he hasn’t had a trial in a year.
It’s hard to represent patent trolls — er, non-practicing entities (NPEs) — if you don’t have the patents. Desmarais left Kirkland with 4,500 patents that he purchased from a K&E client, Micron Technology. In contrast, Powers must find clients to represent; he can’t just assert patents that he already owns.
Despite the challenges of switching from representing big companies on an hourly basis to representing NPEs on a contingency basis, Powers tells The Recorder that business is going well so far:
Powers says Tensegrity is logging profits per partner and revenue per lawyer well above Big Law levels, though he declined to disclose specifics.
Lawyers who have litigated with him suspect that he was lured by the greater financial rewards promised by plaintiffs work. With three divorces under his belt, Powers is believed to have considerable financial obligations. He welcomed a new baby in December. He declined to say how many children he has in all. One of his homes in Atherton has been on the market this year, priced at $4.2 million. The sale was set to close Friday, Powers said, adding that he’d purchased another home in Atherton a year ago.
Powers claims that he’s enjoying his post-Weil life:
Two years out, Powers’ famous confidence is unflagging. He has recouped many of the advantages he enjoyed at Weil: interesting cases, talented deputies. He’s shed much of what he despised: managerial duties and budgetary scrutiny from penny-pinching defense clients.
All he needs now is to get his hands on a portfolio of patents.
Given his track record, one shouldn’t bet against Powers finding huge success representing patent plaintiffs. But some question the virtue of his new venture.
“He’ll make enough dough,” a fellow IP litigator told us. “But the unashamed pursuit of money is somewhat surprising. Even class-action securities litigators purport to serve a societal good.”
In fairness to Powers, one man’s “patent troll” is another man’s “entity asserting intellectual-property rights guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States.” If you have a problem with patent trolls, don’t get angry at Matt Powers or John Desmarais; instead, yell at Congress.
Earlier: New York to $180K. I’m Totally Serious.
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