Ed. note: This is the latest installment of The ATL Interrogatories, brought to you by Lateral Link. This recurring feature will give notable law firm partners an opportunity to share insights and experiences about the legal profession and careers in law, as well as about their firms and themselves.
Peter J. Devlin, President and Chief Executive Officer of Fish & Richardson, assumed the firm’s top management position in 2000. Under his leadership, Fish has opened several new offices, expanded its burgeoning international practice, bolstered its reputation as a national firm at the pinnacle of the IP and business world, strengthened its financial performance, and positioned itself for further growth. Mr. Devlin’s law practice emphasizes client counseling in the areas of patent infringement and validity opinions, patent due diligence, product clearance, and licensing; and in U.S. and foreign patent prosecution, focusing on medical device technologies, electronics, and software. Before joining Fish, Mr. Devlin worked for Raytheon Company, first as an electrical engineer and then as a patent attorney.
1. What is the greatest challenge to the legal industry over the next 5 years?
Communicating value. On a micro level, lawyers need to show clients that money invested in good legal counsel is just that: an investment. Invested wisely, legal spending pays dividends because it helps achieve business goals. On a macro level, attorneys simply have not done a good job of explaining how our work helps business, society, and the greater good. For example, about ten years ago there was a list called “Ten Patents that Changed the World,” which was intended to be a top 10 list of patented inventions that have made life better. Since then, I’ve never seen a similar list of great patents. On the other hand, a web search for “most ridiculous patents” produces multiple results. This is ironic because there are many more patents on inventions that changed the world in a positive way than there are outlandish patents.
2. What has been the biggest positive change to the legal profession since the start of your career?
The increased focus on and sustained commitment to diversity really stands out. While we are nowhere near where we want to be, there are serious, motivated, and powerful people — in the legal industry as well as the business community — who continue to push to make our profession more inclusive.
3. What has been the biggest negative change to the legal profession since the start of your career?
The dearth of entry-level jobs for graduating law students. When I began my practice, it was almost unheard of for new law school graduates to have trouble finding a job. Today, with the legal industry in slow-growth mode and fewer clients willing to pay for new lawyers to learn on the job, first year jobs are more scarce. This will hurt our profession in the long-term, because we are not training a new generation of lawyers.
4. What is the greatest satisfaction of practicing law?
It may sound simple, but it is incredibly rewarding when a client says “thank you.” In the end, that’s what it’s all about — doing a great job for a client, producing the desired result, and being appreciated.
5. What is the greatest frustration of practicing law?
I have never met a lawyer who enjoyed measuring the day in six minute increments.
6. What is your firm’s greatest strength?
Our lawyers trust one another. Teamwork is one of our firm’s core values. From our clients’ perspective, that means that our lawyers welcome other Fish lawyers into their client relationships. We can put the best team on the field to solve our clients’ business problems and bring in specialty teams when needs arise. A collaborative office is also a pretty nice place to work.
7. What is the single most important personal characteristic for a successful lawyer in your field?
Unbridled enthusiasm. IP lawyers need to be able to take a “eureka” moment and turn it into a legally sound document. Some innovations are the seeds for products, or even categories of products, that don’t yet exist. An IP lawyer needs to understand and believe in an invention with the enthusiasm and energy of an inventor, but still have the deep technical expertise, legal skills, and objectivity to obtain a quality patent.
8. What is your favorite legally themed film or television show?
The West Wing (affiliate link). Besides being one of the most compelling dramas ever, the program featured brilliant writing and wonderful acting performances.
9. What is your favorite legally themed book (fiction or non-fiction)?
The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court, by Jeffrey Toobin (affiliate link). I’ve always been fascinated by the Supreme Court, and this work, which reads like a novel, masterfully depicts the inner workings of the institution, along with the fascinating personalities of the justices.
10. What would you have been if you weren’t a lawyer?
A pilot. My father was a career USAF navigator, and I’ve always loved to fly but am nearsighted, and so flying professionally was never a possibility. I became a pilot as a hobby about 15 years ago, and have found flying to be both relaxing and challenging. I just wish I had more time for it.
Lateral Link’s recruiters are on pace to place hundreds of attorneys throughout the world this year. We are currently involved in over three dozen active partner searches including opening the office of an Am Law 50 firm in a new location, the merger of an Am Law 10 firm with a foreign firm, finding practice chairs for several Am Law10 firms, and searches for groups of partners in at least ten different cities, including Atlanta, Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, New York, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Dallas, Denver, and Chicago, just to name a few. We are currently working with partner candidates with $500k to $35M in portable business. For more information, please call Michael Allen, Managing Principal at Lateral Link.