Achieving critical mass in IP firms

Precise definition is elusive, but the theory goes that once a law firm reaches a certain size, further growth becomes easier. A law firm with so-called critical mass has sufficient presence in the market to attract new clients and repeat business, persuade good lawyers to work for it, and take investment decisions without worrying unduly.

This is not a theory that has troubled IP Draughts over the years. 26 years ago, he started his IP law firm as a sole practitioner, without employees. Since then, the firm has grown organically, attracting new clients, employees and, for the last 9 years, new partners. At times, the growth has been lumpy – you get busy enough to justify the investment in taking on another trainee, but that investment results in a reduction of profits, and may take several years to show a return. Similarly, loss of one significant client may knock back growth for a year or two. But, overall, we have managed to grow steadily and significantly without needing to be a certain size.

He has been fortunate to find and retain very good lawyers, some of whom have slipped through the crude net of major law firms’ recruitment policies. And some very good clients.

So, the idea of a firm needing a critical mass is not one that has resonated with IP Draughts. But now that the firm has grown to 15 lawyers (including trainees and a paralegal), he is starting to wonder if there is something in it.

Patterns are difficult to see in a time of extreme disruption to the economy caused by coronavirus. At present we seem to be in a short-term period of strong activity, to the point where IP Draughts worries about meeting client expectations while partners are on holiday. Will this last? Who knows.

Is it a peculiar by-product of the pandemic, or of Brexit, very different to the situation facing many consumer businesses? Or are we in the state of turbulence that comes just before achieving critical mass, like an aeroplane passing through the sound barrier, or a space ship re-entering Earth’s atmosphere? Your guess is as good as (or perhaps better than) mine.

It does, though, make us think about recruitment, particularly of senior lawyers who can work without extensive partner supervision. If you are a transactional IP lawyer with good experience, an engaging personality, and excellent technical skills, and you would like to work in a a growing, specialist firm that has a strong reputation, we would be interested to hear from you.


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Filed under Intellectual Property, Legal practice

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