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Is it better to work with a solo practitioner or a law firm?

Is it better to work with a solo practitioner or a law firm?

A potential client asked me the other day if his company’s interests would be better served by working with a solo practitioner legal representative like me, or with a larger firm to prepare and file a patent application.  There are advantages and disadvantages to each. If you are considering filing a patent application, consider these factors before choosing a representative. Look for advantages that are relevant to you in the present, or near future. De-emphasize disadvantages that are likely to only be relevant in the distant future.

Solo practitioner advantages

The person you speak to during your first meeting is the person that you will be working with throughout preparation and filing of the application and responses to examination reports. If there are additional applications, the same person will be handling those, and will be able to place them in context relative to the earlier application(s).

You often get more value for money working with a solo practitioner than working with a larger firm. There are two reasons for this.

The main reason you get more value for money is that overhead costs for a solo practitioner are typically lower. The money you pay is going primarily for professional services, and not to support a large staff and extensive office space. Having worked in large offices I know that only 35% to 50% of money billed to a client for professional services goes to the person that did the professional work.  As a result, the professional in a large firm is under pressure to generate sufficient billings to pay their own salary. It was a big relief to set up my own practice and have the luxury of devoting two or three times more hours to each task. Note that the billing from the solo practitioner is not necessarily lower, but the quality of the work product is potentially much greater.

The subsidiary reason you get more value for money is that your application makes up a larger proportion of the total workload in a solo practice, than in a large office. That means each task “feels” more important to the person doing it. This subsidiary reason complements the main reason to virtually insure you get more value for money working with a solo practitioner than working with a larger firm.

Large firm advantages

Larger firms can offer a wider variety of services. For example, a large firm may have separate departments for preparing patent applications (and responding to examination reports), litigation, licensing and opinions. Depending on where your company is in terms of business development, you may not need help with licensing for many years. Most firms would like to avoid litigation altogether for as long as possible, and many succeed in doing so. Consider how many of the departments at a large firm you really need.

Large firm disadvantages

Many larger firms like to bill for even the smallest of tasks, It is easy for them to do this because a half to two thirds of the money you pay them goes to overhead cost that pay for a clerical staff among other things. A client once came to me with a case that had originated at Firm X. I asked why he was transferring from Firm X.  The reply: “I didn’t mind being billed 500$ for a paper clip, but I was never really sure that I got the paperclip.” Small charges like per charge pages for photocopying and FAX transmissions can add up over time.

Many larger firms require multiple rounds of review by different people. In theory this is an advantage. In practice, if you are billed by the hour for each review, it detracts from the value for money. This is especially true if an unreasonably large number of rounds of review are implemented.

Overhead costs for a large firm are a big concern.  If the receptionist that greets you, invites you to sit in a 5000$ leather sofa and offers you a choice of beverages that puts Starbucks to shame  has a 200$ hairstyle and a 60$ manicure, you should wonder how the money you spend in that office is being used.

Many larger firms will have a partner attend the initial meeting. Is that partner the person t5hat will actually be writing your application? Has that partner written any applications in the last year? Five years? Who will actually be doing your work? Are they at the initial meeting? How much experience do they have?

Solo practitioner disadvantages

 One person does it all. If they are not qualified, this is a disadvantage. Ask yourself what impression that person made on you at an initial meeting. Did they ask relevant questions? Did they take time to make sure you understand the patent process from an administrative and financial perspective? Did they ask about your business development plans, without regard to the proposed patent application. This disadvantage may be minor, or major. Think carefully and give it the appropriate weight when choosing a representative.

If you think a solo practitioner might be right for you lets talk about whether I might be the right choice. Contact me to set up an initial consultation without cost or obligation.


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