1 May
2019

How in-house evolution is impacting law firm revenues and workloads

  • The Global Trademark Benchmarking Survey reveals trademark operation trends
  • Half of law firms have staffed up in light of increased workloads and demands
  • Clients seeking more bang for their buck, financial risk policies creating challenges

This year’s Global Trademark Benchmarking Survey has revealed that levels of trademark-related work are at a nine-year high for law firm respondents. However, while optimism levels are also high, not all firms are flourishing and even those experiencing a rise in fortunes have to be mindful of the price sensitivity of clients.

This year’s results, which are available here to WTR subscribers, provides unique insight into how trademark practice operations are built and operated – uncovering corporate trademark strategies, revealing team budgets and exploring the interplay with internal and external stakeholders. In addition to polling in-house contacts, we also surveyed law firm practitioners to build up a deeper picture of how private practice is evolving and meeting the needs of clients. 

As we note in our analysis of the corporate survey results, given the complexity of managing global portfolios, while engaging in transactional and brand protection work, the need to work with trusted advisers has never been greater. In many instances, budgetary pressure and the need to tap into different types of expertise on a global basis mean that law firm networks become more critical. As such, over the past year, 35% of in-house respondents sent out more work to law firms over the past year. Further, almost half (49.5%) predict that trend to continue in the coming 12 months. What is clear is that for law firms to be able to offer strategic services, the work will continue to be there.

This is reflected in the law firm benchmarking results, with respondents reporting that trademark-related work was at a nine-year high and – following a small dip in 2018 – trademark practice income was back at the 2017 level. One of the impacts of this is a trend towards staffing up – with 51% reporting that the firm’s trademark practice had grown in personnel numbers (itself a seven-year high). In terms of income, almost one-third reported that fee levels had also increased over the past year, with one-third also expecting further increases. In short, there is more work among respondents, generating more income, than has been the case in almost a decade.

As to why there is an uptick in work, a range of reasons were cited. These ranged from increasingly competitive markets for clients (“who increasingly use intellectual property” to protect their businesses) and brands entering new markets to increased counterfeiting threats and an upswing in new businesses focused on developing their brands. Meanwhile, one boutique practitioner observed: “Smaller companies have grown in size and larger companies are looking to spend less on portfolio management – so they are increasingly coming to our smaller firm.”

For some, the positive trend has resulted from internal review, with one observing: “The clearer strategies and fee arrangements we now have in place, together with increased liaison with clients on budgets, have led to the increases [in work and revenue].” Others pointed to the successful cross-selling of services across practice areas, improved social media and marketing activities, and new hires bringing business from their previous firms.

Of course, not all firms are flourishing and even those experiencing a rise in fortunes have to be mindful of the price sensitivity of clients – as one practitioner pointed out: “It is just not possible to charge high rates to clients in intellectual property except for specific matters for which the client is really ready to invest.”

Instead, many clients seek, from the outset, a commitment to spend levels, with one lawyer noting that “more clients have asked for initial assessments of their ‘chances of success’ to be included with the reporting of any ‘bad-faith’ applications, without any additional charges”. Another respondent concurred, adding: “Because clients are more cost conscious, they often require estimates and sometimes uncharged preliminary advice. Some clients have a financial risk policy, which induces reporting requests which are time consuming and difficult to charge.”

Interestingly, though, the client focus for that spend does appear to be shifting slowly towards core services. While 62.3% of law firm practitioners stated that clients are demanding additional levels of service and support, this is at the lowest level for five years.

The full set of data results and analysis, including a deep dive into corporate trademark team structures, operations and financing, is available here. Below are some selected statistical highlights from the law firm section of that 12-page report.

Over the past year, has your trademark-related workload:

bench1

Over the past year, has your firm’s trademark practice income:

bench2

Over the past year, has the size of your firm’s trademark practice in terms of personnel:

bench3

Over the past year, have your fee levels:

bench4

In the next 12 months, how do you expect your trademark fee levels to change?

bench5

 

Trevor Little

Editor

[email protected]