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by Travis Whitsitt | May 20, 2024


Intellectual Property practice generally falls into one of three buckets: transactional IP, IP litigation, and patent prosecution. It is rare for an attorney to work in both IP transactions and litigation at a large firm but more common in smaller practices. Transactional IP attorneys work on transactions to license intellectual property assets or in support of M&A transactions to handle the IP-related issues in such deals. IP litigators work on disputes involving patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets. Patent prosecution involves assisting clients in obtaining patents from the Patent and Trademark Office. Patent prosecutors are required to have a science degree and to pass the Patent Bar examination. Patent lawyers evaluate whether their client’s request impinges on other intellectual property, defend against opposition to client’s applications in administrative trials, and oppose applications that impinge on the client’s intellectual property. Lawyers working in “hard IP”—patents and biotech assets—are often required to have a technical background even if not practicing before the patent bar and an undergraduate or graduate degree in science or engineering is helpful. IP lawyers need to fully understand the technologies, products, and businesses of their clients to represent their clients well.

The five top-ranked IP Specialty law firms based on Vault’s 2024 IP Specialty prestige rankings are DesmaraisMcKool Smith; Banner & Witcoff; Keker Van Nest; and Wolf Greenfield. Below are a few relevant highlights about each of these firms.

Desmarais LLP

Ranked at #1 in Vault’s 2024 IP Specialty prestige rankings, Desmarais also sits at #15 overall in our Best Midsize Law Firms to Work For rankings and #16 in our New York midsize regional prestige rankings. The firm employs fewer than 100 attorneys out of three U.S. offices. Associates describe the culture as social & collaborative, and the firm has no billable hour requirement and a majority in-office policy. Partnership is realistic for those willing to put in the work, and both counsel roles and exits to other roles are viable options as well.

McKool Smith

McKool Smith operates seven U.S. offices which employ over 100 attorneys. In addition to being the #2 IP Specialty law firm, they are the #9 Litigation Specialty firm. The firm’s trial attorneys represent both plaintiffs and defendants in commercial cases, intellectual property disputes, bankruptcy litigation, securities litigation, and white collar defense. McKool Smith has, since January 2020, retained Coston Consulting, a Black-owned business advisory firm, to help develop and implement diversity initiatives.

Banner & Witcoff, Ltd.

In addition to its #3 ranking in our 2024 IP Specialty prestige category, Banner & Witcoff is #5 in the Best Midsize Chicago prestige rankings, #20 in the Best Midsize Firms for Diversity, and #25 in our Best Midsize Law Firms to Work For Wellness rankings. Banner & Witcoff operates four U.S. offices, including its Chicago headquarters. The firm employs over 100 attorneys, and they handle everything from copyrights and trademarks to design patents and patent prosecution to PTAB litigation and section 337/ITC litigations—and much more. Banner & Witcoff works in industries such as chemistry and chemical engineering; computer technologies; internet, ecommerce, and business methods; life sciences; and medical devices. The firm is also adept at providing clients with counseling on IP strategies, patentability, and potential infringement of copyrights, patents, and trademarks.

Keker, Van Nest & Peters LLP

Keker Van Nest operates from a single San Francisco office where it employs over 100 attorneys. In addition to being the #4 IP Specialty law firm, Keker Van Nest is the #4 Litigation Specialty law firm and the #25 Best Firm in Northern California. The firm specializes in intellectual property, professional liability (particularly law and accounting firms), consumer and class action suits, general contract and commercial litigation, antitrust law, white collar crime, and appellate cases.

Wolf, Greenfield & Sacks, P.C.

Ranked at #5 in Vault’s 2024 IP Specialty prestige rankings, Wolf Greenfield is also #25 overall in our Best Midsize Law Firms to Work For rankings. They employ over 100 attorneys out of three U.S. offices. Associates describe the culture as warm and professional, and the firm has a below-average billable hour requirement of 1,800. Partnership is transparent and realistic at both the equity and nonequity tiers, and counsel roles and exit opportunities are each strong as well.


If you're qualified for and targeting an IP Specialty job, you already have a solid fundamental idea of the kind of work you'll be doing. With that in mind, the differences between the firms that excel at that kind of work become more pronounced. We encourage you to check out the Vault Law profiles of these five, all other ranked IP specialty firms, and any other firms you may be interested in. Our profiles give insider info based on both firm communications and the anonymous results of our Annual Associate Survey, and allow you to learn as much as possible about what each firm is really like.

Best of luck from all of us at Vault Law on your legal job search!