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Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein & Fox PLLC

Our Survey Says



For top-of-the-line intellectual property work in close proximity to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, it’s tough to beat Sterne Kessler and its sole office in Washington, DC. Past experience, technical background, and a related graduate degree take priority over usual hiring criteria like grades, law school attended, and journal experience. It’s also important that new associates are able to fit in the friendly, collaborative, and inclusive work environment in which personal lives outside of the office are respected. As they work with partners, associates can expect recognition of their hard work and that egos won’t get in the way. Associates are expected to contribute and comment on projects, and even challenge partners if they have something wrong. Sterne Kessler offers extensive training to new associates, who also gain fantastic hands-on experience with and mentorship from partners. Associates appreciate that there is no rigid billable requirement; rather, billable goals are flexible and can range from 1,400 to 2,200 hours, with no negative repercussions for choosing something on the lower end. There is plenty of work, though, and assignments are doled out based on interest and availability determined through workflow reports. Most work is challenging and complex, though some associates report frustration with having to spend time managing administrative responsibilities. Salary and bonuses match those of top-paying firms and are merit based. Technology is efficient, with some minor glitches, and associates recognize the firm’s efforts to improve wellness. Pro bono opportunities seem understated and less focused in recent years. Conversely, Sterne Kessler does well with and supports diversity and inclusion. Communication about and chances of making partner are viewed positively.


The below associate quotes are derived from Vault's Annual Associate survey, which took place from late January 2020 to early April 2020.


Hiring Process

  • “As an IP-only firm, Sterne Kessler seeks candidates with more than just a law degree. The firm requires its prosecution attorneys hold technical degrees, usually including a post-undergrad degree. And for its litigation attorneys, associates holding a technical degree have an advantage over other candidates. So the competition is usually pretty stiff. While there are no ‘feeder schools,’ the associates are mostly from T14 law schools, and almost all associates are from T50 law schools.”
  • “Washington, DC-area schools are common feeders, but [the] firm hires from all over.”
  • “The firm looks for very high-quality individuals. There is a particular eye toward hiring clerks from the Federal Circuit, and many of the attorneys here are former clerks. The firm takes a holistic approach toward hiring, and those with past work experience are looked on favorably. Many attorneys here have advanced degrees, but that is by no means a requirement. I wouldn't say there are particular ‘feeder schools’ but most people went to top-ranked schools. Personality and diversity are also very important factors, and there is an emphasis in finding candidates that would be a good fit here.”

Interview Questions

  • “What got you interested in patent law? What is your technical background?”
  • “Why I was interested in working for Sterne Kessler?”
  • “I think there aren't any curveballs here, which I liked. Pretty straightforward, and [interviewers] seek to relate to the applicant and what their story is about—and how their experience may contribute to the firm's mission.”
  • “The firm was interested in my career goals and the type of work I wanted to do. We discussed the kind of work I had done in my summer jobs at another firm and internships during law school. I was specifically asked about my graduate school experiences prior to law school and what area I wanted to focus my practice in—transactional versus litigation.”

Lateral & Clerk Integration

  • “The experience of lateraling here from a different firm was very smooth. Laterals (and all new attorneys) are paired with a ‘buddy’ and a ‘point person’ when they start. The buddy has a similar level of experience as you and can be the go-to person to ask anything. The point person is more senior and good for career advice and work-related questions. The firm goes out of its way to make new laterals feel welcome, and there is a steady stream of lateral attorneys.”
  • “An amazing job transitioning. I was worried about running into issues getting work, but I was able to get quality work product as soon as I began working.”
  • “Lots of training and a professional development advisor.”


Firm Culture

  • “The firm has a friendly and collaborative culture. Social events with co-workers are mostly self-driven outside of the summer associate program.”
  • “The associates socialize often outside of work, and I am close friends with many of them. The firm sponsors intramural softball and kickball teams that consist of staff and attorneys.”
  • “The firm is very collaborative and has an open-door policy. I have no hesitations approaching directors and other associates and asking for help when needed. We also have many social events including a retreat for attorneys and holiday parties.”
  • “It's fairly social, but it's a law firm. People are cognizant of their billing. With that said, the practice group feels more like a team than my previous law firms did. ...”

Associate/Partner Relations

  • “SKGF is a law firm that does not have a hierarchy feel between the directors and associates. The firm is very transparent.”
  • “It's a congenial firm. For the most part, directors and associates get along just like associates and associates get along. I have never been chastised, but I have been told firmly and clearly when I have made mistakes. There's always stress associated with that, but that isn't a failing on the part of the directors helping train me to do better. I have heard stories about a couple of directors who can be impatient with associates, but that hasn't been my experience.”
  • “The firm holds firmwide meetings annually to provide an update on the firm's business. They are transparent with the clients, the firm's revenue, and billable work across the firm. I feel like the relationship between associates and partners is collegial, and most partners with whom I interact are receptive to (and welcome) interaction and communication.”
  • “The partners I've worked with, whether young/new partners or practice group leaders, give feedback and invest time in associates.  As a lateral, I have enough experience to know that I need to pursue feedback on my own, but partners have gone out of their way to provide feedback on work product.”


  • “Work hours are fair. Litigation is inevitably up and down, but the firm has a nice system to organize workflow between associates.”
  • “Our jobs are demanding, but Sterne does well to offer an environment that isn't too stressful even when everyone is busy. Sterne offers (at varying levels of success) various mechanisms for associates to request work, indicate that they are too busy for work, and employ flexible work environments.”
  • “When I first started, it was difficult to obtain work and stay on the billable track. However, the firm is flexible in the starting billable requirement, and does give a few months grace period to allow newly hired lawyers the opportunity to build a docket before the billable requirement sets in.”
  • “1,900 billable-hours are generally required, but it's 2,000 hours for litigation associates. One hundred hours of pro bono work can count toward the requirement. Non-litigation associates can opt for lower billable-hour targets at a reduced salary. If the requirement is not met, associates are generally placed on a lower billable-hour target with salary adjusted accordingly.”


  • “I am very pleased with compensation and bonuses. Base compensation matches the market at 2,000 billable-hours, and the average bonuses do as well. The bonus I received was more than I expected and was a nice reward for putting in long hours and exceeding the yearly minimum.”
  • “We are at the Cravath salary scale for junior associates. As you move up, the salary falls a little short of market, but the disparity is not big. However, the bonuses are much better than at other firms. Bonuses are truly merit-based, so associates can receive bonuses that far exceed those at other firms. Overall, the compensation here is better than what I could get at a GP firm.”
  • “Salary is good, bonuses are bit on the low end. Overall, good compensation for a lifestyle firm.”
  • “Market compensation and fair bonuses. I received a rather large signing bonus as a lateral as well.”

Quality of Work

  • “I feel I am given substantive assignments that reflect my ability. I have been challenged and given amazing opportunities as a first-year associate.”
  • “As a mid-level associate, I am very happy with the work assignments I am given. The environment allows associates to take on substantive assignments if desired. I spend a lot of time working on substantive writing assignments like briefs and motions at the district court level. I've also gained a lot of experience through preparing for and taking depositions and attending court hearings. Partners are open to assigning substantive work, and along with it comes the responsibility of producing excellent work product at all levels.”
  • “Yes, I'm satisfied and feel that the work is appropriate. It has become a little harder as a senior associate because the ‘next level’ of work is more frequently reserved for partners, so it’s hard to gain experience in those areas. The majority of my work relates to IPR work at the USPTO, though I also do a significant amount of patent prosecution.”
  • “The work is excellent because the variety of clients is excellent. While the firm is divided into different practice groups—electrical, mechanical, pharma, litigation—and associates are generally placed within a single group, there is no issue working in those different groups. I have never felt held back from working on different projects.”

Wellness Efforts

  • “The firm has several programs, including scheduled exercise events for those interested, counseling, and other health-related benefits through the benefit programs, and gym access. The firm is supportive of people's desires to include such things in their daily activities.”
  • “There are weekly FitBreak activities in the office.”
  • “The firm focuses a lot on wellness. There are exercise programs, meditation areas, etc.”

Training & Mentoring

  • “Training is good. The firm brings in writing coaches and presentation coaches and conducts relevant training for patent prosecution and litigation throughout the year.”
  • “Sterne Kessler provides a lot of internal training workshops. There is also a professional development advisor program that pairs associates with one director and one associate.”
  • “We have moved to more of a mentorship model, which I believe is better overall. Formal training is still available via videos, but the mentoring from partners as well as more-senior associates helps new people learn in an individualized manner.”
  • “The firm focuses a lot on formal training initially and focuses on providing information on internal policies. The mentoring and informal training comes on a per-project basis and is excellent. Every director has been willing to provide useful feedback and has helped me grow. They take an interest in improving my performance, making sure I get the kind of work I want, and responding to questions that I have.”

Career Outlook

  • “My impression is that the firm tries to position everyone to succeed and make director (partner). We had three new director promotions this year, and the firm looks at promoting those who do not make director to counsel positions to recognize their efforts.”
  • “My [chance of] promotion to partnership is excellent. If I continue at the rate I am, I will make partner by my eighth year. There are other non-partner roles for senior associates if they don't want to be partners. They can take on the role of counsel, and if they choose to, they can transition to partnership later on. …”
  • “Partnership is realistic, and senior associates can transition to a counsel role. Exit opportunities include working for the federal government as well as in-house positions.”
  • “If you meet and exceed expectations, you will move up and grow here. You are rewarded for quality work and taking on more difficult tasks, and expectations are very high but manageable. Partnership is very realistic here, and the path to partnership is much more transparent than it was at the previous BigLaw firm I worked at. The firm is flexible and will adjust to your goals—if you want to remain a senior associate, you can. There is also the option of becoming counsel before moving up to partner, but partnership is an achievable goal here if desired. Senior associates pursue jobs in-house or with the government if they choose to leave the firm.”


Pro Bono Commitment

  • “Pro bono is encouraged and a growing area of focus. The firm focuses on immigration-related pro bono cases, but any type of pro bono work can be proposed. I have not worked on a pro bono project recently but plan to devote more time to pro bono matters this year.”
  • “The leadership promotes everyone to do pro bono work, but it does not require we do pro bono work. We have an annual goal for all attorneys, but there are no consequences if you don't meet it. We have a formal pro bono program, and everyone can do it if they choose to.”
  • “The firm has several pro bono opportunities and allows some billable hours to be met by pro bono efforts. They have meetings and announcements regarding the pro bono opportunities. As a new first-year associate, I have not yet had the chance to do pro bono work, but there is at least one upcoming opportunity that I'm planning to participate in.”

Diversity Efforts

  • “One of the reasons I lateralled here was I was very impressed with the amount of diverse leadership (race, gender, orientation, etc.) in the partnership ranks, although I cannot tell which partners are equity and which are non-equity. The firm seems to do a great job of hiring diverse associates as well.”
  • “The attorneys and staff are extremely diverse. There are women and minorities holding positions at all levels, which is unique at an IP-focused firm, where the traditional environment would not be so diverse. Many efforts are made to recruit minorities and LGBTQ+ individuals. Parental leave is generous and on par with other large firms.”
  • “[The] firm has a strong commitment and has made big steps in these areas recently.”
Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein & Fox PLLC

1101 K St NW
10th Floor
Washington, D.C., DC 20005
Phone: (202) 371-2600

Firm Stats

Managing Partner: Michael B. Ray
Recruiting Chair: Deirdre M. Wells
Total No. Attorneys (2024):
150 - 250
No. of Partners Named 2023:
Billable-Hour Requirement:
Associates may select an annualized billable-hour goal between 1,400 and 2,000 hours in 100-hour increments.

Base Salary

1st year: $225,000 at the 2000 billable hours level; $190,000 at the 1900 billable hours level
2nd year: $235,000 at the 2000 billable hours level; $200.000 at the 1900 billable hours level
3rd year: $260,000 at the 2000 billable hours level; $225,000 at the 1900 billable hours level

Employment Contact

Cassandra Kowal
Senior Manager, Talent Acquisition
General Recruiting email:

No. of U.S. Offices: 1

No. of International Offices: 0

Major Office Locations

Washington, DC

Major Departments

Patent Litigation
Utility Patents
Design Patents
Business Methods
Due Diligence
Hatch Waxman: Generic & Proprietary
ITC Section 337
Licensing Trial & Appeals
Patent Office Litigation (PTAB)
Patent Prosecution
Strategic IP Advice
Trade Secret/Unfair Competition
Trademark & Brand Protection
*See firm website for complete list of practice areas and industries.