Today, the “star model” is evolving quickly, especially in the law firms that trained its next generation of trial lawyers. The star model is better described as a model from a different law-firm era that is becoming less necessary as the next generation of patent trial lawyers come on line.
The star model is a litigation model that sets up one senior trial lawyer to be the only voice at trial and important court hearings. This model assumes that the senior trial lawyer is the only lawyer, or practically the only lawyer, that the jury should hear from. In many instances, junior and mid-level partners work up the case and the "star" swoops in for these key hearings and trial. The model in patent litigation was effective and necessary for well over a decade because few attorneys in the younger generation had been trained to try patent cases.
Wayne Stacy, IP Partner at the San Francisco office of Baker Botts, sat down with Inside Counsel to discuss how the star model is evolving.
In the patent litigation world, according to Stacy, the senior generation of trial lawyers have already retired or are near retiring. Many of these lawyers were originally generalist trial lawyers that gained much of their trial experience in the 1990's trying cases other than patent cases. They began to specialize in patent litigation during the early 2000's. Often, the stars did not have technical degrees and relied heavily on lawyers with tech degrees to prepare the cases for trial.
As for the "stars" that went to the patent-plaintiff world, Stacy can only speculate as to motives. But, he said, “The conventional wisdom is that the patent-plaintiff world and its contingency cases held significant financial rewards beyond what the biggest law firms can pay. This side of the patent world is now better stocked with high-quality plaintiff trial lawyers than any time in my career.”
The model for the future focuses on trial teams where multiple lawyers have a meaningful role in front of the jury, according to Stacy. This model shows to be more effective with modern juries because it gives jurors a variety of attorneys to bond with and minimizes the chance that one attorney's style alienates the jury.
“The model is also more effective because it increases diversity on trial teams, which increases perspective,” he explained. “The best of these ‘stars’ are actually leading the change by building trial teams and pushing younger partners to take leading roles at trial.”
For many years, the star model was effective and necessary. These senior individuals were excellent trial lawyers and had unique trial experience that once made them necessary for trying patent cases. In many cases, these lawyers were the best and only option available for a trial-bound patent case. They were worth the price because they had unique skills and because they had great attorneys supporting them.
Stacy said, “The best of these stars trained a new generation of patent trial lawyers to take their place when they retired. Instead of replicating the star model, they trained trial teams that provide multiple trial-ready lawyers that better speak to the current jury pool.”
So, why are many law firms pressured to find lawyers in the 30-40 age group?
First, the stars in the star model are approaching retirement, according to Stacy. So, firms must have trial-ready teams ready to go when that day comes. And second, the trial methods that worked over the past 20 years are not necessarily the best methods going forward because jury pools have changed as are changing.
“Juror expectations regarding in-court presentations are changing - the techniques that worked a decade ago are no longer the best,” he explained. “If a firm can field a trial team that more effectively speaks to a larger swath of the jury pool, that team will be more effective. The goal is not to replicate the star model with a younger generation of stars - the goal is to evolve the star model into a new model that encourages full team participation.”