Challenges in Hiring and Maintaining Qualified IP Docketing Personnel

IP Management

Most IP professionals know that it can take several months to hire qualified docketing personnel.  Docketing is a specialized position within the intellectual property field that requires a working knowledge of not only intellectual property issues and calendaring due dates, but also the computer skills necessary to effectively navigate and maintain an electronic docketing system.

Today, when organizations are frequently sued over issues related to administrative docketing errors, hiring docketing personnel inherently carries considerable risk.  A hiring mistake could cost millions of dollars.

There are several factors that contribute to the difficulty in finding qualified docketing personnel.

Typically, there are very few individuals within an organization who understand the necessary steps to ensure a solid docketing workflow process, and can manipulate the docketing software.  Replacing a departing employee or creating a new position can be extremely difficult when there is little or no significant experience within the organization. Sometimes, it becomes so difficult to find a suitable candidate that the docket responsibility will be added to the job responsibilities of a secretary, file clerk, or other clerical employee who may not have an appropriate amount of time to devote to, or invest in learning, the docketing system.

Docketing is an extremely stressful responsibility. There are many high-priority demands placed on docketing personnel, and the primary demand is an error-free work product.  A docket clerk is also expected to quickly turn around any data/communication, accurately interpret international prosecution correspondence, relay meaningful docket reports to attorneys, execute special client docketing requirements, conduct a seamless intake of new attorney portfolios, and understand and manage the electronic docketing software (and may also be expected to act as the database administrator when docket software problems arise).

Training docketing personnel is a challenge, since few external training opportunities are available within the industry.  Most training is delivered on-the-job by a senior employee.  In many cases, if the organization has lost its only docketing employee, there may be no one available to assist the training process.

A Dallas legal recruiter with Special Counsel Inc., Scott Bruce, says that “there are not enough experienced intellectual property candidates to fill available positions and finding an organization willing to provide on-the-job IP training is difficult.”

There are some steps that can be taken to ensure that the docketing department remains qualified.  It is important for all docketing personnel to receive regular training on substantive IP issues.  They should be included in any training provided to secretaries or paralegals, either in-house or from any of the available basic intellectual property seminars around the country.  A docketing position is a good stepping stone to an IP paralegal position, and gives the employee an edge if the opportunity becomes available to transition into an IP paralegal position.

Providing some hands-on experience working prosecution files in some aspect will also strengthen skill sets.  Teaching docketing personnel how to read and understand various statutes and administrative manuals will also be essential to ensure stability in the docketing position.

It is imperative that docketing personnel attend any available training conducted by the docketing software vendor.  Since electronic docketing software can cost an organization tens of thousands of dollars, it makes good sense to utilize any and all available software features in order to maximize the return on this investment.  In addition, docketing personnel should understand how each country rule calculates in the docketing software, and know where to put particular dates to ensure accurate calculations of action due dates.  Employees will only obtain this level of knowledge by investing time in substantive IP training, and the hands-on software application training provided by the software vendor.

Since recruiting can be a daunting task, some organizations prefer to promote from within – or “grow their own” docketing personnel – to ensure docket branding and to avoid inheriting an unwanted docket style. Remember that, even if an individual does not have direct docketing experience, there are some desirable qualities and characteristics to look for when interviewing potential candidates.  Generally, if a the candidate is professional, has solid administrative skills, makes minimal mistakes within document preparation, can research a problem and assimilate information well, is intuitive and able to anticipate next steps, and can remain calm in stressful situations, he or she has the potential to develop into a competent docketing employee.  Individuals who have a bit of litigation experience are also typically good candidates, since many of the same basic organization and analytical skills are essential to success.

Despite the hurdles that accompany the staffing and training process, it can be successfully accomplished – – it simply takes an investment of time and diligence to build a quality docket team.

Suzanne Kiefer is a consultant with twenty years legal experience who assists corporations and law firms in assessing and implementing enhanced IP docketing practices, improved workflow processes and non-attorney staff training.  Suzanne can be reached at