A Day in the Life: Michael Zimmerman, Patent Attorney

There’s never really a “typical” day at Hanley Flight & Zimmerman. While our practitioners’ work product is consistently high-quality, they’re constantly exposed to cutting-edge technology and innovations and are developing unique strategies for clients to secure the strongest possible patent protection.

One of those practitioners is Patent Attorney Michael Zimmerman. Let’s join him for a look into a day of his work life at HFZ.

How It Started

Growing up, Michael enjoyed exploring and understanding how devices worked and wanted to become an engineer. While completing a combined bachelor’s and master’s degree program in Electrical Engineering, Michael was introduced to patent law. After graduation, he saw patent law as a way to continue his engineering career. Michael initially joined HFZ as a full-time patent engineer who attended law school part-time.

How It’s Going

Now a patent attorney at HFZ after earning his law degree, Michael uses his engineering background to understand inventions, consider the prior art, help inventors explain their inventions, and argue for patentability of inventions.

“Patent law is a great career path for an engineer,” he said.

In his current position, Michael has a mix of tasks. Some are hands-on, such as preparing patent applications or responding to communications from patent offices around the world. Others are supervisory, such as overseeing the work of other HFZ patent practitioners and teaching young practitioners the best techniques in the industry.

He enjoys the challenges and variety of the work. Some days he meets with inventors and drafts descriptive figures and text. Other days, he develops procedures, learns about new rules or case law, reviews the work of other practitioners, and/or develops best practices.

Where He’s Headed

HFZ gave Michael the opportunity to train patent practitioners, learning how to better communicate expectations and responsibilities to newer practitioners. Today, he has advanced from a practitioner working under the mentorship of other attorneys into a mentor providing guidance to other patent practitioners.

Off the Clock

Michael says practitioners find opportunities to fit work time around outside activities. For example, when he’s not prosecuting patents or mentoring practitioners, Michael coaches his son’s baseball team.

“Sometimes I need to get to practices or games in the early evening, but I can utilize the opportunity to get to work early or complete some activities later in the evening,” he said. “Such flexibility has been invaluable in trying to manage all of the different activities and responsibilities in my life.”

Patent Practitioners Find Work-Life Balance at HFZ

Hanley Flight & Zimmerman is fortunate to work with the best. To do that, the firm was intentionally structured to give its employees time to recharge from the significant work they perform for clients and create space for personal and family obligations.

Brandon Dube, a patent attorney who prepares and prosecutes U.S. and foreign patent applications in the mechanical and electro-mechanical arts, recently discussed how he finds work-life balance at HFZ.

The main way is through planning and scheduling. In addition to having the flexibility to work remotely at home or in the office, practitioners at HFZ — patent agents, engineers and attorneys — can handle matters at their own pace as long as deadlines are met. Deadlines are usually set out months in advance, giving practitioners ample time to manage their schedules.

“As long as a practitioner meets their deadlines, they can easily make time for their families and interests outside of work,” Brandon said.

In his case, Brandon is an avid golfer and wants to get on the golf course as much as possible during the summer.

“When the weather gets warmer, I’ll often take advantage of my flexible workload by starting my day a couple of hours sooner so that I can wrap up earlier in the afternoon to golf,” he said.

Most of HFZ’s clients also maintain traditional work hours, so urgent matters such as client calls or emails outside of normal working hours are rare. There is also a good mix of collaboration between the practitioner and overseeing managing partner, as well as strategy calls with the client, so that expectations are set and understood in advance of deadlines. HFZ also evaluates workload distribution across the firm, a team-based approach that not only reduces strain on employees but results in a superior work product for the client.

Also, for attorneys, HFZ’s yearly hourly requirement is easily attainable through a normal work schedule. Brandon also says the firm’s founders lead by example in taking time from work for their families, travel, and hobbies.

“From my experience, the typical practitioner at HFZ can maintain traditional workday hours with few late-night emails or weekends in the office. It is rare that a practitioner would ever have to delay a life event because of work,” Brandon said.

While HFZ employees can find flexibility in their schedules, it doesn’t reduce work quality. HFZ represents six of the Top 25 U.S. companies who earned the most granted patents from the USPTO in 2022 and was recently ranked as one of the top five large law firms in the country for patent quality by Patent Bots.

While at work in the office, HFZ employees can take advantage of a company-paid membership at an on-site gym that also offers amenities such as fitness classes. On special occasions, lunch is catered to the office in the HFZ Cafe, which doubles as a communal gathering space. HFZ also routinely plans social outings such as bowling, Top Golf, baseball games, and river boat tours.

While HFZ is flexible with remote work, the firm continues to prioritize a modern and comfortable office space for in-person work. The firm is planning to move into a new space at 10 S. Wacker this year that will provide even better views of the city.