|''You and the client wear the same jersey; you're directly aligned in your interests,'' Gerald Hosier said of contingent-fee litigation. ''Whereas in an hourly rate business, inefficiency is rewarded.|
"I was closing in on my graduation and not knowing really what to do," said Hosier. "I knew that I didn't want to pursue a graduate degree in engineering, so it became an MBA or law. Then I discovered, by chance, that the field of patent law existed and ultimately went to law night school."
Immediately out of undergraduate school, Hosier dove into his first love, engineering, while he attended law school on the side. He was hired in the intellectual property department at Zenith Electronics, where he assisted with various licensing, litigation, and patent issues, including the Zenith v. Hazeltine case. During his four years at De Paul University College of Law, Hosier was able to simultaneously get four years of practical experience in the field.
"The plus of it was I was doing double duty. I was learning the profession while going to law school so I could compress the time frame in which I became qualified to work in the field," Hosier said. "Even with a law degree, you're not really much more than an apprentice in the field. You really need time to learn how to work in that field because law school does not prepare you to do it. I got a full spectrum of exposure to the field at Zenith."
While at Zenith, Hosier was taken under the wing of one of the department's senior attorneys, who mentored him as he found his way in those first few years.
"He took the time and effort to teach me and give me a lot of opportunity to do things other than routine patent prosecution and become involved with litigation," said Hosier.
Though his ambitious career path set Hosier apart from many of his colleagues, he admits that he didn't really have a choice.
"I had a son when I was 21, just about two months before I graduated. I had my eyes on playing some professional baseball and then going to Duke, but the economics of that just didn't work."
When he graduated from law school in 1967, Hosier decided it was time to escape from the consumer electronics industry.
"I knew after being in a corporation for four years that it was not for me—and particularly at Zenith because I could see the handwriting on the wall in terms of Japanese companies starting to take over consumer electronics. Plus, I found it very stifling to be in a corporation," Hosier said.
Even before he graduated from law school, Hosier joined one of Chicago's most prominent patent firms, Hume, Clement, Hume & Lee, now named Brinks, Hofer, Gilson & Lione. He passed the bar exam that summer and proceeded as an associate for the next three years. Then, he was made a partner and remained at the firm for six years after that.
While with Hume, Clement, Hume & Lee, Hosier also learned a great deal from Jim Hume, who was a very prominent patent attorney in his day. In 1976, Hosier and fellow attorney from Hume, Clement, Hume & Lee Ray Niro branched out to start their own firm.
"In those days, you didn't have lateral moves from one law firm to another, so if you left a law firm like we did, you either made it or you were toast," he said.
At his new firm, Hosier raised eyebrows when he began practicing plaintiff's contingent-fee litigation, which involves representing clients on a results basis rather than for an hourly rate—something almost no attorney will do.
"You and the client wear the same jersey; you're directly aligned in your interests," he said of contingent-fee litigation. "Whereas in an hourly rate business, inefficiency is rewarded. A very high percentage of cases never get tried. They just get to the point where they churn along for years, and then there's a settlement, and there's really no accountability, but millions have been billed, and the system has been broken at this point."
Through his experience, Hosier has concluded that hourly billing is much less efficient and prevents attorneys from having real successes in their careers.
"When I looked at the people that worked with me in my firms, the better they did, the better it made me look. That isn't the view in a lot of environments. There's a lot of competition. Hourly billing just gives incentive to have lots of people work on a case to build your stature within a firm by how many cases you can have that will take forever to get anything done and how much you can bill—that's the only way you climb the ladder," said Hosier. "So the incentive for the client and the incentive for the firm are diametrically opposed, which I was never really comfortable with."
Since pioneering a practice that offers contingent-fee litigation, Hosier has changed the world of intellectual property law with his dedication to success and results. He is most widely known for representing the inventor Jerome Lemelson in various cases. Lemelson approached Hosier in 1986 because he was not happy with his cases' success rates under the hourly billing system. As one of the field's few attorneys who would cater to Lemelson, Hosier took on the challenge with ease. While representing Lemelson in the following years, Hosier went on to win hefty payouts for some major cases against companies like Mattel, Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors. To date, Hosier has retrieved about $1.5 billion from more than 950 companies for Jerome Lemelson and his estate.
These days, Hosier tries to veer clear of many cases, though he continues to offer friends legal advice on and litigation for a variety of venture capital fund-related cases. He also strategizes with and directs his team of attorneys who oversee the Lemelson cases.
Hosier has spent a significant amount of time and energy giving back, too. He is either a founder or a board member of various electronics companies in the areas of massively parallel supercomputers, video games, and electronic voting machines. In addition, he is the managing partner of Brush Creek Capital and serves on the board of trustees for The Aspen Institute. In 2000, he established the Distinguished Visiting Hosier Chair at his alma mater, De Paul University College of Law.
Hosier advises up-and-coming attorneys to make sure they find practice areas that involve what they like to do.
"The one attractiveness of the law is that you can be an introvert, extrovert, like to write, not like to write too much, and like certain subject areas over others. You can find areas that are appealing to you," he said.
Hosier said today's attorneys have fallen into a slump and should look for opportunities to be more entrepreneurial.
"There are too many lawyers that are just legal technicians and don't look at the problems from the standpoint of a client who's interested in a solution and not interested in the process," said Hosier. "If you can be the kind of person to find a solution to a problem, as opposed to the guy who goes through the whole exercise of a lawsuit, you're a much more valuable person in the long run."