April 28, 2023

How I Made Partner: 'Engage With Your Colleagues and Be a Sponge,' Says Niketa Patel of Mayer Brown


Niketa Patel, 34, Mayer Brown, New York
Job title
: Partner

Practice area: Litigation & Dispute Resolution

Law school and year of graduation: University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2014

How long have you been at the firm? I’ve been at Mayer Brown ever since I graduated law school in 2014. I joined the partnership in 2022.

What was your criteria in selecting your current firm? Initially, the recruiting process was overwhelming. Many of the firms seemed very similar, at least in terms of practices offered and clientele served. However, during the callback interviews there was a clear front runner: Mayer Brown.

Substantively, I was drawn to the firm’s robust litigation practice with complex and high-profile cases for sophisticated clients. The interconnectedness of Mayer Brown’s offices, both within the United States and abroad, appealed to my desire to practice in an increasingly globalized world. The ability to work across a wide variety of subject matters and industries within litigation would fulfill my goal of becoming a well-rounded litigator with a diversified skill set. And the opportunity to work on lean teams would increase facetime with partners and clients, as well as meaningful responsibility early on in my career.

The cherry on top was the culture. I had had the good fortune of being in a collegial environment for my undergraduate and graduate studies, and I wanted to continue in the same vein in private practice. Working alongside team players and in a workplace that prioritized respect and open dialogue was important to me. I connected so well with every Mayer Brown attorney I met during the interview process, and I came away with the impression that these were people I would be happy to work alongside for years to come.

Working at Mayer Brown has lived up to all these expectations, and then some.

Were you an associate at another firm before joining your present firm? If so, which one and how long were you there? No. I have been at Mayer Brown ever since graduating from law school.

What do you think was the deciding point for the firm in making you partner? Was it your performance on a specific case? A personality trait? Making connections with the right people? I am doubtful that there was any one deciding factor because being a good partner requires being skilled at many different things. In that regard, I think my resilience has been key.

The baseline is doing high-quality work on all of your cases. To be frank, all of our lawyers are striving for that, whether they are partners, counsel, or associates. Beyond that, partners need to be adept at anticipating client needs, staying abreast of industry and legal developments, and of course, creating strong relationships with colleagues, clients, and other members of the bar. They also need to be plugged into efforts to strengthen the firm as a whole, including on issues relating to managing teams, recruitment, talent development, and diversity and inclusion.

Throughout my career, I tapped into my resiliency to try and master these different skillsets simultaneously, all the while maintaining high-quality work product for our clients and enthusiasm for my practice. Resiliency also meant not getting too complacent with any one achievement. Of course, celebrating wins is a must, and everyone should take time out to do that when they happen! But remembering to pick up and turn my attention to the next goal and the next kept me growing year after year.

Who had or has the greatest influence in your career and why? First, I wouldn’t be here without my parents, who made significant sacrifices and worked tirelessly their whole lives to make sure I had an excellent education. My father actually studied to be a lawyer in India but had to drop those studies when he emigrated. We always joke that I finished the degree for him. I’m also grateful for the constant love and support of my husband, who always encourages me to go for what I want and strives to understand the challenges of being a woman of color in the workplace.

At Mayer Brown, there are countless people who have had a part to play in my journey. But I would be remiss if I didn’t specifically mention Matt Ingber and Hank Bullock. Matt is a litigator and the Managing Partner of our New York office. Hank is the co-head of our New York Litigation group. They have both invested countless hours mentoring and training me. I’ve spent significant time litigating alongside them, learning from their advocacy styles and incorporating their constructive feedback. They’ve taught me so much about client service and how to think creatively to achieve the best outcome. Both have been staunch advocates for my career development and promotion, and sourced opportunities for me to show my skillset to clients and others at the firm. Even now that I am a partner, they continue to be thoughtful and deliberate about opportunities for growth. I am so grateful to both of them.

What advice would you give an associate who wants to make partner? Engage with your colleagues and be a sponge. If you spend the whole day buried in Westlaw, chances are you’ll miss significant opportunities to learn and grow. Take the time to meet in person with your colleagues, participate in strategy calls and discussions, and stop for chats in the hallways. Take in as much information as possible from these interactions. Listen and ask questions. Observe how senior colleagues engage in problem-solving and advocacy. Ask for real-time feedback on your work. See how clients think and take stock of the drivers of their decision-making. You can’t read a book to learn these things. Learning by osmosis and engaging in knowledge-sharing is absolutely critical for success in a law firm environment.

When it comes to career planning and navigating inside a law firm, in your opinion, what’s the most common mistake you see other attorneys making?

Waiting too long to start focusing on career planning and business development. Associates often fall into the trap of keeping their nose to the grindstone, only looking up to focus on business development once it comes time for promotion. But career planning should start years before you go up for promotion. Firms are looking to promote those individuals who have already demonstrated that they can handle the responsibilities of partnership. That’s why it’s never too early to start drafting a business plan, building your network, and thinking about what your practice will look like as a member of the partnership.

Associates sometimes get intimidated by business development, assuming that it means they need to single-handedly bring a new client to the firm. But there are plenty of other ways to get involved. It starts with providing excellent service to—and forming strong relationships with—existing clients. It can mean staying in touch with your network of law school alumni and building new connections with peers at clients and in the broader legal community. It could also involve being a thought leader on specific topics within your practice and keeping clients abreast of legal developments relevant to their business.

What challenges, if any, did you face or had to overcome in your career path and what was the lesson learned? How did it affect or influence your career?

I think managing the stress and pressure that comes with this job has been one of the biggest challenges. My coping mechanisms have evolved as I’ve moved through my career. Nowadays I make a deliberate effort to carve out time every week for three things: (1) exercise and/or health-related goals, (2) quality time with loved ones, and (3) down time. When I find myself dwelling on work, I try to ask myself whether I’m actively problem-solving or just repeating the same thoughts in my head like a broken record. That one’s still a work in progress though!

Knowing what you know now about your career path, what advice would you give to your younger self? Don’t take things personally. When others behave unfavorably toward you, try to evaluate the situation as an outsider would. More often than not, negative actions and words say more about the challenges that another person is going through. Untether yourself from their moods.

Do you utilize technology to benefit the firm/practice and/or business development? I’m constantly looking for technology innovations to make the e-discovery process more efficient for our clients. Use of concept clustering and artificial intelligence (AI) techniques to cull document populations can massively reduce review time and allow my teams to focus in on the critical documents. These innovations are vital given the changing scope of document review—the adoption of chat and collaboration platforms is increasing both data volumes and sources during the discovery process.

Since my practice includes advising clients on the potential risks of AI, I also try to stay abreast of emerging AI technologies. The arrival of generative AI, including ChatGPT, is top of mind right now.

How would you describe your work mindset? Stay Hungry – I believe that success can be limitless, and constant growth and progress keeps people achieving in the long run.

Choose Collaboration – Two heads are better than one. Teamwork fosters innovation and results in multi-faceted solutions for my clients. Realize that no one person can be an expert in everything, and there is always something valuable to learn from your colleagues.

Pay It Forward – I am a big proponent of supporting and helping those around you, particularly sharing lessons learned with those who may be facing similar challenges. Sharing expertise is the best way to unlock the full potential of talent.

If you participate in firm or industry initiatives, please mention the initiatives you are working on as well as the impact you hope to achieve. At the firm, I sit on the New York Diversity Advisory Committee, and regularly engage in efforts to advance diversity and inclusion in the legal profession. I’m also a member of the Mayer Brown Project Equity taskforce, which strives to address issues of racial and social justice in our local communities.

Outside of the firm, I am a fellow in the Lawyers for Civil Justice (LCJ) program. I work closely with the nation’s leading defense and corporate counsel to advocate for reforms to procedural rules governing litigation. The mission of our work is to maintain balance in the civil justice system and promote judicial efficiency.


Reprinted with permission from the April 28, 2023 edition of Law.com © 2023 ALM Properties, Inc. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited.

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