When it comes to growing a law firm, few know better than Robert “Patto” Patterson. Patto has invested the last two decades driving substantial growth in some of Australia’s top law firms, including M+K Lawyers ($60M turnover, 300 staff) and HWL Ebsworth ($120M turnover, 600+ staff). In this interview, Patto shares his vision for Rankin & Co., as well as an unparalleled insight into the legal industry and where it is heading.
What compelled you to make the shift from M+K lawyers to Rankin & Co.?‘Rob Rankin was definitely a major influence. I knew him from when I consulted with his previous firm Scanlan Carroll. I loved M+K lawyers, the people and the environment, but I had done everything I could there. Without implementing another major step change, it was business as usual and I am not business as usual kind of person.’What is your vision for Rankin & Co.?‘For starters, we will be considerably larger. Rob and I have a vision of 100 lawyers. Ultimately, I want to create a firm that people are knocking down the doors to join, a firm that recognizes the link between employee engagement and client satisfaction.I also want to explore artificial intelligence. I don’t think AI will replace law firms, I would hate it if it did, but perhaps 30-40% of the work we do will be driven by AI, chatbots and automation.’What makes a good lawyer?‘The traits of a good lawyer, from a senior management perspective, may be very different to that of an associate’s perspective. From my perspective, there are four qualities to a good lawyer. Technical competence is essential (the first quality) but they must be a good marketer and foster a strong network (the second quality). A good lawyer will have the ability to build and lead a team (the third quality). Finally, a good lawyer will understand and cater to their clients (the fourth quality). If a lawyer has these four traits then they are probably killing it.’What are the advantages of working in an agile distributed team?One advantage is that lawyers can work at a client’s premises, which is something many lawyers want to do. Clearly, the ability to see how the client works, and get an on-the-ground understanding of the business, enhances the provision of legal services.Secondly, lawyers can work wherever they choose; from home, Byron Bay or even half way around the world. What we’ve found is that conventional office spaces do not promote optimal cognition, and that we are far more productive when we can select and customize our work environment. This idea is still quite foreign to many law firms.As a virtual firm, we do need to recreate some of the advantages of a conventional workplace. It is essential to create a sense of belonging, which we do through our social events; our Monday morning meetings, our regular joint work sessions during the week and our Friday gatherings. At the end of the day, we are social beings and it is important to feel part of a team- I think Rankin & Co. understands this much better than the conventional law firm.’What advice would you give to someone who is contemplating the shift to Rankin & Co.?‘It’s not for everyone, but for the right people- people who are comfortable in their own space- it will be a life changing move. It will be completely liberating. The ideal fit for Rankin & Co. should be genuinely excited by that freedom.So many lawyers enter the office building every morning and it as if a cloud descends upon them. Rankin and Co. frees people of that feeling. You can work when and where it suits you best- you become part of the general population instead of being trapped in a chicken pen environment.’Describe the person that will get the most out of Rankin & Co.?‘Self-discipline is essential. We like people who have a well-honed sense of adventure and fun. A curiosity to learn is also very important. Finally, the people of best fit tend to be most productive in their own environment.’Concluding comments about Rankin & Co.‘Rankin & Co., is headed for significant expansion but we will stay true to our roots. Along the way there will be a tension to reintroduce the elements of a conventional law firm but we must be courageous and remain truly virtual. I imagine lawyers spending 2 months a year in France, in Bordeaux, and working all the while- wouldn’t that be amazing! We will embrace technology and were it takes us.’