Purvi J. Patel
The goal of this column is to enlighten our readers about the private endeavors of attorneys who are part of the MCCA network. By examining lawyers and their work practices by day in contrast to the personal interests that they pursue outside of the office, it is our hope that this series of articles allows our readers to see the other side of lawyers who manage to pursue unique interests despite their demanding careers.
Purvi J. Patel with some of her memorabilia collection in her office
Purvi J. Patel is a partner in Haynes and Boone’s Dallas, Texas, office. She is also a fervent Madonna fan. Not only does Patel follow the pop star’s concert tours and collect her memorabilia, but she also consistently works to include Madonna in her professional life. “My specialty is trademark, brand management, and counseling,” explains Patel. “And since Madonna is the ultimate brand manager, it makes sense to tie her into my presentations. I’ll admit, even if I’m doing something unrelated to her, like a management presentation to the firm, I’ll find some way to slip in a Madonna reference.”
In the brand management world, there is a phenomenon called “the Madonna factor,” which refers to the ability to hold the interest of a fickle audience. The singer’s knack for reinvention and courting fame is only part of the reason Patel is transfixed: “She appeals to people who are somewhat marginalized and feel they don’t fit in. She gives you permission to be outside the mainstream but still be proud, powerful, and successful. She’s inspiring to me, so I assume she will inspire others as well.”
Patel first came across the singer in 1984 and was hooked. “I saw her ‘Borderline’ video on television. Madonna plays a would-be cover girl who forgoes the high life for the boy she loves, vandalizing a sports car in the process,” Patel recalls like it was yesterday. “At the time I was a well-behaved, chubby nine-year-old who felt she didn’t fit it. Madonna had an effect on me like you can’t imagine: Her bravado and irreverence bowled me over.”
The only child of Indian immigrants, Patel was born in Indiana. When she was in elementary school, her family moved to Jacksonville, Fla. “I was pushed by my parents to excel academically and did very well. In fact, I skipped two grades,” she says. “My mother tutored me and worked with me to make sure I stayed ahead in my studies, especially with mathematics, calculus in particular.”
Happily for Patel, her high school experience was an abbreviated one. “I was a nerdy kid who studied a lot and was two years younger than my classmates. Of course, I was teased mercilessly. So when I went off to college at 16, I was thrilled. Today, sometimes I look at 16-year-olds and think, ‘wow, that’s so young to leave home,’ but for me it was welcome.”
As an undergraduate at Emory University, Patel double majored in French and political science. “I remember speaking with my adviser in the French department about what I was going to do after college,” she recalls. “I was passionate about the fine arts, especially drawing, but recognized that I was probably not skilled enough to make a living at it. I also liked to write and had an interest in law—as a young girl I had admired the powerful women attorneys depicted on L.A. Law and I wanted to be like them. I wanted to wear those formidable power suits and carry a serious briefcase. My professor suggested that I combine my interests and pursue a career in intellectual property.”
At Emory University School of Law, Patel gravitated toward trademark and copyright. “It comes under the umbrella of IP, but doesn’t require a technical background,” she explains. “And it allows me to work in areas that interest me like fashion and design.”
Today as a very successful trademark lawyer at Haynes Boone, Patel represents four of the Fortune 10 companies. She is also the youngest partner in her 200-partner firm’s history. “I do a lot of product review: Is this fashion accessory or packaging infringing on another party’s design? I have a variety of clients, including artists, designers, restaurants, and technology companies,” she explains. “My practice also includes domain name disputes, trademark licensing, and advertising review and disputes. In the future, I’d like to do more with fashion and cosmetics, particularly in the areas of counterfeiting and product configuration.”
av-o-ca-tion /ævo-ke-shun/ [av-uh-kay-shuhn] noun—something a person does in addition to a principal occupation, esp. for pleasure; hobby.
When not practicing law, Patel tends to her avocation: pursuing all things Madonna. This winter, Patel is slated to follow Madonna’s “Sticky & Sweet” tour to Houston, Chicago, and Atlanta. And now that she is a partner, says Patel, she goes all out. Her seats are always within the first 10 rows, which is not inexpensive considering that at face value, these tickets go for over $400 and sometimes sell for much more.
“It’s a different show up close,” says Patel. “I’ve seen Madonna at the MGM in Vegas, at Madison Square Garden in New York, in Miami, Atlanta, Chicago, and elsewhere, and she actually shakes with nervousness in the first few minutes of her concert. I don’t get crazy and cry or anything, but I’m on my feet jumping up and down throughout the show, singing every line of each song. My friends like to come just to watch me.” By the close of 2008, Patel will have been to 11 Madonna concerts. She hopes to go to many more.
Around the office at Haynes and Boone, Patel’s obsession is common knowledge among partners and associates alike. Attorneys, says Patel, frequently duck into her office (which incidentally is decorated with Madonna memorabilia) to get the lowdown on the controversial pop icon. Her widely known Madonna obsession often serves as an icebreaker at bar events and panel discussions. When Patel was a young associate, her partner supervisor twice gifted her with rare Madonna memorabilia as a reward for jobs well done (see photo p. 12).
At the start of her career, Madonna garnered fame with catchy dance songs and sometimes shocking behavior. The Michigan-born singer once told Dick Clark on American Bandstand that her goal was to rule the world. Decades later, after many incarnations and a bit of scandal, 50-year-old Madonna Ciccone is still at the top of her game. A viable force in a youth-dominated industry, she continues to sell out concerts. Patel also notes that, in addition to being an extremely successful and wealthy businesswoman in a previously male-dominated industry, Madonna is also a noted philanthropist.
“Madonna motivates me. Before my partnership interview, I listened to her Ray of Light CD for good luck. It got me revved up,” says Patel. “She is someone who works hard and constantly strives to top her most recent accomplishment. Madonna never rests on her laurels. Certainly that makes her an excellent role model for any lawyer, right?” DB
Patrick Folliard is a freelance writer based in Silver Spring, Md.
From the November/December 2008 issue of Diversity & The Bar®