Makesha Patterson has always dreamed big. At different times throughout her childhood, she declared she would be an architect, an engineer, and a lawyer. And somehow, she has managed to combine all three of those passions in the course of becoming a senior litigation counsel for Google.
During her undergraduate years, Patterson majored in architectural engineering. When she decided to pursue law, she planned to specialize in construction law. In fact, she sees a distinct link between engineering and litigation.
“With litigation, each case is like a problem, and you have to think about how you are going to solve that problem or that case,” Patterson says. “And there usually is more than one way to resolve a case or solve for that problem. It’s similar to an engineering problem, because you have to think, ‘What’s the best way to solve this?’”
After law school, Patterson built up her experience in litigation at the law firm of Allen Matkins Leck Gamble Mallory & Natsis in San Francisco. She did work in construction litigation, as she had hoped, but primarily focused on general business, real estate, and environmental litigation.
Patterson enjoyed her work at the law firm—so much so that her decision to leave was almost unintentional. “My path to Google was a bit unexpected,” she explains. “I wasn’t actually looking to leave the firm, and I wasn’t looking to go to Google. It was an opportunity that presented itself.”
But when the leadership at Allen Matkins approached her in 2010 and asked if she was interested in doing a secondment at Google, which would essentially mean she would be “loaned out” to the tech giant, Patterson recognized the opportunity for what it was. It took her only one night to decide to accept.
Making Time for Music
In addition to dreaming of pursuing a career in engineering, architecture, and the law, Makesha Patterson had a passion for the piano as a child. When the COVID-19 pandemic forced everyone to work remotely, she decided it would be a good time to pick that interest back up, so she started taking lessons. In fact, Patterson says, taking up a non-work-related hobby like piano has been an excellent way for her to improve her overall productivity, and has also provided much-needed stress relief. She hopes to one day be able to teach her children how to play.
Patterson had never worked in the tech space, but once she began working as in-house counsel, she appreciated the position more and more.
“At the firm, I had responsibility, but I didn’t have the same level of responsibility and autonomy as I had when I came to Google,” she says. Starting out at Google, Patterson had fewer people directly overseeing her work, and she appreciated that element of trust.
But it is not only her increased independence that she appreciates about her current role. Because she works for such a large and complex corporation, her work varies from day to day—and from case to case.
“I’m constantly learning about new products, new features, and different areas of litigation. Each case is different, so that makes it exciting and interesting,” she says. Google has multiple core products and platforms, each with more than one billion monthly active users—and the legal team spreads itself across all of them. Patterson often works as the sole litigator on cases that arise from different products.
As a mother of three, Patterson also appreciates the flexibility of her role and Google’s commitment to a sustainable work/life balance. Despite the company’s size and prominence, Patterson says, its culture has remained true to its roots.
“Google started off as a small start-up. It was homegrown. There’s a certain mentality that comes with a small start-up, and even though we’re not that anymore, some of that culture still exists,” she explains.
But most importantly, Patterson’s transition to Google has helped her grow as a leader. She considers herself to be thoughtful, inclusive, and approachable—she wants everyone to feel comfortable coming to her to talk. “If you’re working with me or on my team, I always want to hear what you have to say,” she says. “Even if I may not agree with you, I’m still going to listen to you and consider what you have to say.”
This attitude and her skill set are celebrated by her partners. “Makesha is an exceptional lawyer and partner to outside counsel. She has a unique ability to develop practical solutions to complex problems that put her internal clients in the best position for success,” say Sunita Bali and Bobbie Wilson, partners at Perkins Coie LLP. “In addition to being a superb litigator and strategic thinker, she is an absolute joy to work with. Google is lucky to have her on their team.”
Google has brought out the best in her, Patterson emphasizes, and she cannot wait to see what else is in store for her legal career.
Mayer Brown LLP:
“Makesha is an inspiring and creative team leader who brings out the best in the lawyers she works with. Her wide range of experience, collegiality and insight, straight to the heart of any given matter, make her a tremendous asset to Google.”
—Ward Johnson, Partner