(This article was originally posted in Real Estate Agent Magazine)
This young real estate law boutique firm is setting its own course to success with a laid-back culture and two experienced partners – Patrick MacQueen and Benjamin Gottlieb – at the helm.
All law firms all have their own personality, a culture that is immediately associated with that firm. Some are stuffy business firms; some are bare-knuckle courtroom brawlers; some may be known for their political connections; still others pride themselves on their back-room deal making ability.
The question is, how do they establish that identity? Is it a tone the founders and senior partners of the firm set from day one? Does it simply permeate throughout the firm from the top? Patrick MacQueen and Benjamin Gottlieb, the founders of MacQueen & Gottlieb PLC, don’t know how it works at other firms in the Valley, but at their firm it was a conscious choice to establish the firm culture they wanted right from the start.
“Although we were both pretty young when we founded the firm in 2016, we’d both been with a variety of firms in our careers,” says MacQueen, 40. “I think we had both seen things in other places that we didn’t want to have in our own firm, and that helped us shape what we did want. We’re both easy-going guys and we wanted that to be reflected in the culture of our firm, so we’ve made a conscious effort to make that happen in our firm. I’m not sure about everyone else, but I can tell you that for me it makes it a lot more enjoyable to come to work every day.”
While it’s simple to say you’re going to be the cool, laid-back law firm in town, it’s a little more difficult to put that vision into practice. But they are pulling it off , according to associate Rachel Werner.
“When I was interviewing with the firm, Pat and Ben both told me their firm was different from the typical law firm,” she says. “Both of them are young and are motivated to achieve success, and I felt like I was getting in on the ground floor of something great. And frankly, it’s been exactly what they said it would be. The only surprises are how much I have learned in a short period of time, and how hard I have laughed.”
Law clerk Brandon Bodea echoed that sentiment. “At MacQueen & Gottlieb, I have always felt free to ask questions, learn more and communicate openly with the partners. I know that isn’t always the case at other firms. I’m grateful to be in this environment.”
According to Bodea, there were a few reasons that drew him to MacQueen & Gottlieb. “I liked the fact that they were smaller and would have the ability to give me more specialized attention or would feel more comfortable giving me important research assignments. I feared that if I went to a large firm, they would only assign me insignificant research projects, and I wouldn’t learn as much. I was absolutely right – I feel like a full-fledged member of the team here.”
SETTING THE TONE
Establishing the culture is more than just cracking jokes in staff meetings and not wearing ties all the time. There’s an undercurrent of fun and a relaxed atmosphere that simmers beneath the surface of an office that is still very professional. It’s almost as hard to describe as it must be to create.
“Our office is a hybrid between a coffee bar, a lounge and a firm,” MacQueen says. “It puts our clients at ease, which translates to more clients, which in turn gives us the ability to hire very qualified attorneys and team members.”
“Patrick is naturally funny and easy going,” says Gottlieb, 32. “I’m a little more outwardly reserved, but something about being around Patrick loosens me up. He’s got a great sense of humor and puts people at ease, but he also has a great sense for when it’s time to get down to business.”
“We pride ourselves on being normal and relatable human beings who just so happen to have a lot of experience in real estate law,” MacQueen says. “This has translated into clients wanting to retain us as they see us as energetic, approachable and engaging. We speak to clients and their needs, do not have billable hour requirements, and try to do things in nontraditional ways.”
This vibe is best manifested in the gifts the two partners received from the staff on the firm’s first anniversary – bobblehead dolls representing them.
“We loved them,” MacQueen says. “They say as much about the firm as anything.
“I think there would have been a riot if the staff had done something traditional,” he continues. “The bobble heads were a perfect gift. They showed that the staff really knew us and were comfortable doing something outside the box. It also showed that we have developed a team atmosphere in which the staff can go a little bit off the wall and still have the partners love it.”
PATRICK MACQUEEN: THE GOLFER
Finding out how people start down the path they choose for themselves in life can be telling. It can be a carefully planned career path, a random fork in the road, or an early, insatiable passion that steers someone’s professional life. For MacQueen, it was golf and the people who played it.
Golf helped hone MacQueen’s competitive instincts as a youth in Michigan. Those competitive traits have served him well as an attorney, litigator and founding partner. In fact, MacQueen’s interest in the law dates to his days as working at a local golf course. He struck up friendships with some regulars, several of whom were attorneys and judges.
“Several of those guys impressed upon me the importance of the law in our everyday lives,” MacQueen says. “I listened to them talk about cases and knew I wanted to be a part of that exclusive club that could impact lives for the better. Of course, they left out the part about the difficulty of law school and the cutthroat nature and grind of being a young attorney and working 80-90 hours a week, but that’s OK. I had read enough John Grisham novels to know that was coming.”
He sharpened his competitive skills as a youth golfer competing around the country. In high school, he was one of the top players on his school team and helped lead them to a second- place finish at the state tournament. He also earned allconference and honorable mention all-state honors in both his junior and senior years. His game developed to the point where he was able to make the team at Michigan State, where he played his freshman year.
So why did he give up college golf after having early success? “I realized early on that I had a better chance of being a great attorney than I ever would of being competitive at the professional level in golf,” he says. “So, I dedicated the time I was spending on the course to becoming the best student I could be.”
It paid off. He graduated with honors from the Eli Broad College of Business at Michigan State University with a bachelor’s degree in finance. He then moved on to the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law where he was valedictorian of his class.
“The law is a very competitive field,” he says. “In law school the competition for grades is tough, and it doesn’t get any easier when you move to a firm and all the associates are competing to impress the partners. The competitive skills I learned on the golf course served me well in those early years. The game teaches patience, respect and tradition. To become good in golf and real estate law, you cannot cut corners. It just takes time and focusing on the right things.”
MacQueen came to Arizona after graduating from law school in 2006.
While he’s known in the profession as one of the easier attorneys to work with, don’t be fooled by his good nature if you’re on the other side of the courtroom, according to his partner Benjamin Gottlieb. “Patrick is one of the nicest people you’ll ever come across,” says Gottlieb. “He’s funny, interesting and great to be around. But don’t let his easy style fool you; when it comes time to practice law, there’s no one I’d rather have on my side – or would less like to square off against – than Patrick.”
MacQueen agrees that he is able to separate personal feelings from the need to achieve the best possible results for his clients. And that ability started on the golf courses of his youth.
“When I was competing in tournaments, I didn’t care nearly as much about winning the tournament as I did about beating my friends,” he says. “The trophies were cool, don’t get me wrong – but having bragging rights over my buddies was a greater motivator for me.”
MacQueen is still beating the neighborhood kids today, just at a higher level. He recently prevailed in several Arizona Court of Appeals matters and one with the Arizona Supreme Court. He recently represented Dunn & Gibson of New York in a $180 million deal here in the Valley and also served as local counsel in the $129 million acquisition of the City North development adjacent to Desert Ridge Marketplace in North Phoenix.
Golf’s influence on MacQueen has now come full circle.
“Now that we’re at the point we are in the firm and our careers, I’m looking to get the firm to the point where I can get out and play more golf,” he says. “Nothing would make me more proud or happy than for our firm to grow and have the attorneys we’ve brought on board succeed to the point where I’m no longer needed. Then I can spend more time on the golf course and try to get my game to the point where I can try to qualify for the PGA Champions Tour when I turn 50.
“I still work the 12-plus hours a day,” he adds. “And I know I’m making a positive impact on our clients’ lives, and that makes all of the other stuff worth the work it took to get here.”
BENJAMIN GOTTLIEB: THE NATURAL
What were you doing when you were 32 years old? Had you co-founded one of the fastest-growing firms in Arizona? Amassed an unbeaten record in jury trials? Been hailed as a leader in litigation, all the while managing to raise a family of three boys with your wife? Don’t feel bad – no one else besides Benjamin Gottlieb has either.
Gottlieb, who co-founded his firm at age 30, and recently prevailed in a six-day jury trial over a water law issue, has had what can only be described as a meteoric rise in the legal profession. He has gone from law school at Arizona State University, where he was managing editor of the ASU Law Journal, to founding partner in a real estate firm that is taking the profession by storm, in just eight years.
“Since Ben is too modest to say this about himself, I’ll say it for him,” says MacQueen. “He’s one of the best attorneys in Arizona, not just for his age, but for any age. His talent for research and preparation, combined with his skills as a litigator, make him truly one of a kind. There just aren’t many people in our profession who have Ben’s skill set. I’m proud to have him as my partner in the firm.”
While most young attorneys are sequestered in a research library to dig up case law and help the partners prepare briefs, Gottlieb’s skill set allowed him to jump directly into the deep end of the legal pool and start racking up victories early in his career.
Gottlieb describes himself as a litigator at heart. “There is no feeling in the world like standing up in a courtroom and arguing your client’s case,” he says. “Being in front of that judge and jury is the pinnacle of what I was working for through my undergraduate studies and law school. It fuels my passion for the law even further every time I’m in the courtroom arguing a case.”
That passion is a key to both his early success and keeping him motivated for the future.
“I’m very passionate about my work, about this firm, and the people who work here,” he says. “Once I take on a litigation client, I am fully dedicated to getting the best possible result for them. Whatever amount of time, work, research or legal knowledge is required to achieve that goal, I will put in. That passion, the conflict, matching wits and legal knowledge with the opposing side, really fuels me. And that’s part of what will help our firm grow and succeed.”
Gottlieb has prevailed in each of his cases that have gone to a jury trial, the most recent of which dealt with water law issues related to monsoon flooding. It’s an area that is of great interest to him.
“While I don’t like to pigeon-hole myself as specializing in one area – because I really don’t – water law is fascinating to me,” he says. “In a state that lies mostly within a desert, water issues are some of the most important legal issues we face in Arizona. And ensuring that people’s water rights are secured, whether that’s your own right to use water, or the right to not have someone else’s use negatively impact you, is fascinating and challenging to me. Since we do live in a desert and our population continues to grow, these are some of the most important legal issues that will face Arizonans in the coming years. I can’t wait to be right in the middle of it.”
Gottlieb said his most recent jury trial victory underscores the intricacies of Arizona water law.
“One of the things that appealed to me about my most recent jury trial was that it wasn’t just a case about winning lots of money,” Gottlieb says. “The issues were related to complicated legalities, and that presented a challenge our team and I really rallied around. The case dealt with extremely complex water and legal issues as well as facts. The issues were large and far-reaching. That’s the kind of case I love to work on and that really stirs my passion for the law.”
Passion is a term that comes up often in conversations with – and about – Gottlieb. It’s what drives him to strive for the best results possible for his clients and also in dealing with the associates at the firm.
“I have always been passionate about two things: helping people and the law. In the law business, it is very rewarding to see happy clients because the stakes are often very high, especially from a financial standpoint. What we do can be life-changing for some of our clients. The legal system is quite daunting for most people and helping clients resolve their legal disputes favorably is a great feeling. We have represented a lot of awesome clients, and a significant benefit to the practice of law is you get to know your clients over the years and build strong relationships.”
That sort of passion will carry him a long way in the profession, according to his partner.
“The first time I met Ben I knew he had something special,” MacQueen says. “We’ve all heard the lawyer jokes about us all being sharks, and to some extent and for some people, it’s true, or there wouldn’t be a joke about it. But Ben finds a way to combine his inherent tenacity and passion for a fight with a side that only wants the best outcome for his clients. Some attorneys push to go to court in every case; Ben, while he loves to litigate, loves getting the best outcome for his client even more, and if that means a settlement rather than a trial, then that’s what he’s going to do. It’s what sets him apart from most attorneys and what will make him a powerhouse in this industry for a long time to come.”
FIRM’S GROWTH SPURT
Setting up the new business presented a variety of challenges, MacQueen says. Some they anticipated – others they did not.
One challenge they didn’t see coming was the need to deal with the explosive growth their firm has seen in its first two years. “We were optimistic that the market was there for a firm with our skill set,” says MacQueen. “Ben and I both have a passion for real estate law and we were confident we’d be able to carve out a niche in the market and make a name for the firm. We just didn’t see it happening quite as fast as it has.”
The firm has grown about 350 percent, from four to 14 people in under two years. And according to Gottlieb, the firm’s growth shows no signs of slowing. In fact, MacQueen & Gottlieb currently is looking to hire more attorneys.
“I’d like to see us add two to five attorneys a year for the foreseeable future,” Gottlieb says. “I’d see that as a very manageable level of growth for us.”
As it is with their contributions to the firm’s culture, the partners also share a vision for the firm’s growth and success. And like the culture, they each contribute to the firm’s growth in very different ways, making the final product even stronger. MacQueen uses his experience in both life and the law to grow the firm and groom the staff so that they can control their own destinies while Gottlieb leads more by example, letting his passion for the law and their firm permeate through the firm.
“I enjoy taking the time to actually coach the team members on legal and business issues with the goal to get them where they want to be in their business and personal lives,” MacQueen says. “I would love nothing more than to have my folks here in the firm replace me, be more successful than me and to determine their own futures within the firm.”
“A lot of the things Patrick and I do to help the younger or less experienced attorneys are pretty organic,” Gottlieb says. “It’s short conversations about case work, or a quick review on the fly where we can show a younger attorney what we’re doing and explain why. But we also have more structured learning opportunities. One is our firm’s weekly meetings to go over the client files. This is often a great opportunity to discuss case strategy and ideas with our team. I love the energy in these meetings, as we debate the law and the best strategic course of action.”
As they’ve grown, they’ve strived to maintain the personal relationships with clients. When they founded the firm, that’s what they pledged to their clients – that they would be there for them at every turn.
“Ben and I love working on smaller deals,” MacQueen says. “In a dispute with an HOA, or a dispute over a sales contract, you know the clients personally and intimately. In fact, probably my favorite areas of real estate law are quiet title, adverse possession and prescriptive easement cases. To me, these are true real estate situations that deal with concepts that are very old.
“But we also want to swim with the big fish in the big pond of real estate law,” he continues. “It’s tremendously exciting, challenging and rewarding when you prevail in a case that hinges on the most intricate of legalities, yet also involves millions and millions of dollars.”
When a firm’s partners differences even complement each other, that’s a winning formula. MacQueen & Gottlieb has built a culture and reputation for being different, but also extraordinarily competent. Werner sums up the difference between the firm and other law firms when she talks about how the partners interact with both staff and clients.
“There is never a dull moment with Pat and Ben,” she says. “They have a great working relationship and complement each other perfectly. They are both extremely like-able and clients find it difficult to say goodbye when their case is settled.”
Clients who don’t want to say goodbye to their attorneys; that really is a very different culture for a law firm.