Meet the first in our Client Spotlight Profile Series; Donna Patane, lawyer, speaker and mother! Donna spent 16 years working in traditional law firms but now uses her knowledge to help empower startups to bridge the 'valley of death' to become successful in their space.
Donna, you have been practising in traditional law firms for the past 16 years. What was the catalyst for you to branch out on your own?
A combination of things. I don't see myself as the stereotypical lawyer, and I was looking for more freedom and to focus on my niche areas of interest which are startups, intellectual property and trademarks law. When Covid struck and we all started working from home, I realised that the corporate environment wasn’t for me. So, I jumped on an opportunity to work with startup support programs and open my own ‘new law’ firm to provide legal services in the areas I’m skilled and passionate about. It's challenging, but all interesting and fun.
Helping startups is a passion with you. Tell us how you formed NQ Angels?
I've been involved in the startup space for over ten years and regularly saw the same situation where a startup couldn't bridge what we call the 'Valley of Death’; that gap in the early days when cash continually flows out while working up a prototype and doing your market research before getting to established and sustainable sales.
Banks or investors usually want to see a certain level of turnover before being confident enough to hand over their cash, so often, startups struggle or fail in this ‘Valley of Death’ because their cash runs out. An accountant friend of mine was familiar with this issue, so we saw an opportunity to tap into our network and connect local startups with local capital to bridge the gap.
The result was our investment group, NQ Angels Inc. And NQ Angels offer more than just funding. The support includes industry expertise, mentoring and advisory services, even to those who only pitch to the group. So, I now wear three hats, but they all fit together as they relate to helping startups with guidance, advice and funds.
You said you wear three hats, but it must be four as you have a family and home to juggle as well. Do you have any hints as to how you manage your time?
Systemise! I use a combination of systems and tasks and I consolidate all my work and family appointments into one Outlook Calendar. From my years in private practice, I have a really good understanding of my capacity, and I know what I can achieve in a certain amount of time. Actually, it’s become a little easier because working from home and new attitudes to virtual meetings saves so much time! I use mattero for my legal work and heavily rely on its task feature. Within those tasks, I maintain a list and notes of startups that are a possible fit for NQ Angels which we review each month or so. Unless there is something big due, weekends are reserved for family time.
Can you share some of your experiences with the FNQ speaking circuit?
Well, I can talk underwater because I am a performer at heart, from way back. I love the stage, so being in front of a crowd and talking about the things I am most passionate about makes me happy. I align most of my public speaking with the startup legal space or funding opportunities. I try to get to any events nearby because I am always keen to keep learning and sharing these opportunities with my connections.
Can you tell us how you found mattero and what you like about it?
When I was setting up my business, I started using OneDrive and found out very quickly that it wouldn't work for what I needed. Neither did I want the overhead of a system with lots of features that I wouldn’t use. I just wanted something cloud-based and simple. I am a member of a couple of Facebook groups, and I saw a few lawyers commenting on what Practice Management Systems they use. A few people mentioned mattero, so I looked it up and saw it was new and based in Brisbane, and as you know, I am all for supporting startups. I signed up for the Free Trial, and a day or two in, I thought, 'Yes, this works!' so I transferred all my files and went with it.
The pricing model is very achievable, and, you might think this is outrageous, but the fact that it is not grey and has a touch of pink and purple was a big thing for me. The interface is fresh and lively. After looking at dull interfaces for so many years, it is really refreshing to find something so different.
I don’t use a Trust Account because of the value-based billing model I implemented, but I use the Xero integration. I recently set up all my precedents, so information merges directly into the documents. It was straightforward, and I just followed the training videos. I didn't need to call anyone for help. I think that’s one of the big things with mattero; the level of logic. It is simple.
I still see lawyers on those Facebook groups asking for recommendations of systems for a one-person show, and there are a few of us that recommend mattero.
Any words of advice for lawyers looking to branch out on their own?
It doesn't have to be scary or complicated. There are systems in place to support working and conducting business remotely, and there are easy ways to do what you need to do without breaking the bank. Working from home has been a massive help on the parenting side as well. You have the flexibility to switch between work tasks and home tasks during the day, relieving some of that pressure when you have little ones at home.
I remember reading Lawyers Weekly a couple of years ago about a lawyer who went out on her own with a laptop and no Trust Account, and I thought, wait, I don't need to run a trust account? That blew my mind! The cost of running and auditing a trust account can be significant, but if you don’t need to hold funds and you operate on a value-based pricing model which clients happily pay, then maybe you don't need a trust account.
What are your plans moving forward in the new financial year?
I am working to make everything operate as efficiently as possible across all my roles. I have spent time setting up my precedents with merge fields in mattero to save me time and I set and forget tasks to keep my mind uncluttered.
I am a huge fan of how mattero helps me systemise. It’s just the little things. Fast, simple, logical.