Ricky K. Patel, a St. Thomas University College of Law graduate, is such a prominent attorney that – at age 26 – he was appointed to President Barack Obama’s National Finance Committee.
Patel, 40, and his law partner Wesley Farrell, also handled the largest class-action suit in U.S. history – the BP oil spill of 2010.
Yet, there have been times during his impressive career that Patel has called STU law-school professors for advice on a case.
An example happened in 2015, when Patel defended Florida State running back Dalvin Cook, who is now an NFL star.
Cook was found not guilty of a misdemeanor-battery charge, thanks to Patel, and, in a sense, STU law professors John Min Kang and Amy D. Ronner.
“I would call them about constitutional issues and how to strategize,” Patel said. “I was able to use my amazing professors as sounding boards.
“It was exciting stuff to be discussing with professors that you admired when you were a student and admired even years later as colleagues.”
Patel, whose ancestry dates back to India, has a fascinating backstory. His parents and grandparents were born and raised in Uganda. They immigrated to London, where Patel was born.
When Patel was 14, he and his family moved to Charlotte, North Carolina.
From a young age, Patel wanted to be a lawyer. He studied for 18 months in Europe, and earned his Bachelor’s degree from Florida State University, majoring in Genocide Prevention.
Patel, who comes from a hard-working family of little means, was the first person in his family to go to college.
“There were no lawyers in my family,” Patel said, “no one who could guide me.”
That guidance came from the professors at STU’s College of Law, which Patel attended with the hopes of becoming a human-rights attorney.
Patel said his research indicated that St. Thomas University and Notre Dame feature two of the top human rights programs in the country.
“Coming to St. Thomas, the people there really took care of me,” Patel said. “They made sure I understood exactly what I needed to succeed. They guided me, and I realized I wanted to go into refugee and asylum law.
“I started going to an immigration clinic, having trials as a law student in immigration court.”
Patel graduated from STU in 2009, but, by that time, the economy had collapsed, and lawyers everywhere were being fired, not hired.
That is when Patel and his friend – Farrell — started their own law firm.
“We were making about $600 a month,” Patel said, “and we were trying every case imaginable.”
Their first big break was participating in a fundraiser hosted by Dave Aronberg, an attorney and Democratic Party politician. Due to Aronberg’s connections, members of the Democratic National Committee showed up at the event.
“They met with me and interviewed me,” Patel said. “I ended up working with them for a few months.”
Patel’s work there led him to become the youngest member of President Obama’s National Finance Committee. That, in turn, drew the attention of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association.
The AAHOA represents nearly 50 percent of all hotels in the U.S., making it the largest such association in the world.
“(The AAHOA) found out that his young Indian lawyer (Patel) is now working with the President of the United States,” he said.
“They probably thought, ‘We should bring him into our association to see if he can guide us.’”
When the BP oil spill happened, it was seamless for the hotel association to come to Patel and Farrell and say, “We need help.”
It was a massive project. Considered the largest marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry, Patel and Farrell raced to get a handle on the damage done to the hotels that were forced to shut down along the Gulf Coast.
Patel and Farrell represented more than 3,500 clients affected by the spill. These clients included municipalities, government agencies, hotels, and other tourism-related businesses.
In another huge case, Patel sued insurance companies, successfully representing the Puerto Rican government as well as private citizens following a highly destructive hurricane. Patel protected more than $1 billion worth of properties, and his work helped create a law to protect Puerto Rico’s people against the insurance industry.
Patel, who has been featured on 60 Minutes, CNN, ESPN, FOX, ABC and NBC, has also served as an ambassador for the Clinton Global Initiative.
In 2013, Patel was named to South Florida Business Journal’s 40 under 40 list. That same year, he was named the Brioni & Neiman Marcus Man of the Year.
Many more awards soon followed, including getting named one of the nation’s Top 100 Trial Lawyers in 2014. In 2018, the Little Lighthouse Foundation named Patel the Philanthropist of the Year, and, in 2021, he won the STU College of Law’s prestigious Martin Luther King Award.
Giving back is a big part of Patel’s life. He is the chairman of the Gracious Hands Haiti Orphanage. He is the co-founder and chairman of the ITS4THEKIDS Foundation. And he is the Chairman of the Board for the Nicklaus Children’s Hospital Foundation.
Patel has written two children’s books, and his foundation annually provides more than 100,000 meals to orphanages in Haiti and Honduras.
In addition, Patel is the co-founder of the STU Law Young Alumni, and he is on the Board of Trustees for the STU College of Law.
He also works with several other groups, including The United Way, Puerto Rico Relief, Fashion Gives Back, and Violence Against Women’s Act.
With all that he has already accomplished, Patel — who has daughters ages 10 and 7 — was asked what he wants to accomplish in the future.
“I want to be a good father, continue to make an impact in the lives of children and keep having a lot of fun in the legal industry,” Patel said. “The main thing is helping as many people as possible.”
Patel, who has a College of Law walkway and scholarship named after him at STU, continues to be grateful that he is a member of Bobcats Nation.
Said Patel: “I have a lot of love for the St. Thomas College of Law.”