Click the headings below to read the spotlights of SABA GB's members.
Eighth in a series of spotlights of past SABA GB Presidents
Hinna Upal is an attorney at Littler Mendelson, where she practices management-side employment law. She specializes in defending employers in litigation and providing advice and counsel to multinational entities on issues affecting the global workforce.
Before joining Littler Mendelson, Hinna was the deputy general counsel at the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. She has also served as a law clerk to the Hon. William E. Smith, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island, and as a law clerk to Justice Francis X. Flaherty of the Rhode Island Supreme Court.
Hinna currently serves on the Board of Directors of Roger Williams University School of Law, and as a co-chair of SABA North America’s employment law section. She is the past-Treasurer of the Greater Rochester Association for Women Attorneys (“GRAWA”) and a founding member of the Women of Color Committee for GRAWA.
In 2019, Hinna received GRAWA’s President Award and in 2017, the Rochester Business Journal Named Hinna in its “Forty Under 40” List.
Tell us a little bit about your family and background.
I currently live in Pittsford, New York, a suburb of Rochester, with my husband and three children. My eldest daughter is a student at Boston University, where she is in her second year of a seven-year medical sciences program. My next eldest daughter is a junior in high school, and my youngest, my son, is four years old.
When did you first decide you wanted to pursue law as a career, and can you briefly describe your academic and career trajectory?
In college, I studied anthropology, thinking I would continue to graduate school and complete my Ph.D. Instead, I got married after my second year, interrupting my studies to move across the country with my husband, who was attending graduate school at Queens University, in Kingston, Ontario. Eventually, I re-enrolled in undergraduate studies, but then found out I was pregnant in my senior year of college.
I graduated with honors from college with a then-six-month old in my arms. My husband and I were, at this point, trying to figure out the next steps, and I decided I wanted to take some time with our daughter while I decided what I wanted to do.
We ended up in Rhode Island because my husband enrolled in graduate studies at Brown University. I decided I wanted to go back to school and applied to several graduate programs, and, somewhat randomly, to one law school. I ultimately chose to attend law school at Roger Williams University, which is located in Rhode Island. I was pregnant with my second child at the time I started as a 1L, and I had been so fortunate to receive a ton of support, including a full ride from Roger Williams. That, in conjunction with the fact that they had a night school option I could attend, pushed me to enroll and helped me to succeed in my studies.
I had my second daughter on December 29th, only a few days after my 1L Civil Procedure exam. Roger Williams was incredibly flexible in working with me to balance my parenting responsibilities with my academic ones. By taking advantage of both night school and summer school options, I graduated with the rest of my class. I then clerked at the Rhode Island Supreme Court with Justice Francis X. Flaherty (retired). I also worked in private practice for about a year, and, after that, completed another clerkship at the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island with Judge William Smith.
You have had a varied career so far, having held academic positions, clerkships, positions at law firms, and in-house roles. What inspired your pursuit of those different opportunities, and in different practice areas of the law?
What I realized very early on is that people in our profession become burnt out and unhappy when they feel pigeon-holed into one area of law that doesn’t necessarily spark them. But we are ultimately the masters of our own careers and we shouldn’t be afraid to pivot. For me, it’s all about my personal and professional growth. The clerkships I held—the opportunities to observe experienced practitioners and to cultivate professional relationships with the judges—were phenomenal experiences, and I would recommend them to anyone. Working in a private law firm environment also provided me with the best training with respect to writing, research, and litigating.
I’ve worked in multiple different practice areas since graduating from law school, and that exposure allowed me to really understand the breadth and complexities of the law. At one point, I concentrated on energy law at Pierce Atwood, and then I pursued an opportunity to become an in-house government attorney to focus more on the policy aspects of clean energy initiatives. The in-house experience was vastly different from practicing in firms. It was exciting to work on matters of immediate political and environmental relevance in real-time.
The catalyst for my move to Littler, my current firm, was a little more personal. My husband got a job offer in New York, and we decided the move was the right one for our family. I was able to leverage existing connections to get an interview, and that’s how I began practicing employment law at Littler.
What do you find most interesting or rewarding about your current practice area of employment law?
Employment law is so fascinating because every set of circumstances has an interesting story behind it. In addition, it’s a rare event where one of the employers I’m representing doesn’t want to do the right thing for its employees. I can act as that conduit to help an employer meet its obligations to its employees, and, what’s more, help creates a better workplace for everyone. I feel that the opportunity to do so is really a privilege, and as a woman of color, I can offer an especially valuable perspective when counseling my clients about these issues. One piece of advice I often provide is that when management takes the time to listen to all segments of its workforce, and have them feel like they’re heard, this minimizes legal exposure with fewer claims and results in a better environment for everyone.
Almost everyone has to work, and we all spend so much of our time at work. It’s an area of law that is always evolving and changing as our cultural sensitivities change. For example, we weren’t talking about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion even six or seven years ago to the extent that we are talking about it now. For all of these reasons, it’s a really meaningful, interesting, and nuanced type of work that I enjoy.
What did you find most fulfilling about your time on the SABA GB Board, and in particular, during the period you served as President of the Board?
I really loved being part of SABA GB. When one of my friends moved from Rochester to Boston a few years ago, I immediately encouraged him to join the organization, because I had found the network so rewarding and the friendships of SABA GB’s members as invaluable. Through SABA GB, I met people who understood my background and the different kinds of challenges I faced as a mother and attorney of color. As the only lawyer in my family, it was also inspiring to get to know and look up to an entire legacy of people in front of me who came from similar upbringings and who were so generous with their time and career advice.
Have you remained involved in SABA since you moved to New York?
Yes, I’m currently the SABA NA employment law co-chair, which has provided a great opportunity to connect with employment lawyers all across North America. We’re pretty active with planning webinars and hold quarterly calls as a section to discuss upcoming events. Feel free to connect with us on LinkedIn to keep apprised of all new events by joining our SABA NA Employment Section Group – https://www.linkedin.com/groups/8986510/.
And you can follow our Section page here – https://www.linkedin.com/company/employment-law-section-saba-na/.
Seventh in a series of spotlights of past SABA GB Presidents
Manisha Bhatt is a senior attorney in Greater Boston Legal Services’ (GBLS) family law unit where she represents victims of domestic violence in divorce, paternity, and abuse prevention proceedings. She graduated from Boston College and Suffolk University School of Law.
She was the recipient of the 2009 SABA North America Cornerstone Award, which is given to an individual who exemplifies the objectives of the organization through her legal work or involvement with SABANA or its foundation and local chapters. The award recognizes those who exemplify high achievement by, among other things, serving the legal interest of the South Asian community. Manisha also received SABA GB”s Member of the Year Award in 2007 and 2018 and SABA GB’s Board Member of the Year in 2007.
In 2011, she was awarded the Boston Bar Association’s John G. Brooks Legal Services award, which honors career legal services lawyers litigating in the trenches. She was also on the Board of Editors of the Boston Bar Journal from 2007-2013, and has been actively involved in the Boston Bar Association’s sections and initiatives on civil rights and pro bono work. Currently, Manisha serves on the Boston Bar Association’s Amicus Committee.
In 2013, Manisha was appointed by Gov. Deval Patrick to the Massachusetts Judicial Nominating Commission. In 2017, India New England News named her Woman of the Year. “Ms. Bhatt embodies,” said the panel of judges, “exceptional passion for service for the less fortunate through her legal service as well as broader community outreach. In the process, she has demonstrated how law can be used to create hope and spirit to elevate all of us.”
My parents are from Gujarat, India. My father is a civil engineer who came to the United States as student in 1967 and earned his masters from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in central Massachusetts. My mother has a masters in social work from India. After they married, my mom immigrated to the US. I am the oldest of two children - I have a younger brother. Both my brother and I were born in Massachusetts. Between ages of 3-13, my family lived in a number of other states, moving every few years, going wherever my father’s work took him. Neither of my parents had immediate family members living in the United States, thus there was no hurry to put down firm roots. Moving frequently as a child gave me a chance to experience growing up in different parts of the country from Long Island, New York, to Charlotte, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and New London, Connecticut. When I reached middle school age, my parents, especially my mother, started thinking it would be better for us as a family to settle more permanently, especially given that my brother and I would soon be entering high school. So we returned to Massachusetts, and have been here ever since.
As a child, every few years my family visited India and I would spend a whole summer there. Most of my relatives are still in Gujarat.
It was pretty early. In my freshman year of high school, our social studies curriculum required students to do a mock trial. My teacher assigned each student a role, prosecutor, defense lawyer, etc. I was a prosecutor. It was life changing. I knew then and there that I wanted to be a lawyer, advocating for people.
In college at BC, I double-majored in history and Spanish. I went to law school at Suffolk. During my 1L summer, I volunteered at the Suffolk legal clinic in Chelsea, where I really had to use my Spanish speaking skills with clients every day. I loved working at the legal clinic and found it deeply rewarding. I continued interning at GBLS during my 2L year. I also interned at the General Counsel’s office of the Boston Medical Center, the Justice Resource Institute and in the Criminal Defenders clinic during law school.
My Spanish speaking skills have been enormously helpful in my work as a public interest lawyer. In fact, I speak Spanish far better than either Gujarati or Hindi. Before the pandemic, practically every day I spoke Spanish with a client or colleague. Even during the pandemic, I still use Spanish at least three or four times per week.
Fortunately, my parents were always very supportive of my desire to become a lawyer and pursue a career in public interest. My parents never compared me to others who had higher paying jobs and thus amassed more material wealth. My parents taught me to prioritize and value peace of mind and enjoying work above material success. The emotional support and encouragement from my parents, along with a deep love for the clients that I have been honored to serve at GBLS has enabled me to maintain my commitment to public service.
My journey to public service has been very personal. My first job out of law school was actually with a small general practice law firm in Chinatown.
The transformational event occurred when I had been practicing law for only about 14 months. On January 26, 2001, I was watching the 11 o’clock news at a friend’s place. There was a story about a murder/attempted suicide at an address in Brighton, Massachusetts. I recognized the address. It was the address of one of my divorce clients. “I hope that isn’t my client,” I said to my friend. But I had a nagging fear that persisted. Unfortunately, the next morning, Boston police called me at work and told me that it was my client that had been murdered and that it was her husband who had unsuccessfully attempted to kill himself. I was absolutely devastated.
At around the same time in 2001, a massive earthquake devastated Gujarat, India, causing unimaginable widespread suffering. The dual catastrophe in Gujarat and my client’s horrific murder was a very difficult time for me. Yet they were the catalyst for deep reflection and soul searching about my life’s priorities how that translated into the career I had chosen. I started working at GBLS shortly after those events. It was the best decision for me and has led me to a career in public service that I never imagined possible when I decided to become a lawyer in high school!
We all need something to regularly remind us that the world is not just full of conflict and suffering. There truly is joy, beauty and goodness in this world too! Having a creative outlet that connects you to that is vital to keep a balance in life. Balance is non-negotiable - especially if one is in a field that confronts human suffering on a regular basis.
One of my creative outlets is classical Indian dance. I have been studying regularly it for 24 years now. When my client was murdered, my dance classes reminded me how much classical dance anchors me into beauty and joy: even amidst pain, darkness and despair.
I have seen many people suffer because they did not know that they had legal rights, or that they suspected their legal rights were being violated but they did not know where to go to for legal help, much less afford to get legal help. This motivated me to develop the Know Your Rights Program (KYR). It was my intention to create a sustainable program, a program that would last in perpetuity. I spent significant time consulting with community leaders to develop a broad based legal rights curriculum that would be appealing as well as relevant to the community for years to come. Even today, ten years post the first KYR class, I regularly solicit feedback from the students in order to continually try and improve the program in ways that make it more useful and relevant.
KYR is legal rights lecture series that is offered free of charge to leaders of the South Asian community. The lectures are on topics such as criminal law, immigration, elder law and estate planning, family law, employment law, bankruptcy, civil rights as well as health and disability law. The classes are taught by practicing lawyers who are experts in their fields. The intention of the lecture series are to provide the students an overview of their fundamental legal rights. This trains the participants to realize their rights or the rights of their loved ones are being violated, know that help is available and most importantly, who to go to for legal help.
I am thrilled at how well received KYR is in our community and I couldn’t be prouder of its success. So far, we have close to a hundred students that have graduated from the program. Many of my students stay in touch with me- long after they’ve graduated. Their level of enthusiasm and engagement in KYR is so inspiring and rewarding. One student even told me that had she known how noble the legal profession could be, how much good attorneys can do- she never would have become an engineer. How’s that for validation to my fellow south Asian attorneys?
Sixth in a series of spotlights of past SABA GB Presidents
Gauri Punjabi was born in Fredericton, Canada, and moved to Illinois when she was 3. She grew up in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania before moving with her family to Boston in 2000. She graduated from Northeastern University in 2004 and Notre Dame Law School in 2009.
Gauri recently joined Ropes and Gray as an associate in the tax, employment and benefits group in Boston. Prior to joining Ropes and Gray, she worked in the labor and employment practices of Mintz and Nixon Peabody. She is a seasoned counselor and litigator with a wide range of experience advising clients across the life sciences, biotech, medical, financial services, school and nonprofit sectors on complex employment issues including employee hiring, termination, disability and leave accommodation, restrictive covenants, and affirmative action requirements for federal contractors, and representing clients from the agency level and through the courts.
Gauri’s work has earned her numerous accolades, including recognition as a Massachusetts Super Lawyers “Rising Star” from 2016-2020 and being named to the Lawyers of Color Hot List for the Eastern Region in 2013. She also continues to be involved with diversity and inclusion initiatives in the legal profession, serving as a 2018 Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD) Fellow and regularly presenting on implicit bias and diversity considerations through MCLE.
How did you decide to go to law school, and what led you down your career path?
Everyone I knew was a scientist, doctor or engineer but those professions did not seem like they would be the right fit for me. Being a lawyer sounded appealing because I enjoyed listening to others and giving advice (whether solicited or not). But then I took a class junior year in high school where I worked with young, hearing-impaired children. The experience working with these kids was so meaningful to me that I decided to apply to colleges with speech therapy programs. I enrolled at Northeastern as a Speech Pathology major and proceeded to take two trimesters’ worth of classes before realizing it wasn’t for me and switched back to my original interest in law. I ended up graduating with a B.S. in Criminal Justice.
I’m the first lawyer in my family and broke the “doctor mold” among the South Asians I knew growing up. This was most apparent when the entire childhood friends’ table at my wedding was occupied by physicians and dentists! As a result, I had to figure out the LSAT, law school application process and career in the legal profession for myself. I’m glad to say that I blazed a trail for others and have since been able to help the next generation among my family and friends pursue this path.
Speaking of trailblazing, what types of projects and deals have you worked on so far in your career? Where do you hope to go from here?
I’ve spent the first ten years of my legal career purposefully getting experience in different areas of management-side employment law. After law school, I started out as a labor and employment attorney at Nixon Peabody, representing clients in discrimination matters at the state and agency level. Following that, I spent more than seven years as an employment attorney at Mintz working on a range of employment matters and acting as an advisor and outside counsel to clients ranging from start-ups to international companies. Recently, I decided to take advantage of an opportunity at Ropes and Gray to hone a different skill set within employment law – working on the transactional side representing clients in employment matters as part of large cross-jurisdictional M&A transactions. I’ve used all of my experiences as a means of becoming a more well-rounded advisor to my clients. It has also kept my career thus far fun and interesting.
You’ve had a busy and fulfilling career so far, but I also know that you’re a dedicated mom. How do you approach the elusive work-life balance?
I’m very fortunate to have a supportive husband and a lot of help from my parents, and after having kids, I understand why many of my friends moved closer to family! My husband and I try to coordinate our schedules but also rely heavily on my mom (i.e., Super-Grandma) to help with daycare pickups and drop-offs and feeding the kids dinner. I will usually work until about the kids’ dinner time, then take time off for baths and bedtime, and then log back on for a few hours after the kids go to sleep. It’s never a perfect balance, but I try to prioritize as best as possible. Some days work better than others! Everyone has their own unique situation but you make it work somehow. One silver lining of working from home due to the pandemic is being able to spend more time with the kids.
What has been your favorite part about being involved with SABA GB? What advice do you have for members looking to get more involved?
Since I don’t come from a family of lawyers, and I also went to law school out-of-state, I didn’t have a local network when I started my career. Being active in SABA GB provided that network for me. When I first joined as a first year, seeing so many examples of successful South Asian attorneys gave me a lot of confidence. Through my involvement with SABA GB, I became more comfortable with public speaking, developed leadership skills, and have had the opportunity to participate in events that raised my profile in the legal community.
For young attorneys interested in getting more involved, I would say that being active in SABA GB is a great way to develop a network like I did and get valuable advice from people with the same cultural background that you may not get otherwise. It’s also different from other organizations in that its membership is relatively young and it doesn’t have the same prerequisites of experience to join. SABA GB is very dear to me and I encourage all South Asian attorneys, especially new attorneys, to join.
Fifth in a series of spotlights of past SABA GB Presidents
Rashima Shukla was born in North Attleboro, Massachusetts. She graduated from Brandeis University and Northeastern University School of Law.
Rashima recently joined the legal team of PTC, a publicly traded technology leader headquartered in Boston, as their Senior Staff Counsel. Prior to her current role, she was Associate Counsel and Contracts Manager at Mayflower Communications, a privately held technology company mainly serving the defense sector. At Mayflower, Rashima led the negotiation and drafting of complex technology deals with the federal Government and multinational corporations, including production contracts, software licenses, and technology transfer agreements. She was also instrumental in managing the company’s bid and proposal team through the federal Government procurement life cycle, which resulted in award of Mayflower’s largest production contract to date. Mayflower recognized Rashima as ‘Employee of the Year’ for her exceptional performance.
Rashia’s accomplishments were also celebrated by Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, which designated her an “In-House Leader in the Law” in 2019.
I was born in North Attleboro, a small town south of Boston. It was a wonderful place to grow up, but it was not very diverse, so moving to India definitely resulted in some culture shock! In fact, that culture shock can be blamed for me being a kindergarten drop-out. Here’s the backstory:
My parents immigrated to the United States from Kanpur, India, and my father started his career as an engineer at Texas Instruments in MA. When I was about six, our family moved to India after my father accepted a year-long sabbatical to serve as a professor at his alma mater, the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Kanpur. It was quite an undertaking to move the whole family, including three kids, to India for a year. While there, I was enrolled in a school on the university campus, but had trouble adjusting to language barriers, teaching methods (a ruler to the knuckles!), and an advanced curriculum (I had hoped for basic addition, subtraction, and coloring). I rebelled and refused to attend, much to the dismay of my parents…which is the backstory of how I became a kindergarten drop-out! With nothing else to occupy my time for the year, my parents replaced school lessons with tennis lessons, and I learned to play on the clay courts of India – a hobby that I continued to pursue competitively through high school and college.
Despite my initial culture shock, I remember the time fondly – upgrading from mac and cheese to fresh rotis, candy to fresh sugar cane, and a small nuclear family to thirty cousins and my doting grandparents. Eventually, my family returned to MA after about a year, but we continued to travel to India every summer for 2 to 3 months at a time throughout my childhood. Looking back on the experience, I realize just how valuable that time in India was - providing valuable perspective and life lessons (even outside of the kindergarten classroom!).
As many children can relate to, my parents would often turn to me when they were confronted with consumer protection issues, and it became second nature for me to help them navigate their legal rights. But as many children of immigrants can also relate to, I unfortunately found that resolving a dispute was sometimes far easier to accomplish with my Boston accent than their Indian accents. Thus, I realized early on the importance of advocacy to help others combat discrimination and understand their rights. In fact, this is what makes SABA GB’s ‘Know Your Rights’ (KYR) program (led by Advisory Board member Manisha Bhatt) one of neatest programs offered by the organization – it’s instrumental to ensuring that South Asian community members understand their rights.
And regarding schooling, I was very much a science geek, competing in science fairs throughout junior high and high school. Little known fun fact (debatable if it’s fun!) – in high school, I published and presented a paper at an engineering conference in San Diego about metal migration of dendrites on circuit boards. I was fascinated at that age by science and technology – which seems particularly apt, given that for virtually my entire legal career, I have worked for technology companies.
I went to college at Brandeis University, which I loved due to the incredible professors and lifelong friendships that I forged there. When I got to college, I gravitated towards history, philosophy, law, and politics. I majored in political science and graduated in three years, rushing to take the next step.
I went to law school at Northeastern University – the co-op experience was extremely attractive to me because I could get meaningful work experience while in law school. The three-months you spend in the co-op rotations allow law students to get a real feel for a particular area of the law or practice setting to figure out what you want – or do not want – to do. Co-ops offered a unique opportunity to fully immerse and gain exposure to all sort of matters. For example, interns at the federal courthouse were permitted to observe ongoing trials in their downtime, and I remember listening wide-eyed to a trial where a prominent mobster was on the witness stand. It made class that much more interesting by taking it from the textbook to reality.
From the start, it was very hands-on. I was thrown into the thick of things right away, and it gave me the chance to participate in matters that young lawyers may not be exposed to until later in their careers. Early on, I would redline documents in isolation. But under the guidance of a talented General Counsel, I quickly learned to avoid such tunnel vision and instead understand not only the legal issues, but the broader context and business implications of the technology deals that I was working on. And having a lengthy tenure there allowed me to provide comprehensive counsel based on institutional knowledge of past deals and program.
It’s this same enthusiasm for being a part of a company doing innovative work in the technology space that led me to my new role on the legal team of PTC, which provides software and services solutions to help companies drive digital transformation. I find it gratifying to join organizations that are advancing technology, because you truly get to see the real-world impact of the legal documents and deals that you’re working on.
When I was in law school, Northeastern didn’t have a South Asian Law Student Association (SALSA). There were too few South Asian law students at the time, so the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association (APALSA) very kindly took us under their wing. Thus, joining SABA GB offered access to a broader network of South Asian colleagues in the Greater Boston area.
For years, I attended SABA GB events on the periphery, but was not directly involved. However, with the encouragement of Lalitha Gunturi, a former SABA GB VP, I took the opportunity to run for a position on the Board of Directors. My involvement with SABA GB has proven to be one of the most personally and professionally rewarding experiences of my life.
I co-chaired the Mentorship Committee during my first year on the Board with Manmeet Desai, and together, we helped pair a record number of SABA GB law students and attorneys for a year-long mentorship experience. Thereafter, I served on the SABA GB Executive Committee as the Secretary in 2017, and finally, as President in 2018, when the Board organized a sold-out annual Gala, an immigration and naturalization drive, and helped win a bid to bring the SABA North America national conference back to Boston.
The personal friendships and professional growth opportunities I’ve gained through SABA GB are nothing short of incredible. On a personal level, some of my closest friendships were formed via SABA. And on a professional level, the organization offers an incredible support network of accomplished attorneys who are champions and mentors committed to lifting their fellow colleagues as they climb.
Fourth in a series of spotlights of past SABA GB Presidents
Born in Missouri and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Natasha Varyani earned her undergraduate degree from Smith College before going on to earn both her MBA and JD from Suffolk University.
Natasha started her legal career in 2003 as a tax lawyer with the accounting firm Ernst & Young. She then transitioned to tax litigation, working at the law firms Holland & Knight LLP and McCarter & English LLP for several years. In 2012, she became a faculty fellow at New England Law | Boston. She also served as visiting assistant professor and associate director for academic enrichment at Boston University School of Law from 2015 to 2018. Currently she is Associate Professor of Law at New England Law |Boston, where she teaches courses in property, contracts, tax, and critical theory.
Professor Varyani ‘s most recent publications include:
She served as SABA Greater Boston’s president in 2010, the year Boston hosted the SABA North American annual conference, when she served as VP of Convention for NASABA
My family is Hindu Sindhi, but stayed in Pakistan after its partition from India. In my childhood, my mom focused on raising me and my sister. Coming to the United States, my dad was a young medical doctor who started his career in the Midwest as a resident at the Cleveland Clinic. He was an anesthesiologist specializing in pain management, but he was much more than just a physician. He started a number of outpatient ambulatory clinics to help patients recover from surgery. Pain management was a real passion for him. He was always looking for ways to innovate and learn.
My parents wanted me to be a doctor, especially my mother. My dad was more open to thinking outside the box. He loved reading, and instilled the same love of reading in me as a child. I remember one of my great childhood delights was browsing mall bookstores with my dad.
Like many South Asian immigrants, my parents really valued education. When it came time for my sister and I to start school, they naturally searched for the best they could find. It turned out, Cleveland, had two non-Catholic private schools which were excellent, both for girls, and my parents chose one of them. It was called Laurel School and it is the place that made me who I am.
At Smith, I initially was premed before becoming an English major focusing on postcolonial literature and South Asian writers in particular. (I did manage to take organic chemistry, which was not as bad as it’s reputed to be). I also became interested in public service and advocacy.
The first time I was ever in the classroom with men was in graduate school at Suffolk. I immediately noticed a different dynamic. Thankfully, I had already established my classroom and academic habits.
I graduated Smith in three years, and spent a year working on Capitol Hill in Washington DC. I learned two things from that experience: I love policy, and I hate politics.
My dad liked to joke that I went to law school to change the world, and ended up a tax lawyer. Though factually accurate, there’s more to it than that. My love for policy naturally drew me to tax law. Built into the tax code are certain priorities that are based on what society values and deems important. My tax law professors asked students, “why does the tax code prioritize some things over others?” In law school, I worked at the statehouse, specifically the appropriations, revenue, and ways and means committees, and quickly realized a “loophole” that allowed me to do good and valuable policy work while largely existing outside the realm of politics.
My first job out of law school was with Ernst & Young, which at the time employed more lawyers than any law firm because of its global footprint (where law firms are largely regional). After the Enron accounting debacle, Sarbanes-Oxley mandated accounting firms to do either tax planning or tax accounting, but not both. Many lawyers at Ernst & Young moved to law firms. I followed them and my practice began to focus on tax litigation. My former Ernst & Young colleagues were the source of a significant amount of referrals, which really made my life in big-law much easier.
While I was at McCarter & English, Navjeet Bal was appointed Massachusetts’ Commissioner of Revenue. While serving on the board of SABA GB, I planned for my firm to host a “Commissioner’s Reception” for both Commissioner Bal and Sunila Thomas-George, who was appointed to the Massachusetts Commission against Discrimination. Although at the time I didn’t know Commissioner Bal very well, a lot of people assumed I did, and as a result I got a lot of referrals for new tax matters. As it happens, she is wonderful and she and I became great friends, and she still is a “gut check” person whom I will consult when I need advice.
I never thought I would become a law professor. I was very happy in private practice; it was a nice life. I was encouraged to apply for a position in academia by another friend and mentor with whom I worked at the Boston Bar Association on the Diversity & Inclusion Committee. When I applied to be a visiting fellow at New England Law, I figured I would teach only for a couple of years before returning to private practice. My husband and I were also starting a family so the timing seemed right. What surprised me is how much I loved the classroom. My students still inspire me, and their energy is contagious. They are engaged, focused, idealistic.
My father passed away about four years ago. Part of managing his estate involves disposing of his ownership interests in the medical businesses that he started. That responsibility fell to me. Dealing with other stakeholders and all the tax, accounting, and business consequences of my father’s death has been an enormous undertaking. My legal and finance training and knowledge has proven indispensable. Despite being uniquely qualified for the job of administering his estate, the process has also been a stark reminder of the power dynamics and biases that exist in the legal and South Asian communities.
It’s also opened my eyes to the importance for immigrant communities to properly manage the intergenerational transfer of businesses, wealth, and property. This is not something that can be done easily or intuitively by people without the proper professional training. Many people and immigrant communities have a great need for sound professional advice on these matters, without which there is a real risk of mismanagement and even exploitation. What they don’t know can be damaging. I also observed this when, as a SABA board member, we were starting the “Know Your Rights” program to educate laypersons in the South Asian community about legal topics.
Third in a series of spotlights of past SABA GB presidents
Born in Washington, D.C., Sa’adiyah Masoud grew up in Burlington, North Carolina, in the shadow of the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill research triangle. She attended the Burlington public schools, earned her undergraduate degree from Duke, and her law degree from Boston University.
After clerking for the Massachusetts Superior Court, she joined the law firm Donovan Hatem LLP, where she represented clients in design and construction litigation. Following a stint at Wilson Elser LLP, she landed at Nutter McClennen & Fish LLP, which was founded by Supreme Court Justice Lewis Brandeis in 1879. At Nutter, Sa’adiyah is a member of the firm’s business litigation, product liability, and construction litigation practice groups. She is an advocate and counselor to clients from many industries including financial services, biotechnology, construction, healthcare and banking. Among her recent publications is a chapter on “Litigation against Design Professionals” in Massachusetts Construction Law and Litigation (MCLE 2020). She has also authored several client alerts on the California Consumer Privacy Act.
Sa’adiyah was honored as an Ad Club’s Rosoff Mentor Award finalist in 2010-2011, awarded to companies and individuals who are successfully changing the face of Boston through diversity and inclusion. In 2013, Boston University School of Law honored her with the Young Lawyer’s Chair, which recognizes alumni who in 10 years or less since graduation reflect great credit upon BU Law, and also as Outstanding 1L Mentor in 2015.
My father is a cardiologist. As you can imagine, my parents very strongly wanted me and my siblings to become doctors. In fact, my mother was probably more insistent than my father. I started out college doing premed, but I was drawn more to the liberal arts and humanities and decided medicine wasn’t for me. I majored in Women’s Studies and English. For a time, I seriously considered pursing a PhD and becoming an English professor – you can imagine how that went over with my parents! I bet they were getting pretty desperate when none of their first three children chose medicine as a career. But the fourth time was a charm: my youngest sister became a medical doctor.
It was really a combination of things. I was always drawn to language and writing. The right words in the right moment can definitely be very powerful. A couple of classes I took at Duke were taught by law professors and introduced me to legal issues. I liked the close and detailed examination of language involved in legal reasoning. I also attended a couple of conferences where I listened to activists, politicians, and lawyers. The politicians and activists spoke about ideals and policies, which are important. But the lawyers particularly impressed me with their practical and realistic approach to implementing policies in a concrete way.
I still remember the first person at BU who spoke to me. When I first visited the school, I came with my father. We encountered the late Professor Mark Pettit. I had no idea at the time that he was one of the most beloved and engaging teachers at the law school. He spoke to me and my father for almost 15 minutes in a way that made me feel so welcome that, if before I had any doubt about where to go to law school, after I had none. My dad and I were just so impressed with the professors. I developed great admiration for a number of my professors and also went on to form close professional relationships with some of them.
My career has exposed me to a pretty nice slice of the law firm life. All my jobs have been challenging. I have learned and grown in different ways in all of them, and I am very fortunate to be a part of my current firm.
That said, there are hurdles facing minorities and people of color in a law firm. Most people are well-intentioned, despite occasional micro-aggressions or insensitivities which are harmful. But the statistics and turnover of people and color in law firms are telling. The reasons for this are complex and there are no simple, easy solutions.
A firm may be fascinated by what makes you unique or diverse. You may end up being a spokesperson for your heritage or group. Ironically, even if it is well-intentioned, this type of attention can put extra stress on you and even be somewhat isolating. Also, the burden of nonbillable work often gets thrown on lawyers of color. Working on recruiting committees, pro bono work, etc. will cut into your billable time. Perhaps one solution is for firms to give more credit for nonbillable work.
I spent about 2 years as a law clerk to the justices of the superior court in Suffolk, Middlesex, and Worcester counties. On a day-to-day level, my job was what you’d typically expect – researching and drafting decisions for the judges, sometimes attending court proceedings. Among the justices I had the privilege working for were Geraldine Hines and the late Ralph Gants – both of whom were eventually elevated to the Supreme Judicial Court.
Justice Gants was particularly memorable because of his connection to SABA. I recruited him to be a speaker in SABA Greater Boston’s award-winning “Know Your Rights” (KYR) program which offers classes on legal topics to the local South Asian community. For a couple of years he became a regular and enthusiastic KYR speaker who publicly encouraged other organizations to emulate it.
In 2010, the SABA North America conference was held in Boston and I was the conference chair that included being in charge of all programming. It was a LOT of work, sometimes hundreds of emails per day. We worked on the preparations on and off for a whole year. It was a great conference and we had some important firsts that year. We did a reenactment of the oral argument in United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind, 261 U.S. 204 (1923), in which the Supreme Court decided that an Indian Sikh man was ineligible for naturalized citizenship because he was not a "white person." It was also the first time we put together the Supreme Court review, which originally was my idea. I couldn’t have foreseen it, but it is very gratifying to see that the Supreme Court review has become a staple of the annual conference and one of its most popular programs.
The benefits of serving on the board are real. It provides valuable leadership experience. It gives you a broader exposure to the legal community and other bar organizations, all of which is good for one’s career.
That said, even though the board is purely a volunteer organization, it is a serious commitment. For busy people with demanding full-time jobs, not to mention family and other commitments, it can be challenging. It’s important to try and balance the work of the board with some fun as well.
Overall, my experience with SABA has been very positive. I went on to serve on the executive committee of SABA North America, where I was vice president of chapter outreach/membership. I also served on the board of the SABA Foundation (SABANA’s 501(c)(3) charitable arm). Currently, I am on the Executive Committee of the SABA Foundation and serve as the Awards Chair for SABANA.
Second in a series of spotlights of past SABA GB presidents
Saraa Basaria graduated from the University of Florida before earning her law degree from Northeastern University School of Law. She practiced criminal defense with the Committee for Public Counsel Services for three and a half years. She then joined the Boston office of Gordon & Rees, where her practice focused on general and construction-related litigation.
Since 2017, Saraa has been an associate at Todd & Weld LLP in Boston where she concentrates on employment counseling and litigation, commercial litigation, and criminal defense.
I decided to move to Boston in 2009 to attend Northeastern University School of Law. I was drawn to NUSL because of their co-op program and focus in public interest. While at NUSL, I had the opportunity to intern at the Committee for Public Counsel Services. I stayed in Boston because I built a strong professional and personal network here.
The key to any career transition is having a strong network. When I decided to move into private practice, I reached out to my network to learn from their experiences and get their advice.
For other lawyers looking to make a similar transition, I would suggest figuring out if you have anyone in your network who has made a similar change and asking them for 15-30 minutes of their time. In my experience, people are happy to help by offering their advice and experiences.
My involvement in bar associations has been invaluable. Through bar associations like SABA GB, I have expanded my network and fostered deep professional and personal connections in the Massachusetts legal community. This has led to professional opportunities, mentorship and, in many cases, wonderful friendships.
Most importantly, bar associations afford the opportunity to serve and uplift the community. I am grateful for that opportunity.
The first few months as a new lawyer can be overwhelming in many ways. As new lawyers cope with the transition from law school to the practice of law, and perhaps begin to second-guess themselves, it is important to be mindful about taking moments to stop and reflect on their achievements. If a new lawyer is worrying whether they will succeed as a lawyer, it means they have already conquered college, law school, and the bar exam. I encourage new lawyers to remember that and trust in their own abilities. They will undoubtedly surprise themselves.
It is also important to remember to not be afraid to ask a question. When I first began practicing law, I was timid about asking questions. However, I quickly learned that I often regret not asking a question, but rarely regret asking a question, regardless of the answer.
I love cooking – it is such a fun and relaxing creative outlet. I also enjoy reading and spending as much time outside as possible while it is still warm.
I recently turned my cooking hobby into a cooking blog on Instagram called Buttermilk and Boards!
Lalitha R. Gunturi grew up in Dallas, Texas and earned her undergraduate degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. She earned her law degree from Boston University School of Law in 2005. From 2005 to 2009, she was an associate at Goodwin Procter LLP. Currently, she is Director, Legal Counsel at RSA Security.
In June, she was a recipient of the SABA North America Rising Star Award. The award recognizes a lawyer who is under 40 years old or has been practicing for less than 10 years and who exemplifies a broad range of high achievement in his or her practice area, as well as innovation, leadership, legal and community service and commitment to diversity.
Lalitha and her husband live in Bedford, Massachusetts with their two young boys, Nikhil (8) and Nishanth (5).
When I was deciding on where to go for law school, my final two choices were staying at the University of Texas at Austin, where I did my undergrad, or come to Boston University. I had never even been to Boston before, but after a quick visit, I decided on BU, because I wanted to challenge myself to get out of my comfort zone for a few years. I never thought I would end up staying in Boston after graduation, let alone 18 years and counting! It was a bit of a shock initially to move so far away from home and leave my family and friends. Adjusting to the weather was definitely a challenge. I had no clue how to tie a scarf, or how to buy some basic necessities, like a serious pair of boots and a winter coat. It was a steep learning curve. I had a lot of fun as a summer associate in Boston, and the city grew on me. When I got an offer from Goodwin after graduating, and I met my now-husband around the same time, my decision was made to stay.
My paternal grandfather in India was a lawyer. My father earned an LLB in India but never practiced. So the practice of law ran in my family. Parents will sometimes tell kids who argue a lot they should or could be a lawyer when they grow up. Well, I used to argue a fair amount as a kid so I heard that advice often growing up. Heading to college, I actually wanted to be a journalist. I had even served as the managing editor for my high school newspaper. As you can imagine, it wasn’t so well-received by my parents. So as a compromise, I studied electrical engineering, because I was very interested in technology as well. As it turned out, it’s been really a huge help to my legal career. The fact that I have an engineering degree allowed me to go into IP when I first graduated from law school. Even as an in-house counsel it helps me understand the technical side of things. Often I have found it gives me instant credibility when speaking with engineers and technically- minded people at my company.
My first job was as an IP associate at Goodwin, where I represented global tech and life science companies mainly on patent and trademark prosecution as well as general licensing and other IP matters. I worked there for three-and-a-half years.
My first in-house positions were at software or hi-tech companies where I focused mostly on IP matters and on overseeing the company’s patent and trademark portfolios as well as licensing matters.
After a few years of practice, I realized I was interested not only in IP law, but in other areas of law as well. When I decided to make the move to be Associate General Counsel at Arbor Networks, it was a purposeful decision to become more of a generalist as opposed to continuing on my path as an IP attorney. At Arbor, I was hired to manage a team advising on global commercial agreements. In addition, I was tasked with providing legal advice to the management team and other business leaders on a wide variety of legal matters. On any given day, I could be advising the company about matters relating to employment issues, revenue questions, or sales contracts.
Last year, I joined RSA Security, which is currently a part of Dell Technologies. But shortly after I joined, we found out that RSA was to be divested, and bought out by outside private equity investors. These past few months, we have been working on transition plans to become our own stand-alone company later this year. It’s an exciting time for RSA, and in some ways, it feels like a startup. Although it’s not the job I originally signed up for, which was working for a large, stable company like Dell, it has been fulfilling in its own way, and I am so grateful to be part of this journey.
Every time I have taken on a new position, it’s been with a goal – either to get new experience, more responsibility, or advance in some other way. For example, at smaller companies, I acquired knowledge and experience, but sometimes there was no next step up on the so-called “corporate ladder." So I sometimes had to take the initiative and find my next role elsewhere in order to advance my career.
I served as President for the South Asian American Law Students Association (SAALSA) at BU, so it was natural for me to continue to be involved with SABA when I became a lawyer. I was on the SABA GB board from 2006 to 2010, and served as VP in 2011. Then, my husband and I had our first child and I needed some time to recalibrate between work, a baby, and my sanity!
In 2013, I joined the SABA North America Foundation, the 501(c)(3) charitable arm of SABA North America, because it allowed me to do a lot of work remotely from home or the office, given that everyone on the Foundation board was scattered across the country. I served as President of the Foundation from 2015-2016 and have remained active since, as a Foundation Champion. I also served as SABA NA’s VP for Affiliate Relations in 2017-2018.
The best part about being involved with SABA over these years is not only the leadership experience it has given me, but also a wide network of colleagues and deep friendships, not only locally in Boston, but also nationally.
My husband and I moved to Bedford in 2013. After I got over the initial shock of moving from city life to suburban life, I decided to get more involved in my local community. Like many minorities, South Asians may not always see diversity being represented in their local communities, and particularly in leadership positions. But that doesn’t mean we should not participate. We have to overcome any initial discomfort and try to connect with the larger communities, so that we can be in the room where things happen. Otherwise, we are partly to blame if our voices are not heard.
So, I want to be involved because this is the community where we decided to raise our family and where my kids go to school. I realized that if I want to make an impact on this community we now call home, I should also invest some of my time and energy in serving on various local boards.
It was so rewarding when my son came home from school excited to tell me about a new math game that a teacher was introducing in his 1st grade class. As it turns out, I served on the Grant Committee of the Bedford Education Foundation which raises money for our schools and teachers. My son’s new math game was something that we funded.
I’ve also had the honor of joining the board of the Bedford Citizen, an online news source established for educating the public about the local issues and events that affect the understanding and engagement of Bedford residents. Whenever something that affects the Bedford community happens, the Citizen is at the forefront of the conversation.
Lalitha met her husband, Anil Ranganath (also a lawyer), at a SABA Greater Boston networking event! She says she owes a lot to SABA GB, both on the professional and personal front!
First in a series of spotlights of past SABA GB presidents
Keerthi grew up in Lexington, Massachusetts, attended Bowdoin College in Maine, and earned her law degree summa cum laude from Suffolk University Law School in 2011. In law school she was a member of the Suffolk Journal of Trial and Appellate Advocacy. She was also the Chief Competition Director of the Moot Court Honor Board, a semifinalist in the Thomas C. Clark appellate advocacy competition, and quarter-finalist and second speaker at the Foreign Direct Investment International Moot Court Competition.
She is currently an associate in the Boston, Massachusetts office of Jackson Lewis, P.C., a national labor and employment law firm with more than 950 lawyers. Her practice focuses on employment litigation, as well as providing employers with preventive advice and counsel.
I knew I wanted to become a lawyer in high school. I was an active member of the high school debate team and really enjoyed oral advocacy. In college, I majored in Government & Legal Studies, which solidified my interest in pursuing a legal career. After college, I was an immigration paralegal for two years. Although I ultimately did not pursue an immigration career, the experience was extremely helpful because I had direct access and contact with clients on a day-to-day basis. As a result, I learned valuable client development and management skills very early on in my career.
Volunteering with SABA GB and SABA NA, of course! Growing up, I was surrounded by scientists, doctors, and engineers, but I did not know many attorneys. My leap into the legal profession felt like a big one. For this reason, working with SABA GB and SABA NA has been a highlight of my career. I’ve created a valued support system and network, met several mentors, and made lasting friendships.
As I noted above, working with SABA GB and SABA NA has been an invaluable experience for me. I have put a lot of work into both organizations, but I have also made countless friends across the United States and Canada and expanded my professional network exponentially. I have also had several opportunities as a panelist or speaker, which has only served to elevate my career. For anyone thinking about joining, take the plunge! You won’t regret it.
I’ve been asked this question several times and my answer is always the same: do not be afraid to deviate from your original law school career goals. This was a hard lesson for me because I am a planner and I hate to deviate from my plans. Over time, however, my interests, values, and obligations changed. Allowing myself the flexibility to change and adapt was critical.
My husband, Peter Beebe (Northeastern ’13), is a probate attorney. We talk about our work daily, sharing interesting stories or challenging cases with one another. For me, it is helpful to share my work with him and get his perspective on my litigation work. I wish I could say I am as helpful to him as he is to me. Sadly, I understand very little about his probate practice.
One thing that is particularly helpful is that we each understand the demands of a client service industry. If I need to take time on a weekend or during vacation to attend to client, Peter is extremely understanding and supportive. Likewise, if he needs to work late or switch up the drop off/pick up schedule for our son, I try to accommodate him as much as possible.
During my first year on the Board, I was on parental leave from April to October. Obviously, my primary focus was watching my newborn, but I also planned a few events for SABA GB and prepared our pitch to host the SABA NA Conference in 2022! I knew it would be hard to completely stop working, so working with SABA GB was the perfect balance. The Board was extremely accommodating and supportive. In fact, I brought my son to a Board meeting or two!
When I became President and returned to work, the real juggle began. I was trying to balance my obligations to my family, to work, and to SABA GB. I probably worked late or attended events 3-4 nights a week. Luckily, my husband and my parents encouraged me to push through and helped wherever and whenever they could. It was an exhausting year, but the rewards were well worth it and I am proud of all that the Board was able to accomplish that year.
My husband and I love to travel. Although Covid-19 limits our travel plans this year, we are making the most of local hiking trails and beaches. The best part is watching our two-year old son keep up on the trails!
SABA GB is a 501(c)6 non-profit organization.
South Asian Bar Association of Greater Bostonc/o Boston Bar Association16 Beacon Street, Boston, MA 02108