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.