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.
- Your father is a physician. It’s a running joke among South Asians that our parents will forever be disappointed unless we become doctors. What kind of career expectations did you face growing up?
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.
- You mentioned you almost became an English professor. The law is a profession of words. One of my favorite quotes about lawyers comes from the French writer Gustave Flaubert: “Every lawyer carries within him the remnants of a poet" (Chaque notaire porte en soi le débris d’un poète). What drew you to the law?
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.
- You went to BU for law school. What was your law school experience like?
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.
- You’ve worked at three different law firms. Do you have any advice for lawyers of color?
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.
- Your first job after law school was clerking for the Superior Court, which seems particularly apt given that you are now a litigator. What was the experience like?
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.
- Speaking of SABA, you served on the board between 2009 and 2012. You were president in 2011. What was your time like on the board and what did you take away from 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.