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
- Tell me about some of the early influences in your life. How did your family shape who you are?
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.
- You attended Smith College, an all-womens college, and before that you attended an all-girls K-12 school. If that’s all I knew, I might think your parents were desperate to keep you away from boys. I guess there is probably something more to it though?
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.
- How did you decide to go to law school, and what led you down your career path?
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.
- Aside from your professional work in private practice and teaching, have you ever found your business and legal knowledge to be useful in other ways?
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.