Member Highlights

Tahmina Watson

B&W-COPY-IMG_1536  with credit

1. Country of Origin/heritage?

My parents are from Bangladesh but they moved to London, UK in the 1960s. I was born in London, and though mostly raised in London, I lived in Bangladesh for a few years as a child.

2. When did you (or your family) arrive in the US?

I met my husband on a blind date when I was on vacation in Seattle in 2002. It was quite the ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ moment. We got married in 2005 and thereafter, I emigrated to the U.S.

3. Which law school did you attend?

The education system for lawyers in the UK is different to that of the US. You can study law at the undergraduate level. I graduated from Brunel University with an LLB (Hons). I then went to law school at Inns of Court School Law, which up until a few years ago was the only school one could attend to become a barrister (trial attorney). I am a member of the Honorable Society of the Middle Temple from where I was Called to the Bar (graduation).

4. What areas of law do you practice in?

I practice exclusively in the area of U.S. immigration law.

5. What prompted you to go to law school?

My father, grandfather, and several family members were lawyers and it seemed like the natural thing to do.

6. How do you balance family with the practice of law?

I have two daughters, one is 5 years old and the other almost 3. So life is very busy and is a constant juggling act. My practice includes business, family, and investor immigration matters. I also handle some family-based immigration and naturalization matters. When my first daughter was born, I made a deliberate decision not to practice removal defense anymore, as I found that to be too stressful to include in the mix.
My clients are businesses as well as individuals with demanding needs, which naturally means we have to serve their needs. Anyone who practices immigration law knows that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) can be a challenging agency to deal with. So my practice is about going from one deadline to another.
I have 3 part-time employees and 2 contract attorneys. It is my amazing team that helps me manage deadlines and work; they keep me on track. But they have also helped me with childcare, like when daycare suddenly sends a child home for having a runny nose, they sometimes have babysat. When I take a day off for a school field trip, they manage my absence, and when I have forgotten to take lunch to school but have meetings to attend, they have taken lunch to school. I simply could not manage it all without them.
But like most parents will tell you, there are never enough hours in the day. As an attorney managing a firm, the challenges are even greater. From the moment I drop my children at daycare, I start work and somehow it becomes 5pm. But within that 8 hour period, I have to see new clients, work on existing cases, respond to clients calls and emails, take care of administrative tasks, finances, marketing, legal research, and so much more. Inevitably, only a small portion of the to-do list is completed by the time the children need to be picked up. So, generally part two of my work day starts after the childrens’ bedtime.
I recently published a book called The Startup Visa: Key to Job Growth and Economic Prosperity in America. I was very fortunate to launch the book at the South by Southwest Festival (SXSW) in Austin, TX. Work on the book took about a year and was mostly a mid-night project.
Part of the juggling act is prioritizing, and the challenge is not to drop any balls. For that, it is important to have a strong support system. My support system is my incredible husband, my amazing team and a great daycare. They are the wind beneath my wings.

7. Advantages you have had being a South Asian Attorney?

When I started practicing almost 10 years ago, I feel I had the advantage of getting into an area of law that really used all my skills and knowledge, as well as my background. Immigration is the perfect area of law in that is interesting, intellectually challenging, fast-paced, very rewarding, and forever changing. . My south Asian clients appreciate speaking their native language, or simply just knowing someone understands them and their culture. But I find non-south Asian immigrants also appreciate knowing that someone understands cultural differences generally and can provide that caring guidance and understanding.

8. Struggles that you have had being a South Asian Attorney?

Since I own my own firm, I have not had challenges that someone perhaps might face at a big firm. It is nice being your own boss.

9. Advice for new attorneys joining SABAW?

SABAW has been an important part of my journey. When I first moved to the US in 2005, I did not know anyone (other than my husband and those he introduced me to). I had to start life all over again. When I learned about SABAW, I attended the annual dinner where I distinctly remember meeting Shankar Narayan. He was kind, warm, and welcoming to me. He was generous with his time, and gave me career guidance. I soon met others. Pallavi Mehta, Ketu Shah, Brahmy Poologasingham, Suchi Sharma have all been a great support to me. In those early days, the support I received was crucial to help me understand where my career should go and how to get there. I will forever be grateful to them for taking the time to make me feel welcome and for sharing their wisdom. I proudly call them, and many other SABAW members, my friends.
I suggest to any new lawyer to immerse themselves into volunteering for Bar Associations. For South Asian lawyers, I think being a member of SABAW is crucial. Firstly, it will help the individual grow their own network. We have judges, managing partners, equity partners, associates, solo lawyers, lawyers in non-profit, in-house counsel, legislative attorneys, and much more. The experiences and practice areas are vast and varied. There will likely be someone to help guide a new lawyer. But more importantly, being a SABAW member makes you part of a community, and that alone is invaluable.

Pallavi Mehta Wahi

Pallavi

1. Country of Origin/heritage?

New Delhi, India

2. When did you (or your family) arrive in the US?

I arrived in the United States in 1999.

3. Which law school did you attend?

Magdalene College, Cambridge University, England. I also am a Rule 6 Law Clerk of the WSBA.

4. What areas of law do you practice in?

I am a commercial and intellectual property litigator. My practice is varied in both subject matter and scope. Over the years, my practice has encompassed a broad range of litigation in federal and state courts primarily focusing on commercial disputes, complex volume multi-party litigation and IP enforcement. I am used to enforcing client’s rights along with a team of attorneys trained specially in high-volume litigation utilizing cutting-edge technology and resources for that purpose. I also represent several large international clients as global coordinating counsel for litigation programs across a large number of jurisdictions, countries and subject matter areas. In this role, I have worked on and developed litigation programs on a global and national scale for clients across jurisdictions to drive efficiencies of costs and consistency of process and approach with clients with recurring needs. I am also the co-chair of the firm-wide India Practice Group.

5. What prompted you to go to law school?

A need to have a voice in the system of justice and to promote and advocate for my clients for them to have a voice in the system.

6. How do you balance family with the practice of law?

I have found balance by recognizing that sometimes there is no balance. My husband and I are both busy at work and work until odd hours of the night. We enjoy our work immensely and encourage each other to strive for success. We recognize that our jobs sometimes may require the sacrifice of weeknights and weekends. We work hard in making sure that in those circumstances we support and help each other. A family unit that has the same goals helps you define your balance the way it works for you. There is no magic formula for balance but I work to affirmatively replace the time I lose with my family and find the time to take a vacation every year.

7. Advantages you have had being a South Asian Attorney?

As a South Asian lawyer, one is in a unique position to forge a path of success for others who will follow. As a woman of color, I am very proud of the fact that I am an immigrant of South Asian descent who can be South Asian and be a first rate lawyer. I used to believe I had to be a lawyer “just like everyone else” but realized that being myself, being South Asian, a woman, an immigrant and a mother made me who I was and a better lawyer. This acceptance of who one is, to me, is the biggest strength and advantage and has contributed greatly to my success as a lawyer.

8. Struggles that you have had being a South Asian Attorney?

How has SABAW supported you, or how can it support you in the future? SABAW is and was the support system of lawyers I did not have when I came to this city. I did not know anyone nor did I know the friendship and support of a legal community. When we started SABAW years ago, the aim was to create a community and I believe we did and that community carries on today. The friendships that were formed over 10 years ago remain strong as professional and personal supporters and advocates as well as mentors and guides. There are too many people to name here but this SABAW community is and remains my mentor and advocate. Over the years, I have had some wonderful friends who have believed in me, created opportunity for me and advocated for me. This mentoring continues today from a number of wonderful mentors both within and outside the SABAW network. These relationships that SABAW helped create are the real value, to me, of this amazing organization and I hope you can continue to help us build this community of support and advocacy.

9. Advice for new attorneys joining SABAW?

Take advantage of what the organization can offer, get involved, go to the events and be a voice within the organization. The organization is made up of its members and its members need to have strong voices and be involved to truly take advantage of what SABAW has to offer. It truly helps you build a network of mentors and advocates that will be in your life for years to come as you forge professional success together.

Judge Ketu Shah

Ketu

1. Country of Origin/heritage?

Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India

2. When did you (or your family) arrive in the US?

Father = 1964; Mother = 1967

3.Which law school did you attend?

University of Minnesota

4. What areas of law do you practice in?

Judge, King County District Court; criminal and civil

5. What prompted you to go to law school?

Help my community navigate the legal system, and obtain a degree that was flexible to help others in legal, business, and policy work.

6. How do you balance family with the practice of law?

I always try to be available for my family. I coach my daughter’s soccer teams, I volunteer in the classroom, and on weekends try to make sure I am present and engaged with what my family is doing.

7. Advantages you have had being a South Asian Attorney?

I speak Gujarati and I am involved with several community organizations. That gives me credibility when people ask for advice, or are trying to organize a new activity geared towards South Asians.

8. Struggles that you have had being a South Asian Attorney?

People have made assumptions about my legal knowledge and skill because there were so few South Asian attorneys when I began practice.

9. How has SABAW supported you, or how can it support you in the future?

SABAW has been a great space to meet colleagues and discuss the successes and challenges we face as attorneys of color. It is a great place to develop professional and personal relationships based on common interests, and also become educated in areas of law that you do not practice in. Because of the diversity of practice areas in SABAW, it has been a great resource in getting help for clients, or for being introduced to different legal communities where I had no natural connection.

10. Advice for new attorneys joining SABAW?

I would absolutely join and utilize the resources SABAW has because it provides you a space where you can speak freely about your concerns, get advice, and learn from your colleagues who may have been through similar experiences. Not only does it provide you a legal space to obtain advice, it also provides you a cultural space where your colleagues can understand almost immediately the cultural challenges you may face.

Aravind Swaminathan

aravind

1. Country of Origin/heritage?

India.

2. When did you (or your family) arrive in the US?

My father arrived here in about 1969, and my mother arrived in 1972. My brother (38) and sister (34) were both born here.

3. Which law school did you attend?

Boston University School of Law

4. What areas of law do you practice in?

Cybersecurity, privacy, and white-collar criminal defense and corporate/internal investigations.

5. What prompted you to go to law school?

I really happened upon law school as an accident. At the time, I was teaching at a small private school in northern New Jersey. I had always wanted to do some graduate work, and they agreed to help me get my PhD in education. But it just didn’t feel like that would satisfy me. So, I began thinking what I wanted to learn about. I was flipping through a course catalog and stumbled on the law school course guide, and found it fascinating. (I’m sure that I was just reading through the seminar sections!) So, I decided to take the plunge. I thought I could do environmental work for a group focused on pro-environmental issues and hopefully use my college degree in Biology somehow. It didn’t quite work out that way, but I wouldn’t change a thing.

6. How do you balance family with the practice of law?

It’s tough. We are a two lawyer family (my wife is a partner at Pacific Law Group), so there’s a lot of juggling. I schedule blackout times when I don’t work: usually between 6:00 pm and 8:30 pm every weeknight, and during the day all weekend long. On weekday evenings, I may answer a quick email; on the weekends, I may make a phone call or two. But that’s it. I don’t go into the office, and I don’t open up my laptop, unless I absolutely, positively have to. Those are kid and family times. It may sound impossible, but you really won’t find me in the office past 6:00 pm or on the weekend. Yes, I have to make it up, and I do that by working at night; weekday or weeknight, I’m usually back online around 8:30 pm until about midnight or later. I sacrifice sleep, but it’s worth it.

7. Advantages you have had being a South Asian Attorney?

I think the greatest advantage comes from the lessons I learned as a kid of immigrant parents. I was always taught that I have to work twice as hard to stay on equal footing with my peers. That’s what I did then, and that’s what I do now.

8. Struggles that you have had being a South Asian Attorney?

I think that all attorneys/professionals of color have to face adversity in the legal profession. The challenge is building relationships with people who may have very little in common with your particular background, and finding the right mentors to guide you through the early part of your career. I was fortunate to have great mentors like Bill Lee (former managing partner at WilmerHale), The Honorable Richard Tallman (Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals), Wendell Taylor (another partner at WilmerHale), John Wolfe (my partner at Orrick), and others who championed me and helped me get square up on what it takes to be a great lawyer. It was Bill, for example, the first Asian-American managing partner at a major law firm, and one of the best trial lawyers in the country, that taught me about cross examination, and how to work a witness on the stand.

9. How has SABAW supported you, or how can it support you in the future?

Again, I think the most important thing is to find mentors. SABAW helped me in that regard, and through it I found great mentors like Parag Gheewala at Wilson Sonsini and Michael Parham at RealNetworks. I spent much of my time with SABAW trying to do the same for others in our community, and hope to continue doing that as time goes on.

10. Advice for new attorneys joining SABAW?

The most important thing is to focus on becoming the very best lawyer you can be. And realize that you will need great mentors to get you there. You cannot learn, for example, how to become a great trial lawyer from a book. You have to find great teachers, and show them that you deserve their limited time and energy – i.e. that you are an exceptional lawyer in the making. I think that is the key. Be great, and look for great teachers.