As is the case with many children of Indian immigrants, I did not have much of a choice when I entered college and declared myself a pre-med major. At birth, the career paths of Indian children are generally narrowed down to 2 options: medicine or engineering. Being a doctor was obviously the greatest achievement of all time, but if you wanted to be a slacker, you could settle for being an engineer. Most of us didn’t even know there were other options for majors. Wait, what? You can major in something called Art History? Anthropology? Psychology? Well, the last option could lead you to be a psychiatrist, which is technically a doctor, so that would be deemed acceptable.
I say all of this partially in jest, of course, but there is some truth behind having your career path chosen for you in my culture. When I look around today, this has worked out very well for many of my friends and family members. They are incredibly successful and now reap the benefits of their parents having pushed them down a particular path. I always knew, however, that practicing medicine was not in my future. It took one year of struggling in my college science and math courses and a very intense meeting with my college advisor and parents for me to “give up my dream” of being a doctor. I began to focus on the two courses in which I had received the highest grades in the class – political science. All of a sudden, I was pre-law and loving every minute of it.
In high school and even as a college student, I had always been inclined to help families in some way, shape, or form. My next-door neighbors adopted two children, and I often overheard them discussing the legal obstacles they faced during the process of their domestic adoptions. Something clicked inside of me and I set my sights on law school to pursue adoption law. Several years later, I enrolled at the T.C. Williams School of Law at the University of Richmond. Unbeknownst to me at the time, you do not “major” in a specific field in law school. Instead, you take core curriculum classes (Torts, Property, Contracts, Constitutional Law, etc.) and then have the opportunity to take a few elective courses to focus on those practices that actually interest you. Adoption law was unfortunately a particularly niche practice within the larger realm of family law. Having clerked with a local firm prior to heading to law school, I was aware that 90% of a family law practice was divorce and not exactly an area I wanted to practice in. So, I looked for other opportunities and was offered and accepted a clerkship with the Atlanta firm of Kumar, Prabhu, Patel & Banerjee, LLC after my first year in law school.
During my time with KPPB that summer, I was exposed to all of the firm’s practice areas at the time: hospitality and lending, litigation, immigration, real estate transactions, corporate transactions, and estate planning. I enjoyed the corporate and estate planning practices the most and went back to school with an idea of what I may practice after law school. Close to graduation, I was offered a unique opportunity to work on a political campaign back home in Atlanta. I quickly jumped at it and was sucked into the Georgia political scene for 3 years before returning to practice at the very firm I had clerked for so many years before. I had little legal experience, but a major benefit of working for a small firm is that it allows you to grow and learn fairly quickly. You have face-to-face meetings with partners and clients alike; it’s often an “all hands on deck” atmosphere, and everyone is a phone call away or a quick walk down the hall. I am now in my 10th year of a thriving estate planning and probate practice with KPPB, and happy as can be.
The biggest perk of working for my firm is that I am able to maintain a healthy work-life balance while still advancing my career. The big firms and billable hour requirements were just not for me, and I appreciate the “work hard, play harder” approach to life. I wanted to do good work, make a difference in people’s lives, and enjoy my own life in the process. I don’t sit in the office all day, every day, grinding out documents and racking up bills. I meet with clients face to face to discuss their particular families and goals with respect to their estate plans. While doing this, I learn about their lives and where they came from and what they see for their futures. I routinely work with clients’ financial advisors and CPA’s, developing relationships and learning about what added value certain resources can bring to my other clients. I give complimentary consultations to families who have just lost a loved one and don’t even know where to begin. I help people during very difficult times in their lives, navigating the intricacies of probate court, notification procedures, hearings, guardianships, conservatorships, and bond requirements. I try to give back to the community as well, serving on the Board of the South Asian Bar Association of Georgia for 3 years, President for 1 year, and participating in the State Bar of Georgia’s annual “Law Day” initiative, which is held in collaboration with Georgia Public Schools. I am also able to maintain close relationships with both my family and my friends.
So what is the take-away here? In my experience, it is to understand that there is no one-size-fits all path to a career in law and that you can have both a prosperous and fulfilling legal career without having to work yourself to death. Personally, I enjoy making a difference in people’s lives by making the legal system accessible and understandable to them. It is what I am most proud of and what keeps me coming back every day.