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South Asian Attorneys Reach for the Stars at the Eighth Annual NASABA Convention

June 28, 2011

More than four hundred attorneys of South Asian descent gathered at the 2011 North American South Asian Bar Association (“NASABA”) Convention at the JW Marriott at LA Live. The South Asian Bar Association (“SABA”) of Southern California co-hosted the convention, which ran from June 23-26, 2011 and was themed “Reaching for the Stars.” Living up to that promise, the convention featured headliners like Rich Verma, former US Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs, and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Attorneys networked and learned from a diverse group of panelists, ranging from the Public Policy Director of the Arizona ACLU to a California Assemblyman who was the founder of the largest Minuteman chapter in California.

LA’s Mayor Headlines Welcome Reception

Mayor Villaraigosa energized the convention at the Welcome Reception, hosted by Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker LLP at the beautiful Hotel Figueroa pool bar. Mayor Villaraigosa urged attendees to fight for positive change in their communities and encouraged them to enjoy Los Angeles. The Mayor pointed out that NASABA’s choice to hold its convention in LA was apt, because his city is the most diverse in the United States. He also reminded attendees that law is about doing justice and, for the current generation of South Asian legal pioneers, the role of the first is to hold the door open for the rest.

Diverse Views and Voices Exemplify NASABA’s Mission

The energy that Mayor Villaraigosa imparted to the crowd was evident in the first panel of the convention, a discussion of Arizona’s immigration law, SB1070. Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, the former Minuteman, explained why proponents of that and similar laws believe they are essential to protecting the US and its citizens. Other panelists, including Anjali Abraham, the Public Policy Director of the Arizona ACLU, explained why they believed that not only are such laws unnecessary, but also possibly unconstitutional. Other panels featured speakers giving tips on setting up legal process outsourcing programs in corporate legal departments, explaining legal issues relating to inbound and outbound foreign direct investment in both South Asia and the US, hanging out your own shingle and wage and hour classification of employees.

The always popular NASABA Idol mock trial event featured a fact pattern based on California’s medical marijuana law. Prosecutors and defense attorneys wrangled over legal issues and corralled witnesses, including Guru Singh, star of TV’s Outsourced. In the mock trial, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Upinder Kalra presided and issued rulings based on the lawyers’ arguments. Speaking of judges, two United States Magistrate Judges and an Illinois State Court judge gave attendees an inside look at the judiciary and the judicial selection process. All three judges are former presidents of local NASABA chapters. The judges shared the paths they took to their current roles and provided guidance for aspiring jurists. The Hon. Paul Grewal, US Magistrate Judge for the Northern District of California and a NASABA past president, told attendees who want to pursue a career in “the best job in the world” to share their aspirations with others and seek out mentorship.

As if in response to Judge Grewal’s advice, NASABA officially kicked off two mentorship programs at the Convention. The first, geared towards junior lawyers and law students, matches them with more senior attorneys to smooth their transition into the profession. The second, matches mid-level attorneys (with at least five years of experience) with partners, experienced in-house counsel and judges for career coaching. This program allows attorneys with some experience to learn how to rise to the next level from attorneys like Judge Grewal and Wab Kadaba, recently named managing partner of the Atlanta office of Kilpatrick Townshend Stockton LLP and Emilie Ninan, the NASABA 2011-12 President-Elect, who was recently named Managing Partner of the Wilmington, Delaware office of Ballard Spahr LLP.

A growing tradition at convention is the Supreme Court review, which always features talented and seasoned members of the Supreme Court Bar. NASABA conducted this year’s panel, like last year’s, during a plenary session and featured five former Supreme Court clerks who have argued dozens of cases before the highest court in the land. Theane Evangelis Kapur of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP moderated the panel. Ms. Kapur had recently worked to decertify a class of plaintiffs in the largest putative class action in US History and to challenge California’s ban on marriage equality.

Stars Shine at the Gala Dinner

As always, the NASABA Convention attracted a noteworthy speaker to keynote its annual Gala dinner. In keeping with the locale, Sonal Shah, who played the unforgettable role of Dr. Sunny Dey in the hit TV series Scrubs, hosted this year’s Gala. Rich Verma, who is now with Steptoe & Johnson LLP’s International, National and Homeland Security, and Governmental Affairs and Public Policy groups, gave the keynote address. Mr. Verma’s address gave homage to the risks his parents and their generation took in coming to the United States to open up new opportunities for professional and personal success.  He also reminded attendees that one of the best ways to honor that gift is to use their positions as lawyers to make a difference in the life of someone else through community service, mentorship, advocacy and professional development. For his years of professional excellence and efforts to forge new ground as a South Asian attorney, NASABA also awarded Mr. Verma its Pioneer Award.

Deserving Recipients Honored

In addition to recognizing Mr. Verma, NASABA also presented its annual awards to attorneys, organizations, firms and companies that exemplify the ideals that NASABA strives to promote. Sonjui Kumar (Kumar, Prabhu, Patel and Banerjee LLC, Atlanta), Neil Verma (Greenberg Traurig, LLP, Houston), Sahar Ali Dar (John Marshal Law School, Chicago) and Nimish Patel (Richardson & Patel LLP, Los Angeles) received the Cornerstone Award for exemplifying, through their legal work, the objectives of NASABA and local SABA chapters. NASABA awarded its Law Firm Achievement Award to Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker LLP for demonstrating an untiring commitment to supporting diversity in the legal community. South Asian Americans Leading Together (“SAALT”) received the Public Service Achievement Award for impacting the South Asian community through its public service efforts. NASABA’s Enterprise Award, which honors the organization that has proved itself to be a leader in industry and has developed and implemented policies advancing the efforts of the underprivileged and underrepresented, went to Sempra Energy.

Sabina Ciorfeine, of Sempra Energy, received NASABA’s Corporate Counsel Achievement Award, which the organization presents to the individual that demonstrates extraordinary leadership and innovation in his or her in-house practice. Rupa Goswami, Assistant US Attorney for the Central District of California took home the Public Interest Award for her undying commitment to public service of the South Asian community and the community at-large. The SABA Greater Boston took home the 2011 Outstanding Program Award for its “Know Your Rights” program, which partners with other legal and community organizations to bring legal education to the local South Asian Community. Finally, SABA DC won the Chapter of the Year Award for its robust mix of programming and achievements and for showing the greatest improvement and development over the past year.

See You in Philly!

NASABA’s Eighth Annual Convention provided an ideal place for attorneys to learn from and network with each other. Jolsna John, NASABA’s 2011-2012 President, addressed the attendees, highlighting the organization’s achievements and introducing its new initiatives for the upcoming year. Ms. John affirmed that “NASABA serves as the voice of the South Asian attorney and provides an immediate and exclusive response when a need arises pertaining to the community with legal ramifications.” She also reminded attendees to continue to reach for the stars as they are now within their grasp. Next year’s convention, themed “It All Starts Here”, will be in Philadelphia in Summer 2012.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. July 4, 2011 6:25 pm

    Great event, thanks to all the organizers and NASABA leadership for the hard work it took to put this togther.

    Ike Devji

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