What do you find most rewarding about being an attorney?
When I was a Legal Aid staff attorney and represented clients, it was great to resolve problems and help clients live better lives with stable housing, with a steady income or, finally, in safety. That experience has helped me in all of the work that has followed: managing and supervising others, leading a large legal services agency, training other lawyers in diversity and cultural competence. This skill set has helped me in spotting issues, problem resolution, and awareness of the legal liabilities and responsibilities in the work. It has helped me to succeed.
What do you find most challenging about being an attorney?
Over the years, there have been many challenges. First, gaining and maintaining competency is key. Lately I am thinking about the abilities of attorneys to respond well to clients of different cultures. Is this a skill that can be taught and learned? I believe it is, and can be, and I want to contribute even more to help people learn that skill. In addition, I'm challenged by the role of technology in the practice of law. As a Legal Aid director, I understand that using technology to deliver services more efficiently and effectively is crucial. Figuring out the correct technology for the majority of low-income people is a challenge, and motivating lawyers of any age to use technology to deliver legal services is also a challenge.
Did another lawyer mentor you or advise you on your career path?
Many lawyers have mentored me but the person I think of most often is an African-American woman named Lillian Johnson, the director of Community Legal Services in Phoenix, Arizona. I have been following Lillian around for years and am proud to be known as "the other Lillian." She has helped me to handle the special challenges of being a woman of color and an executive director in the Legal Aid world. She helps me to think clearly and resolve problems effectively. Lillian always responds to situations in a new way, despite her many years in legal services.
What do you think that most people misunderstand about lawyers and the legal system?
I think most people believe that all lawyers are in this profession to make a lot of money, and that all lawyers make a lot of money. Neither is true. Many attorneys choose to practice in an area of law that is not necessarily fiscally rewarding. The opportunity to help many individuals in a solo or small practice, or in a legal service practice, is attractive to many. I wish all people would understand that public interest lawyers are "real lawyers."
What is your passion outside of work and the law?
Yoga! The union of mind, body and spirit that I strive for in practicing yoga contributes to my wellness and to my ability to continue doing very demanding work. I wish that many more people would explore yoga and other efforts at more mindful living and lawyering.
What is your dream vacation?
My dream vacation is to return to India on another yoga-based, spiritual journey. I had never been to Asia before and my trip to India in 2018 was quite formative. It was restoring, challenging, energizing and beautiful. I dream of returning to India as soon as possible.
If you could dine with any lawyer - real or fictional - from any time in history, who would it be and what would you discuss?
I would love to have dinner with Charles Hamilton Houston, who used the separate-but-equal doctrine in Plessy v. Ferguson to undermine the Jim Crow laws of the era. He laid the groundwork for Brown v. Board of Education and developed the arguments against racially restrictive covenants on real property. I would love for him to have been my mentor and wonder sometimes if I had chosen the path of civil rights litigation whether I might still be practicing law in the traditional sense. I would like to discuss with him the long view on the results that the law can achieve and the use of the law as a tool for gaining equal rights for all. I would like to discuss today's civil rights issues such as voter suppression, the school-to-prison pipeline, and full rights for LGBT people.
Lawyers should join the New York State Bar Association because . . .
Given our diversity in every respect, we need an organization to unite us - a place to resolve our differences and to speak with one voice.