Mentor in Law: Volume 26 | June 2021

June 1, 2021 – Media Mention
Mentor in Law

Shivani Poddar, partner in Herrick's Litigation department, contributed to the Mentor in Law newsletter's "Hindsight is 20/20" column. In her Q&A, she discussed law school, mentorship, and diversity and inclusion work. 

 

Were you a first-generation law student?

Yes

Since hindsight is 20/20, what is one thing you would have done differently in law school?

I would have taken more practical classes. I would have participated in a legal clinic to acquire real world experience. I think it’s essential to graduate with practical skills, so you can be an asset to your team on day 1.
 
While in law school, I was told that I should focus on classes I enjoyed, rather than practical classes, because law firms would teach me what I need to know. Not knowing any better, I followed this advice, but I would advise law students to do the opposite!

What advice would you give new lawyers entering the profession?

Be proactive about everything – solicit feedback in real time, find your own mentors and sponsors, and create programs and groups that don’t exist. Find a person who inspires you and ask them for advice – not just once, but frequently. Being proactive is how you advocate for yourself and set yourself up for lasting success.

What new mandatory class would you add to legal education?

Law firm finances and business generation 101: Although this may not apply to lawyers outside of law firms, it would be immensely useful for students aspiring to be partners one day. Law schools arm students with legal knowledge, but they do not teach students the importance of the business aspect of law firms. 
 
Networking and relationship building 101: Networking is pivotal to every legal career. But networking should translate into long-term lasting relationships. These are not skills we all have naturally prior to law school. After practicing for over 10 years, I’ve learned that networking is not only about discussing professional endeavors, it is an opportunity to get to know someone on a human level, learn about their interests and hobbies, discuss their family, and find common ground. We’re regular people before we are lawyers and exploring that aspect helps build and maintain meaningful relationships.

What is one myth you’d bust about being a lawyer?

Myth: You must be argumentative. On the contrary, being an effective advocate requires seeing all perspectives, respecting all opinions, and eventually persuading someone to see things your way.

What is one way we can improve D&I in the legal profession?

My experiences as a South Asian lawyer gave me a greater appreciation for the need for diversity and the need to amplify the contributions of diverse lawyers. Increasing diversity in the legal profession is both a moral imperative and a smart business decision, as diverse teams produce better outcomes (and generally lead to more profits in law firms). And I have always been a driver of diversity and inclusion. As an associate at my prior law firm, I co-founded a group called the “Diverse Working Attorneys’ Group” to foster mentorship between diverse attorneys; created a “Diversity Matters” newsletter; and launched a “Women’s Initiative” program, which was focused on enhancing female attorneys’ business development and networking skills. While at Herrick, I launched the “Women’s Initiative Network” to organize programming on networking, business development, and client development; created a mentoring circles program, which allows mentees to have exposure and access to more than one mentor; and proposed a “Diversity Partners” program, whereby a diverse partner in each department mentors and sponsors diverse associates. Most recently, I founded a group in New York called “Ladies in Law” for female attorneys to network and create organic relationships with each other. In 2019, Herrick nominated me for the LCLD Fellows Program, which is focused on increasing diversity and inclusion within the legal field, allowing me to continue my diversity efforts on a larger scale. 
 
My motto as always been – if it doesn’t exist, create it – which has helped me contribute to diversifying the legal field. If we can adopt this approach as lawyers, and launch programs and initiatives to increase diversity and inclusion (and follow through with them), then we have the chance to improve our profession. But this work cannot only fall on the shoulders of diverse lawyers; we must all advocate for change as a community.

What is the best career advice you've ever received?

The best career advice I received was from a mentor through the South Asian Bar Association of DC. He was a litigator, and he knew I wanted to be a litigator. He told me that while I may not know how to practice law or devise strategy early in my career, if I become a master of the facts of a case, I will become indispensable to my team. This advice has helped me countless times in my career.

What is one prediction that you would make about the future of law?

We all must become technologically-savvy. Covid-19 has forced us to work remotely, requiring us to navigate various platforms for video calls, depositions, conferences, among other things. Courts have also moved to a remote model, holding conferences and arguments through video. We must continue expanding our technological capabilities and learn to be just as effective while remote because the profession has changed fundamentally.

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