SABANY Member Spotlight – Interview with Shivani Poddar
Shivani Poddar is a litigation partner with over a decade of experience, focusing on a broad range of complex and general commercial, real estate, and employment disputes in litigation, arbitration, and mediation. Shivani counsels clients in all phases of the dispute, taking into account the client’s business goals, often obtaining favorable results pre-litigation. Shivani’s clients include institutional investors, hedge funds, real estate companies, consumer goods companies, fin-tech firms, and start-ups.
Shivani was recognized by the New York Law Journal as a Rising Star for 2020, an accolade given to a handful of New York City’s most promising lawyers under 40, whose accomplishments have contributed notably to the law and the legal community. In 2011 Shivani received the New York Legal Services Pro Bono Recognition Award for her commitment to pro bono work.
What made you decide to join Herrick, Feinstein LLP and what do you enjoy most about what you do there?
Herrick was established over 90 years ago as primarily a boutique real estate firm. Since then, it has grown significantly into a full-service law firm, including litigation, corporate, restructuring & bankruptcy, employment, intellectual property and government relations practices to name a few. I was most attracted to Herrick’s litigation practice, particularly the broad range of services representing a very diverse client roster. While other firms prefer their associates and partners to specialize in one subfield, Herrick provides opportunities to expand your competency in numerous practice areas. For example, my practice covers complex commercial litigation involving financial transactions, employment counseling and litigation, and real estate litigation involving commercial and high-end residential real estate across the country. Associates have greater responsibilities on cases because Herrick encourages them to handle oral arguments, appeals, and depositions early in their careers. These opportunities are not often afforded to junior associates in other firms, and I benefitted from them tremendously.
In terms of what I enjoy the most about my practice, I am passionate about problem solving and coming up with an effective strategy to yield the right result. To me, litigation is a puzzle, and my job is to find diverse and effective ways of solving that puzzle. To that end, my day-to-day work involves a lot of legal analysis, strategy, and communication with clients. I also do a lot of drafting and research on my own because I believe personally mastering complex legal issues is key to be an effective advocate.
How has being a lawyer of South Asian descent impacted your professional life?
When I started practicing law over ten years ago, I worked alongside very few South Asian lawyers. It felt isolating. I filled that void by joining SABANY. I attended events and met lawyers who gave me a sense of belonging. It was gratifying to see people, who were involved in the community and successful in the legal field. I recall attending SABANY’s Annual Awards Gala one year and being really inspired by Jayant Tambe, a partner at Jones Day and a leader in the South Asian legal community. His words of wisdom were motivating and helped me realize that I too can be a partner at a major New York law firm. Now, as a law firm partner, I want to help our legal community become more cohesive and create opportunities for new lawyers that didn’t exist at the start of my legal career.
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 at law firms is both a moral imperative and a smart business decision, as diverse law firms produce better client outcomes and are generally more profitable.
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. My motto is, “if it doesn’t exist, create it!” This approach has helped me contribute to diversifying the legal field.
In 2019, Herrick nominated me for the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity’s 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.
What advice would you give to lawyers who are just beginning their legal careers and want to go in the direction you went in?
The best way to get ahead in your career is to be proactive about everything – solicit feedback in real time, find your own mentors and sponsors, create programs and groups that don’t exist. It’s also critical to proactively seek advice. 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 do you believe is key to building and maintaining meaningful relationships with senior level lawyers/mentors?
The key is to build organic and real relationships on a personal level. 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.
This article originally appeared in the September 2020 newsletter edition of SABANY.