Desi Advocacy: Conversation with Natasha Pardawala, Litigation Associate at Latham & Watkins, LLP

I had the exciting opportunity to interview Ms. Natasha Pardawala, an Associate at Latham & Watkins, LLP. Natasha stands out as an associate who has already developed extensive experience early in her career. Having started to hone her advocacy skills from a young age on her high school and college mock trial and speech and debate teams, Natasha also worked as a Conflicts Assistant at Latham and interned for the Orange County Office of the Public Defender prior to attending law school at Northwestern University. During law school, she served as a Summer Associate at Latham as a rising 2L and 3L. Natasha is currently a second-year Litigation Associate at Latham’s Orange County office, specializing in Securities Litigation and White Collar Crime & Internal Investigations.

Let’s get started. Can you tell me a little more about the types of clients you handle and work you perform at Latham, and tell me a what you like most and least about what you do?

I am a second year Litigation Associate in Latham’s Securities Litigation and White Collar Crime & Internal Investigations practice groups. In these practices I have the opportunity to assist companies and prominent business people with some of their largest and most complex legal issues. My favorite part of the work is the factual investigations. I enjoy developing the evidence from a number of different sources, including witnesses with various motivations and attitudes, so that we can better understand the issues and advise clients.

You’ve been involved in diversity initiatives and affinity groups – in practical terms, what does diversity in the legal profession mean to you, and why does it matter?

To me, diversity in the legal profession means that people who come from different backgrounds have equal opportunities for work, growth, and promotion.  Diversity matters because diverse perspectives garner diverse ideas and varied ways of addressing an issue.  This results in the creative and effective solutions that our clients demand. Numerous studies have shown that having diversity on a team creates more innovative ideas, better perspective, and an opportunity to market to a greater variety of audiences. It’s good for business, good for society, and it’s morally the right thing to do.

Do you feel that being South Asian has affected the way you are perceived by clients or your peers or superiors at your firm? Did you feel you had to account for or respond to those perceptions in any way?

Although I am too junior to have much interaction with clients, I do feel like in every other aspect – in working with people in my firm, in law school, with co-counsel, it impacts how people see me. I feel the need to prove myself a little more than others.

What does working harder to prove yourself mean in practical terms? How does what you just described manifest itself?

Sometimes I have less self-confidence, and other times it motivates me to be extra prepared and on top of things. That’s not always easy – especially when you have a million things on your plate. I also think that it helps to find people who face the same obstacles and insecurities that I do. I would not be able to do this job without the supportive and inspirational women around me. I think it’s important for South Asian women and diverse women in the law to continue to mentor and seek out people who are like us so that one day we don’t feel the need to constantly prove that we deserve to be here.

Thinking back to law school, can you think of either a skill you developed, an experience you had, or an activity that you did in law school, that set you up for success in your role now?

One of the things I really appreciated in law school was taking small classes on areas of the law that were interesting to me, but didn’t necessarily apply to my career. For example, I took a fair housing class in law school – I’m not doing anything related to that in my career, but it was around a five-person class with an accomplished adjunct professor who worked for [the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development]. I learned so much from discourse with a small group of intelligent people about a topic that was interesting and had no bearing on my career. If you’re able to apply parts of the law that are not [precisely related to] what you’re doing, [those concepts can] give you more perspective in your work, and help you develop the same analytical skills that you’ll be able to apply to whichever area of law you do end up practicing.

I also think doing Mock Trial and Trial Team helped me develop my communication skills. I’ve been doing that since high school, not just in law school, and I definitely credit that a lot for my ability to communicate efficiently and speak up for myself.

Can you tell me about a mentor you’ve had at Latham, and a lesson they taught you that you would pass on to others?

I had a mentor who taught me that I don’t need to feel pressured to be like everyone else. What matters is that you are really good at your job, not that you are the person that fits in the best and is friends with the most people.

Where do you see yourself in five years? Can you tell me a little bit about your goal-setting process and how you keep yourself accountable for your goals?

I haven’t fully decided where I see myself in five years. If I continue to enjoy my work at the firm, continue to feel challenged, and can manage having a family and being an attorney in Big Law, I could see myself spending several more years at Latham. But one of my long term goals has always been to work in government. I would love to be an [Assistant United States Attorney] one day.

I think it’s hard to set goals that far out anymore. I have always lived my entire life with goals – I have to go to a good college, I have to go to a good law school, I have to get a good job. Now I’ve gotten to a point in my life where the next thing is not so obvious for the first time. So it’s kind of just a matter of reassessing every year or two and thinking about where I’m at, what I’m enjoying, what I’m not [enjoying], and what could be better.

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