By Prianka Misra • August 07, 2020•Writers in Residence
For this edition of Desi Advocacy, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ms. Natasha Alladina. Currently a Recruiting Director at The Partners Group, she is responsible for the recruitment of lateral attorneys and in-house counsels in law firms and corporations. However, Alladina has contributed her strengths in several legal environments in the past, including at a large law firm, a public defender's office, a boutique law firm, and as a central staff attorney in the Supreme Court of Georgia. I asked her about her career path and her advice for women of color searching for their niches in the legal profession.
Thank you so much for joining me today! Let’s get started. You have worked in several different environments, including being a litigator in Big Law, working as a public defender, working at a boutique law firm, and now working in legal recruiting. Could you describe what led you to make these career changes – what was your thought process at each transition? What did these transitions teach you?
I am one of those South Asian immigrant children who thought they were going to be a doctor, and then when I took first-year biology, I changed my mind… Then, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I had friends who were applying to law school, and I really enjoyed writing. I was an English major. [Rather than going getting a Master’s degree in English], I was persuaded to do something a little more traditional, and went to law school for that reason. But I didn’t grow up thinking I would be a lawyer.
In law school, I was most drawn to my criminal law classes. But OCI [On-Campus Interviews] came around, and I got some Big Law opportunities, and I started off as a litigator with Alston & Bird. As a first year, I was paired with someone whose work was almost exclusively class actions, which meant my work was almost exclusively class actions. While that was fine, I didn’t really feel energized and wasn’t excited by the class action work I was doing. I slowly made my way to doing more contract disputes and white collar work. The white collar work was most exciting for me because it was the most relevant to my interests in law school, in particular criminal law.
I think there are some challenges to being a woman of color in a Big Law setting. There are not as many people that look like you or have the same life experiences as you, which can be a challenge in terms of getting work since many people naturally gravitate towards people who remind them of themselves. I tried hard though. In fact, I would watch The Voice so I could better relate to a partner who did white collar work.
I decided to become a public defender because I just had this itch that I couldn’t quite scratch. My pro bono work at the firm was criminal law related, and I had kept my clinic case from law school, where I worked in the wrongful convictions clinic. My client was exonerated while I was at the firm, so that fueled my passion in terms of what I wanted to do next with my career.
And it was a struggle to make that decision at first, because, for my parents, I had reached the pinnacle of success. I was making an insane income in my mid-20s. Going into the public defender route meant that I would be slashing the “1” off my six-figure salary. That was tough for my parents, more so than for myself, because I was never really drawn to an income as much as I was [drawn] to an experience. Being a Public Defender in St. Louis was a really interesting, eye-opening role. You think you have an idea of what it’s like, but the emotional toll that that kind of work can take is very real, and I underestimated it.
I also underestimated my interest in being a trial lawyer. I love criminal defense. But the day-to-day is grueling; I never felt like I had enough time to work on the cases on the way I wanted to. That was just really tough. I felt like I was ineffective, and I just really didn’t like trials. Even though I was in a mock trial, and identify as an extrovert, my knees were knocking behind the podium. So I realized this wasn’t something I wanted to do forever.
I ended up moving back to Atlanta. I chose to go to a satellite office of the big firm, which was interesting. You have the Big Law firm resources, but in a completely different environment. I wanted to do Consumer Financial Protection Bureau defense work. But the work wasn’t what I had expected it to be, and I found myself pretty unhappy, pretty quickly.
Talking to some friends, one suggested that I work in a court setting. I never clerked, but the idea intrigued me. So the opportunity to be a Central Staff Attorney with the Georgia Supreme Court came up, and given that it was a mix of civil and criminal work, I thought it would be a good opportunity to make use of the different skillsets I had developed. I reviewed petitions for certiorari and wrote memos to the Justices recommending whether to deny or grant certiorari; I also looked at habeas petitions and attorney disciplinary actions. It was really interesting at first, but because I am an extrovert, I found myself needing way more human interaction and feeling really isolated writing memos all day.
At that point, I was tired of being unhappy. Then, someone suggested that a boutique firm might be a good fit for me. I ended up going to a boutique firm, and there, that’s when I realized that I did not like billing, and that I was not excited about the work or the inherent conflict that is inherent to litigation.
I wish I had asked myself more of those individual, personality-type questions back in law school, or even before that. Questions like “What kind of work environment do I enjoy? What are my strengths, what do I thrive on, and what makes me stressed?”
That last firm is where I really started to think through that. I had gotten pretty miserable, because I kept trying these different jobs and nothing was fitting. But the problem was, I was trying new jobs without doing the deeper introspective work about who I am and how I match that with my career. It’s scary to do.
After a few months at the boutique firm, an opportunity came up to do a two-year fellowship with a legal nonprofit that focuses on criminal justice reform. It was a good fit for me, and it allowed me to do a lot of different types of work - from direct client cases to policy work. The policy work is where I had my lightbulb moment about what I should think about doing next.
Being in Georgia and working for a criminal justice reform-focused organization, I was going to rural Georgia and trying to convince legislators to adopt or support pieces of legislation. I liked the challenge and meeting with people who were very different from me, connecting with them, and using my persuasion skills in a different way. But at the same time, what I didn’t like about policy work is that it’s such an uphill battle, and the results are not instantaneous. You’re playing the long game; it can take years to get a bill enacted.
The final switch for me was when I met with a legal recruiter towards the middle of my fellowship with that nonprofit. She gave me some much needed real talk. She noted that I had tried all of these different positions and hadn’t been happy. She also asked if I had thought about legal recruiting because I had experienced so many different types of positions and was good at connecting with people. She planted a seed with that comment, and I’m glad that she did. I started doing informational interviews with legal recruiters after that chat, and the more I learned, the more I realized that this could be a good fit for my personality and experience.
Doing those informational interviews also led to real interviews. I eventually found a couple of firms I was excited about. And I ended up choosing one that I’m really happy with, because I’m working with “my people.” I’ve never had a CEO or a boss who gets me quite like my current coworkers do, it’s a more casual environment, and the work fits my personality. I get to connect with people every day. And it’s the opposite of the conflict-driven work that I didn’t enjoy before. Recruiting is all about making matches and trying to help people advance their careers.
As someone involved in hiring of legal professionals, are there any changing trends you have seen emerging in the legal profession? Examples of these might include increased reliance on technology, globalization, or disaggregation of the legal profession.
In terms of pandemic-related trends, I think one would be an adoption of regular remote work; none of us would have foreseen law firms even thinking about that as a possibility. It wasn’t until it became a necessity that it became a viable possibility. I would expect that more law firms will be OK with remote work even after the pandemic is over. Virtual interviewing is also another trend – I think we’re going to see less spend on bringing people into the office. I also think we’re going to see more use of contract legal workers. And not just document review – there’s a whole area of substantive long-term engagements where you have contract lawyers with specialized experience. It’s kind of like a secondment – a long term engagement to help with a specific area of law. I think we’ll see more of that, where we will find companies getting the specific expertise that they need, without increasing their headcount.
I think we’re also going to see an increased emphasis on hiring and retaining diverse individuals. I can’t tell you the number of times that a client has told me that they’re looking for diverse candidates in particular, because they’re trying to be more intentional about making sure that their firms or corporations reflect the general population.
Can you share how aspects of your identity – like race, gender, and other aspects – have affected the way you have acted or been perceived in your various roles, if at all? For example, have you ever felt that you were acting differently than Do you feel that those perceptions have helped or hindered your personal progress?
The first thing that comes to mind is the Asian woman stereotype. I’ve been amused when people assume that I’m going to be quiet and timid, and then they hear me talk and they’re like, “Oh, I didn’t expect that.” So that’s been interesting to see how I am perceived before I even have a chance to speak. When it comes to opposing counsel, you might be underestimated – people assume that you are going to be timid, especially if you’re young – and then you go and crush it. So I actually think others’ perceptions of what a younger, Asian woman can be like as an attorney can work to your advantage.
I will also say that feeling my “otherness” has been a large part of my experiences. I remember feeling like I couldn’t relate to other lawyers whose parents were lawyers or doctors or even had a college degree because my parents didn’t. I think that was an internal struggle for me that I always had trouble getting past. I would see certain associates gravitate towards certain partners, and I remember thinking to myself that I wish I could have that. I was also stubborn and didn’t want to play the game. I wanted to be accepted just for myself.
It’s an interesting lesson to learn about the professional world. I had always been taught as a South Asian child of immigrants that if you work hard and get that “A,” you’ll succeed. But I realized that hard work is just one part of the success puzzle. There are so many other intangibles – are you going to be passed over for work because there is someone who relates better to the partner who will get that work instead? There’s a lot that is out of your control, and that was hard for me, given the identity that I had built for myself. That was both a hard and sobering lesson.
Do you have any advice for women of color candidates for legal positions? Anything that they should do that others might not have to think about as much?
I’m speaking from a place of what I wished I had done more of in my legal career. Two big things I would say young lawyers should do are being intentional about mentorship and keeping yourself visible.
I think it’s important to seek out mentors and be really intentional about that. You can get paired with a mentor in a lot of firms, but that doesn’t mean that person has to be your only mentor, especially if you don’t particularly click with them. You can have many different advisors/mentors for different reasons. What I would tell my younger self is to seek out people in different firms and even practice groups, including having people of color who I can go to, in positions that I admire, who can act as a neutral voice and who I can confide in about that feeling of “otherness.”
Also, I would advise younger lawyers to be very intentional about finding champions within your firm or within your organization. You might’ve heard about “champions” and “sponsors.” They’re essentially people who are higher up the chain of command that see the work you’re doing, see your potential, and will vouch for you when it comes time to make decisions about next moves for your career.
It’s also important to have someone who can be your confidant in your place of work. That can be hard to find – but it doesn’t need to be someone who is very senior to you. Your “peer mentors” – first or second-year associates, can fill that role. Having a person to confide in, or ask silly questions to, is really important.
I do think for women of color that old saying is true... You have to work doubly hard. You have to make sure that you remain visible, and tout your own achievements. Making sure that you talk about yourself and your work in a way that champions everything you have been doing, is essential. It might feel uncomfortable at first, but you’re a badass, and have to make sure the world knows it!
Thanks so much for sharing your insights with me!