International Women’s Day Legalista: Sumeeta A. Gawande

 Throughout all corners of the world March 8th is celebrated as International Women’s Day. The theme in 2012 is “Connecting Girls Inspiring Futures”.  We  decided to profile not just some of our women clients but women in the legal industry who are forging different paths for younger women.  Each day for the rest of the March we will be profiling a lawyer throughout the world who in her unique way is “Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures”.  Today we are profiling Sumeeta A. Gawande, who I’ve known and worked with throughout several years. She is a go getter. Period.

NB: Every single profile of these powerful, REMARKABLE women is  DEFINITELY worth the read MINUS the multi-tasking, as the insights and nuggets of wisdom shared apply to all of us no matter where we are in our careers.

1. How many years have you been practicing law? Has being a female attorney gotten any easier since you began your career? What challenges have you overcome? Which ones are still relevant today, and what do you think needs to be done for women attorneys to overcome this? 

Answer: I have been practicing for fifteen years.  I feel that I am part of the second generation of female attorneys.  The first generation was the generation of trail blazers – strong, determined women who broke through glass ceilings and paved the way for my generation.  They became the first partners, the first judges and the first female leaders.  My generation strives to follow those paths while taking more risks in expressing our femininity, but sometimes this is confusing and and even off-putting to the trailblazers.  Women face two major challenges: (1) being taken seriously and (2) sexual advances by men.  Not being taken seriously has been an obstacle I have been able to turn to my advantage – adversaries will underestimate me and then find themselves caught off-guard when I outperform them in the courtroom.  Many women will be subjected to sexual advances in the course of their work.  I strongly recommend that women share these advances with management at their workplace or a trusted colleague.  What seems harmless at first can grow into something more troubling – it is best to communicate about these advances early on and as they are happening.

2. With the ever-changing digital and economic environments we live in, there’s no question that law (and many other industries) are adapting and evolving the way they operate in order to thrive. From your perspective, how can new attorneys prepare themselves for this volatile environment? What about experienced attorneys who are unsure how to adapt their businesses to the new climate?

 Answer: While the economic environment may be volatile, the digital environment provides great tools to handle the volatility.  Smart phones, tablets and the apps that go with them make it easier to attend that networking event or client luncheon while staying on top of deadlines.

3. International Women’s Day kicks off March 8, and this year’s theme is “Connecting girls, inspiring futures.” Looking back at your early life and career, what women inspired you and your future achievements?

Answer: Without a doubt, my mother – who came to Cleveland from India as a young, single, medical resident in a foreign land – is my greatest inspiration.  My other great inspirations are the women who carve new paths, from the collective of South Asian women who created and published the first anthology of South Asian women’s writings in America, Our Feet Walk the Sky, to the friend who left the practice of law to become a Celebrant Minister.

4. Who are some of your mentors and why?

Answer: My mentors have included men and women, from the Dean of the Minority Student Program at Rutgers Law School-Newark  to the co-founder of the law firm where I became partner.  These are people who built foundations for others to build their careers, who believed in me, and invested their time into developing me into the person I am today.

5. In terms of business development, what do you wish someone had told you when first started your career that you know now?

Answer: First, push aside that pile of work at least once a week to socialize with both attorneys and non-attorneys.  You never know where your referral will come from.  Second, develop your sound bites to explain the types of legal matters you handle.  Third, tell people what you do.

6. What was the last book you read that inspired or moved you professionally?

Answer:  Never Eat Alone, by Keith Ferrazzi.

7. If you had an extra two hours in your workday, what would you spend it doing?

Answer: Going on a bike ride, a swim or a jog; getting a yoga teacher’s certification; volunteering with the Boys & Girls Club; learning a new language; oh wait, where did those 2 hours go?

Sumeeta is forging ahead with her own practice while building her creative muscle. I wish her the very best.




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