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Setting the Standard

11 months ago / by SEEMA Staff

Megha Bhouraskar is an attorney, a strategist, and negotiator. Though she has an international reputation and a client base that spans many continents, she is also well-known as a mentor, offering life and entrepreneurial coaching, a writer, speaker and storyteller.

In an interview with SEEMA, she discusses her work, influences and future plans.

Your father was an economist with the United Nations. And so you grew up sort of in an international landscape. Tell us a little bit about what life was like growing up in America?

My father grew up in Indore in India, and he came from a very poor background. When my father was 10, his father died, and his mother was a widow at 42. They really were 11 to 13 people in one room.

He supported himself and his family throughout, and eventually did a PhD at [what was then] Bombay University. He got a Rockefeller Foundation grant and came to Princeton University to do his postdoctoral work. During his studies, he was introduced to my mother.

My mother came from more from a middle-class family. Her father was the manager of the Grand Hotel there. They spent all of maybe 11 days together and she decided he was the man she wanted to marry. So she waited until he finished at Princeton and was offered a job as an economist at the United Nations. It was an independent position; it wasn’t on behalf of the Indian government.

He went back, married her, and, and brought her to New York. They worked here for a few years. He then he was posted to Ethiopia. I was born in Ethiopia. We came back after I was around three years old. New York was where I was schooled, other than for a year in law school at USC and LA.

Often, our summers were spent in India, the United Nations paying us to go on home leave. We would travel to Europe and everywhere else on the way and then in between those summers. Summers [in India] were spent with grandparents and friends in Indore, Bombay and Delhi. So my world was split between New York and India.

You run a successful law firm that covers like diverse fields, like real estate, corporate entertainment, matrimonial, etc. So how has the journey been?

The areas that I practice in are very related. If one imagines property right, whether it’s a sound recording or a film, or a building, or a publication, like a book, or a tech product … we’re talking about ownership. I occasionally do matrimonial work just because it’s a friend or somebody who has a cross-cultural issue.

I love real estate [work]. Over 80% of my client base is from the Indian diaspora.

I continue the pattern of going to India once or twice a year. So I am equally comfortable working with somebody who has never left India, and those working in a very New York attorney world, because that’s where I studied and grew up.

You’ve carved out a nice niche and set up a firm without any support. How did you do it?

I didn’t think about it when I was going through it because it was just the norm, or it seemed like it was the norm. When I first finished law school, and I did a brief stint in Boston, for just a year or two, but then I was in New York. The law firm that I worked for was an all-male law firm. Yes, we had female secretaries. But all the associates and all the partners were male.

I was the only non-white lawyer in the firm. So I was used to that demographic. Even when you went to court, or [attended] a meeting, it was all mostly white men. I didn’t think I would rise there, because there were so many [male-focused] social events that I could just not attend. I felt that, socially, I could not connect with them. They did eventually offer me a partnership, but I declined. I wasn’t sure if I wanted the obligation of [managing] everything. I liked having a salary and not having to think about anything at the end of the day about running the practice. Eventually, I said yes. I caved in, and I did become a partner.

I never felt quite one of the guys. Eventually the partnership split, and one of the partners and I started our own partnership. Again, I felt there was a difference. This [time it] was more cultural, because most of my clients were Indian. I found myself constantly having to explain to him why the client was saying what they were saying, or why they wanted to do [what they did] because it was so culturally based.

So I said, you know what, I’m better off just doing it on my own, which also allows me to structure my fees, the way I want to, according to the client and their needs. I started my practice in 2012.

A few years after that I was like, oh my gosh, this feels so free. I do realize everything that I you know, you change. I had lost the sense of how I wanted to dress. I used to dress like the female counterpart of the men. I had cut my hair so short so that I looked like a boy. Everything I did, I did to mimic them. So it took me a while to realize [I didn’t have to do that].

Then, in the pandemic, I had just come back from India, and I realized that we are going to go into lockdown. I told my team, let’s experiment let’s try [working from home] for a few weeks… We loved it so much so that when my lease came up for renewal, I did not renew it. We’re all working from home now. I love it because even that more than anything allows me to just be who I am and not worry about appearing the way a male firm or men and my partners would expect me to.

You have multiple clients and multiple countries, and you must be busy. Yet, you devote time to causes that empower women. Tell us a little bit more about your involvement in these not-for-profit organizations.

I was always involved [in non-profit work at] some level, even in in high school and college, and then in law school. [Former New York] Governor Elmer Pataki had given me an award for my contribution in the Asian community in New York. My law school, the New York Law School, had also given me a similar award. I was involved specifically with Indian women, when we helped found SAKHI for South Asian women back in 1989. I had gotten involved on the legal side of the domestic violence issues. Subsequently, I have worked with different nonprofit groups around women’s rights, human rights, gender rights, and then again, mostly with the South Asian community.

You also host a podcast called “She Warriors.” Tell us a little bit about that.

“She Warriors” is a podcast and is exclusively on the JioSaavn platform. Many years ago, I was involved in helping Saavn start the largest platform for Indian music. And so I knew the individuals. They said why don’t we just work on a podcast with you. At that time, nothing was really resonating. So I didn’t go in that direction. A year later, I’m walking one day to work in this beautiful sunny day and, suddenly, I thought about all these awesome women who I know, and in some cases know of. They have such a fascinating backstories. And it’s not just their bad stories, it’s the fact that they dared to follow what they really desired to do. Regardless of the odds, they do do it. And so I said, these people have to hear their stories.

Honestly, Seema, I just love stories. So I said, well, let’s just tell their stories. I had no idea how to do a podcast. I didn’t know how I didn’t know the first thing about recording, but I went to work. I just wrote to these gentlemen and said, how about we do this. So we started recording these women.

What I didn’t anticipate was [the women being highlighted on the podcast] would change, I thought their stories would just be inspiring for the rest of the world to hear. But they made major changes, and they bonded with each other. Many of them didn’t know each other before. We launched in March 2021, on International Women’s Day.

Any advice for South Asian women? What three things would you tell them to do? Or not do?

I always believe there is something good that comes out of anything that even seems [bad] that in the moment. Many times, when life seems the toughest or the harshest, that’s when you’re about to move from one step on a ladder to the next step. Just embrace that. Be intuitive about it. Ask, where’s the universe directing me next? Where am I supposed to be?

The second one is that I believe, every single person has their own unique talents or value. It’s not an accident that you’re in this world. Why are you here? What are you contributing to the world?

The third one is, loving yourself. Because whether one believes in a god, somebody loves you enough to bring you here. You’re meant to be here. If you’re meant to be here, you have inherent value, just like anyone else.