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The success story of an Indian origin lawyer

June 13, 2008 00:43 IST

For someone who has worked as a federal criminal prosecutor for the better part of her life, it was a challenge for Anjali Chaturvedi to act as defence attorney in an alleged white collar crime.

But in her debut appearance for the defence in a federal courtroom in Boston a couple of months ago, she cleared her client, who had been charged by the Securities and Exchange Commission with committing fraud.

Chaturvedi, formerly chief of the organized crime task force for the United States attorney's office in the Northern District of California, has joined Nixon Peabody LLP as partner.

She says her debut was a complicated lawsuit that had to do with accounting principles, and also was a very significant one.

Her success vindicated her lifelong conviction that she should never shy away from challenges.

"I guess you can say that (that she is always looking for challenges). You can definitely say that I like to be on my feet and working with people. To the extent that I feel I have strength -- I think I can relate to people, and that I find much more interesting then sitting behind my desk all the time. So, definitely, I look for opportunities to engage with other people as much as I can," Chaturvedi, whose parents came to the US from Etawah in Uttar Pradesh in 1964, said.

Laura Ariane Miller, partner and leader of the government investigations and white collar criminal defense team at Nixon Peabody, spoke highly of Chaturvedi.

"Her reputation among her colleagues, the defence bar, and the bench is that of a talented, ethical, and experienced attorney who knows her way around a courtroom," she said.

Chaturvedi has argued in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals and the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. She is the recipient of the Department of Justice Director's Award for Superior Performance as an assistant United States attorney.

It seems for Chaturvedi, a 10-year veteran of the US attorney's office in Washington, DC -- where as deputy chief of the felony trial section she handled over two dozen jury trials, including a nine-month-long racketeering and narcotics conspiracy trial with six co-defendants involving proof of more than a dozen homicides in the district court of Columbia -- a career in the legal profession seemed cut out early in life.

Her maternal grandfather was a defence attorney in Uttar Pradesh and three of her maternal uncles are attorneys in India, including one who is a prosecutor.

"My great grandfather was a judge. So it, kind of, runs in the family from my mother's side. Pretty early in my life I decided that I wanted to be a lawyer," Chaturvedi said. Her younger sister is also a lawyer.

A Cornell graduate, who received her JD degree from the Georgetown University Law Center, Chaturvedi has served as counsel to Senator Dianne Feinstein on the Senate Judiciary Committee, advising the Senator on matters relating to crime, terrorism, immigration, and federal courts.

Chaturvedi has been on the faculty of the Georgetown University Law Center and the University of California, Hastings College of Law, where she taught trial advocacy and criminal procedure.

"When I meet with college students, I spend a lot of time asking them why they want to become lawyers and what do they hope to get out of it. If the answer is 'Well, my parents want me to do it', or 'I cannot become anything else,' then I spend a lot of time trying to dissuade them from law school. Like in any profession, you must do what you really want to do in life," Chaturvedi said.

She chose the profession, besides the runs in the family reason, because she thought about influencing change, and liked public speaking, research and writing.

"To be a good lawyer, you really have to find out that part of the law that really motivates you and interests you, that your personal characteristics are best suited for," she said.

After law school, she worked in the public corruption unit of the student law court in the US attorney's office in Washington, DC.

"I found that type of work most interesting. I really do not know why Indian-American women do not feel compelled to that type of work," she said.

One reason, she felt, could be that in the trial phase of criminal law, work consumes 14 to 16 hours a day. "If you have the challenge of balancing the family life and professional life, it is really a hard balance to keep up," she said.

And how does she manage the work-life balance? "I think I was really lucky that I became a prosecutor at such a young age of 25. I have got more efficient with my time. I actually just got married last fall," she laughed.

She has run eight marathons when she was in California, and yoga is a passion. "I wish I could say that I cook, but I do not at all," she said, laughing.

Suman Guha Mozumder