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Advice to my younger self
Boston partner Anita Varma on humility and leadership

May 2021: Anita Varma splits her time between Boston and London, where she works on both USPTO and European Patent Office matters. She tells us how being a South Asian woman with a more introverted personality has ended up helping her career, and how firms can foster a diverse workplace that supports their employees.

If you can't see it, it's harder to be it
I come from a family where I didn't really have any role models who were lawyers in the US. There was no one else in my family who I could look to for guidance. I didn't really feel like I looked like what people think a lawyer should look like. I didn't maybe act like one either—not just with being a woman and a minority, but with generally being soft-spoken and an introvert.

Learning that introverts can be lawyers was eye-opening
When I started studying law at Georgetown, I had a really helpful conversation with the dean, who reassured me that many lawyers tended to be introverts and were thoughtful people. She told me to discard any preconceived notions in my head of what a lawyer should look or behave like.

Not fitting the mold is a positive thing
After graduating and joining a law firm, I realized that not fitting a certain mold can actually be quite liberating because it frees you up. Understanding that there are things you can and cannot control means that you can chart your own course. You can really decide what it is that you want out of your career. It allows you to focus on growing and learning.

Communicating effectively is something you can learn
One of the key issues that you learn to navigate as a lawyer is learning how to communicate. We want our advice to resonate with our clients. To bring back my Asian background, one of the things that I've had to struggle with over the years is growing up as a child, you were told to be humble. Yet as a professional, humility and modesty can be misunderstood as lack of confidence. Over time, I learned how to hit the right balance.

Retaining humility is important too
Leadership skills are something that you can learn too. What really resonated with me was the Firm's view of leadership as a responsibility to see how you can work collaboratively to move the group as a whole to a better place. Being told that humility is a quality of leadership that our Firm embraces was fantastic. So I have come full circle on this trait.

Supporting colleagues during challenging times is important 
This year has been a tough one for many of us. What we have done in the White & Case IP group is try to make sure that our people are well connected and supported. We created pods, led by a partner with a group of associates, who would meet up and talk about various issues.

Some of it was work related, but a lot of it was how folks were handling COVID, how folks were handling everything they were experiencing like the Black Lives Matter movement for example, or how they were juggling being parents and teachers.

I'm optimistic about increased diversity in the legal profession
In my early career, there were very few other South Asian lawyers in my circle, although I have always had women as my peers. But today, there are many firms like ours who are very mindful of the need for a more diverse workplace. 

This includes the need to have more women and minorities in positions of leadership, because of the differences in perspective, differences in style, differences in problem solving, everything that people with different backgrounds bring to the table.