Women and Minorities in Law: The Boutique Law Firm That Could
It isn’t a secret that the field of law is primarily populated by white men. There are numerous studies and reports that confirm this, such as the one conducted by the National Association for Law Placement. It indicates that in 2021, people of color comprised about 10% of partners at major firms and women accounted for about 25%.
Zakiya J. Norton, Esq. and Somita Basu, Esq. may be considered an anomaly in the field of estate planning law. They are the founders of Norton Basu, LLP, a minority women-owned estate planning and probate law firm with offices in Los Gatos, Santa Clara, and Los Angeles, California.
How They Met
In 2013, Zakiya and Somita each began volunteering for Bay Area Legal Aid in San Jose, California, a local non-profit organization. As they collaborated on multiple complex cases, a clear synergy emerged, which was strengthened by their common sense of humor. The formation of this potent, unique, and natural partnership inspired them to embrace risk and open the door to their own practice only three months later. Fortuitously, their strengths were complementary as Somita’s background is in insurance and finance, while Zakiya has legal drafting and litigation expertise.
Currently in its ninth year, Norton Basu, LLP, is growing. With the addition of an Associate Attorney, as well as a full-time Director of Marketing and Business Development, Zakiya and Somita demonstrate a focused determination to excel in law and business, as well as to contribute to the local community by the way of educational workshops, mentorship of law students, pro bono work, and volunteer efforts on the boards of local non-profits.
Pathway to Success
During the early days of starting their law firm, Zakiya and Somita relied only on themselves. Because they did not have experienced attorneys or mentors in their family or social circle who could provide guidance and direction, they educated themselves and took advantage of no-cost or low-cost resources. Trusting their instincts and the power of perseverance, they gleaned a lesson from every challenge and remained agile enough to rapidly change course whenever necessary.
Lack of funding was also a formidable challenge. Perhaps because start-up money isn’t as readily available to minorities and women, Zakiya and Somita had to bootstrap their beginnings by risking their personal savings to invest in themselves and the power of their alliance. Fortunately, they made quick advances by acquiring loyal clients and establishing solid referral partner relationships, which allowed them to gain access to capital and expand the practice.
Leading by Example
Believing that the only way to effect change is to exemplify it, Zakiya and Somita set out to motivate and influence other women, especially minority women, by achieving their own independent success. In addition, they have generously provided guidance to any female attorney embarking on a new practice by imparting the wisdom they learned by painstaking trial and error.
To enlighten others to the challenges faced by minorities, they have presented various programs to attorney groups, including “Free Your Mind: Identify and Eradicate Hidden Bias” to the California Lawyers Association. Somita is also a contributing author of the important book published by the Solo and Small Firm Sections of the California Lawyers Association titled “Opening And Managing A Law Office”.
A Circle of Support
As Zakiya and Somita set out to grow their firm and increase the volume of clients they served, they were amazed to find that other female lawyers were a tremendous source of encouragement. Even female attorneys in the same area of law referred clients and became a pillar of support. This might be because those women, too, have faced gender bias in the legal industry. Zakiya and Somita developed a mutually beneficial liaison with the women in their sphere of influence, which has created a collaborative environment.
A View From the Trenches: 3 Tips for Survival (and Success) As a Minority Female in Law
What do Zakiya and Somita advise junior female legal professionals? Below are their 3 major tips on where to start.
- Play the long game—Steady diligence and determination will pay dividends, but not instantaneously. Be prepared to experience setbacks or encounter obstacles. Fierce self-reliance may be your best asset.
- Leverage the power of networking—Building connections with other lawyers, various professionals and people who may turn out to be your strongest advocates is priceless, and it can open the door. Make it a point to meet people who can mentor you, serve as a resource, or simply cheer you on. This may include volunteering for non-profits or reaching out to key allies to proactively maintain relationships.
- Think business—Possessing business savvy, as well as being an excellent counselor, can give you a competitive advantage. If you are at the helm of your own firm, having an accurate grasp of the financial picture is vital.
Michelle Obama once said, “Always stay true to yourself and never let what somebody else says distract you from your goals.” Zakiya Norton and Somita Basu have embodied this spirit in their tenacious persistence to provide leadership, sharing their strength and fortitude with other female lawyers along the way.