Giving Thanks in Nepal

I was delighted and honored to be chosen as part of the DLA Piper team to participate in the firm’s New Perimeter pro bono project in Nepal in November 2019. This was the fifth time that this training had been delivered – as before, New Perimeter partnered with Canadian NGO Women Lawyers Joining Hands and the Nepal Bar Association as part of an initiative to provide mentorship and legal education to female Nepali lawyers.

I had seven  colleagues in the trenches with me, all of us from different offices, who contributed significant time and expertise to the project, both in the time leading up to and during our time in Nepal: Lisa Dewey (Director, New Perimeter and Pro Bono Partner, Washington DC), Kristin Franceschi (Partner, Baltimore), Andrew Valentine (Partner, Palo Alto), Ileana Blanco (Partner, Houston), Elizabeth Johnstone (Senior Consultant, Sydney), Natasha Kanerva (Associate, New York) and Susan Acquista (Associate, San Diego).

The training spanned six days, each day a nine-hour download of information, interspersed with lots of anecdotes, socializing and tea breaks, but enough to exhaust anybody – yet, the energy levels in the rooms seemed to rise every passing day as the women became increasingly confident and engaged with the subject matter. We were training 60 women in total, but while a half were first-timers in the program and fresh to the grind, the other half had participated in 2018’s training, were in more senior stages in their career, and therefore, were receiving a more advanced training focused on substantive skills.

I had the pleasure of working with Kristin Franceschi, with whom I co-taught the Corporate and Commercial Law module, and of finishing off the last day with Lisa Dewey, speaking about Professional and Business Development. As a young associate, it was a fantastic feeling to know I was working with extremely supportive and collaborative partners, who encouraged me to think on my feet and be innovative with the material. I also would be remiss if I didn’t mention Pooja Pyakurel, the on-the-ground Nepali coordinator, who was a fantastic resource and who went above and beyond the call of duty, providing us support from last minute print-outs to tips for local excursions!

The Nepali women lawyers themselves were dynamic, inquisitive and courageous. Conversations flowed far beyond just legal skills and the training materials, often spilling over into tea breaks and lunchtimes – we had pertinent discussions on everything from seeking work experience in areas traditionally dominated by men, to becoming more confident in their lawyering, to getting fair payment for their work, to juggling family responsibilities and work together.

I arrived back home in Los Angeles just before Thanksgiving, but the memory of their resilience has stayed with me. Despite various difficulties – many were the first in their families to become lawyers, some had travelled up to ten hours to attend the training, another was four months pregnant, several others continued to silence work calls during the sessions – they were pioneers in their chosen field, and possessed an immense strength. As a fluent Hindi speaker, my ability to connect with them in a second language also gave me an extra understanding of their lives, their goals and their obstacles and an even greater appreciation of their determination. We are all struggling in our own ways, especially women across societies, cultures and races, but if each of us can use whatever privilege and knowledge we have to give other women a leg up – well, to me, there’s no better reason to give thanks.

Disclaimer: This blog post does not speak to the beauty of Kathmandu, the five stunning UNESCO heritage sites I was able to visit before the training began and after it ended, including Buddhist stupas, Hindu temples and Tibetan monasteries, or the awe of watching the sun rise over the Himalayas – nor does it adequately describe the experience of discovering friends in different DLA offices, the incredibly delicious food, and the joy of finding bargain upon bargain in the crowded, bustling shops of Thamel – that’s going to take me a separate post!