Real Work, Real Life


March 20, 2024 Emily Sampson Episode 50
Real Work, Real Life
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Real Work, Real Life
Mar 20, 2024 Episode 50
Emily Sampson

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On this week's episode, I’m talking Saranya, an attorney in intellectual property. Saranya originally went to undergrad and graduate school and started her career in engineering and after finding success in the field, realized the paths ahead of her weren’t the right fit, so she went to law school at night, and is now a partner at a major firm. I know you’re going to enjoy this interview as much as I did, and if you want to hear more from Saranya, check out her Instagram account, Shelves of Color. It’s focused on kids books, with a special focus on diverse and inclusive reads and is excellent. 

If you enjoyed this episode, or you’d like to know more about a career in law, check out my interview with my mom, a judge:

If you like the show, please rate and review on iTunes and Spotify  (linked below) and please share with a friend! You can also follow the podcast on Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, or Tiktok. And if you’d like to be interviewed here, or there is a particular job you’d like to learn about, please reach out at



Transcripts are now available here:

Show Notes Transcript

Send us a Text Message.

On this week's episode, I’m talking Saranya, an attorney in intellectual property. Saranya originally went to undergrad and graduate school and started her career in engineering and after finding success in the field, realized the paths ahead of her weren’t the right fit, so she went to law school at night, and is now a partner at a major firm. I know you’re going to enjoy this interview as much as I did, and if you want to hear more from Saranya, check out her Instagram account, Shelves of Color. It’s focused on kids books, with a special focus on diverse and inclusive reads and is excellent. 

If you enjoyed this episode, or you’d like to know more about a career in law, check out my interview with my mom, a judge:

If you like the show, please rate and review on iTunes and Spotify  (linked below) and please share with a friend! You can also follow the podcast on Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, or Tiktok. And if you’d like to be interviewed here, or there is a particular job you’d like to learn about, please reach out at



Transcripts are now available here:

Saranya Attorney

[00:00:00] Welcome to real work, real life, where I talk to real people about what they do for work and what that means for their lives. Today. I'm talking with Saranya and attorney and intellectual property. Saranya originally went to school and started her career in engineering. And after finding success in the field, realized the path ahead of her weren't the right fit. 

So she went to law school at night. And is now a partner at a major firm. I know you're going to enjoy this interview as much as I did. And if you want to hear more from surrounding to Check out her Instagram account shelves of color. It's focused on kids' books. With a special focus on diverse and inclusive reads, and I can confirm it is excellent. If you enjoyed this episode, or you'd like to know more about a career in law, you might also check out my interview with my mom, a judge. I'll link that in the show notes, if you'd like to find it. 

So let's get into it. 

Emily: Thank you so much for being here, Saranya.

Saranya: Thank you for having me.

Emily: So what do you do for work?

Saranya: I am an attorney. my practice is in IP [00:01:00] litigation, so intellectual property litigation. I have been practicing for about eight years.

My area of focus is technology and medical devices. So I represent technology companies and all sorts of industries from you know, high tech, semiconductors, networking consumer products, medical devices some pharmaceuticals, kind of everything across the board. And primarily I help them defend against.

District court litigation in the United States, and I have some experience with asserting patents as well. But yeah, I enjoy going to trial, but I, my daily job is basically litigating cases from front to back.

Emily: That is so cool. So how did you get into this? What interested you initially about it?

Saranya: Yeah, so that's kind of an interesting question because I didn't know much about it when I first started. So if I could kind of take you back to when I was not thinking about law at all. And that might help kind of tell the story of [00:02:00] how I got here in the first place. So I remember like thinking when I was in high school that I really, really, really wanted to be an engineer.

I was just sold on this concept that I was just going to be a computer programmer and this was the coolest thing ever. I love spending all my time on computers. I learned how to code in like 11th and 12th grade and completely loved it. I decided that I would go to school for undergraduate degree for electrical and computer engineering.

And really enjoyed it. So much so that I decided to go get a graduate degree in the same subjects. And I focused on digital signal processing machine learning, which now is termed as AI. So, you know, back in the day when people didn't, you weren't so obsessed with AI, I was getting a graduate degree in AI.

But, after my graduate degree, I was trying to figure out, okay, like there are some different paths in engineering that I could take that. Would be a good fit for what my skills are and who I want to be as an engineer out in the industry. [00:03:00] So I started looking at, you know, the traditional electrical engineering jobs, and they weren't as appealing to me.

And then I started looking into the software world. So at that time, the software world was, was pretty big. And I went to grad school at Purdue University. So close by to there is Chicago. So I primarily focused on the Chicago market. And I found a great role at the travel agency that you might know about orbits, which is now part of it.

Yeah. So I started there as a software developer and, you know, being a being in the tech industry is really just like a happy place, right? So there's a lot of energy, a lot of motivation and, you know, it's great work at a fast pace. And so it really motivates you to stay there. But, you know, coming back to your question initially was like, what, what was the thought process of you getting into law?

I was really good at my job. I enjoyed my job a lot. But I was kind of looking at like the 5 to 10 year plan of being a software engineer and what I found to be true across. different tech [00:04:00] companies was that, you know, after a certain number of years that you spend in this engineering role, you get into management of the engineers.

Unless you like, you know, break out and like start your own startup and you're just, you know, have this creative, entrepreneurial mindset. And so neither of those pads really seemed like they were my thing. Like I didn't want to manage other people who were working in tech. And I knew from the very start of things that I was, I do not have an entrepreneurial like mindset.

I'm not the one who's going to like stand alone out in the field and be like, okay, I came up with this creative idea. Let's go. Right. That's not me. So I was like, okay, what, what am I gravitating towards in this job? And I started to think about who I'm interested in interacting with.

And I found that, you know, I spent a lot of time talking about technical issues with the business people. And then there was a litigation going on that was involving our, the company that I was working for at the time. And someone called me from legal one day and they were like, would you like to help out with, you know, collecting source code [00:05:00] for this topic?

And I was like, oh, this sounds great. Right. And so I volunteered and then, you know bit led to like another little bit. And then soon I was like, you know. In the depths of trying to help this team figure out their litigation, and they were like, why is this engineer. So, well because most of our engineers are like not this interested on the legal side of things.

So that kind of got me thinking that like maybe this is a career path I want to explore. And, I kind of had one foot in and one foot out in the legal industry, so I continued my my role as a software engineer at Orbitz, and I started law school in the evening, just so that, you know, if it didn't work out, I still had the backup plan which I don't really recommend to other people, because when they say it's part time, there's not really anything part time about it.

We can talk about more more about that, but I think that's kind of like the origin story of what got me interested in law was like, I couldn't see myself as like a core engineer, but I wanted to be able to use those [00:06:00] skills that I had of taking engineering and relating it to people who might not be as close to the technical side of things and talking to.

You know, relating those technical concepts to people in business and people and on the legal side and other things. And so I thought the law was a great way to put all of those things into practice.

Emily: Wow. Oh my gosh. Yeah. It's, it's fascinating. You know, when you go to undergraduate degree and think about a career, you don't always think all the way through the paths. And so once you got out there and you saw, but it does sound like that background helped you a lot in your legal career today. Thinking about law school.

So did you go part time the whole time or did you eventually go full time?

Saranya: No, I went part time the whole time. And you know, some of it is a, is a monetary thing too. So I didn't want to go into a second career and come out with loans. Right. And so I had already sorted myself out at that point. And I was like free and clear any student loans, because I was very careful about where I went to college, made sure I had.

a [00:07:00] good mix of the ability to secure scholarships and then, you know, pay for the rest of tuition using work on campus, things like that.

And so when I, showed interest in the second career path, I didn't want to start out with a mountain of debt that I had just worked really hard to clear.

And so that was a big consideration for me. So time wise, I think it was a, it was a larger commitment because it's four years versus three years. And it's certainly a, a huge commitment just like on your brain and on your body. Cause you spend just to give you a sense, like I would go to work at eight o'clock, I would leave at five 30.

Law school began at six o'clock and so I chose a law school that was like two blocks away from my office and then class would go until 9 30. I think Monday through Thursday. And then law school for those of you who don't know is like run on the Socratic method. So like you're expected to be prepared to discuss the material that's about to be discussed.

It's not, it's very unlike engineering where you just go to class and you're like, all right, [00:08:00] professor, tell me what I need to learn today, you know, and then you write some notes and you figure out what you need to know later. It requires a lot of preparation ahead of time.

It actually requires you to actively listen and participate in class in order for you to reap the benefits. So all of that means that Outside of class like after class is done, you have to do the reading for the next day. I start working at 8 o'clock, but I wouldn't go to bed until like 132 because I was trying to catch up on all this reading.

And then, you know, there's something to be said about the fact that when you change careers, you're also learning a, like, how to go back to school, because, you know, I was older at this time. It was not, you know, 17, 18, like a young buck being like, okay, guys, like, just give me a glass of Mountain Dew and we will get this done, right?

And so that takes a little bit more of an energy commitment out of you but also just learning the different styles of, of studying and like what works for you, like what works for you in engineering school is not going to translate [00:09:00] as well into law school because they don't, they don't have a right answer so to speak.

you have to like readjust your brain and figure out, okay, like what are these outlines that I have to create? So all of that takes time too.

Emily: Wow. Okay. So this is kind of a tactical question, but do you know about how much it costs for you to go to law school? And were you able to graduate without debt?

Saranya: I was able to graduate without debt because I paid for the first three years of law school based on my salary as an engineer, and then my last year and a half, so I guess two and a half years, and then my last year and a half, I, I clerked at a, at a firm. So essentially I was working at the firm, but I wasn't qualified yet as an attorney, so they call you a clerk.

But I was doing that full time, and they, you know, very kindly offered to, pay for my law school while I was doing that. But these are all very technical decisions that were made during the time, 

Emily: yeah, well, it's very common for people to graduate with law school with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, right? would say [00:10:00] that's like a very common experience. Do you find that to be true knowing other lawyers?

Saranya: it's very true and very common that that happens, especially as, you know, go up. The, the rankings right and like you go, you go full time out of, your previous college career and you spend three years doing this thing full time with like no real income like you might have like a side job here and there but if you're going to law school full time you can't really work on the side that's just not going to happen.

And so this is, it's a very common phenomenon is like first year law students are just like they're making Sometimes making a lot of money. But they also have this like mountain of student debt that's following them. And I just didn't feel like it was worth putting myself in that situation.

If I was already making good money as an engineer to like, then switch over and do what I, you know, expected to be basically an experiment and be like, okay, well, let me spend, you know, like thousands of dollars on this and law school tuition varies greatly to between like the [00:11:00] highest rank schools.

And then, you know, your, tier 2 and tier 3 school. So I went to. A school that offered an evening program specifically. I wasn't looking for like, you know, the top five law schools that some other law students might otherwise have been interested in, right? And so that played a big part in my decision too because not, not very many law schools actually offer an evening program.

Emily: right Yeah, you know, this is This question is such a tough one because everyone's experience sort of confirms the path that they took, but do you find that pursuing, you know, maybe not pursuing the top tier law school at full time has held you back, or did you find that you were able to get all the career opportunities you were interested in with the experience and education you had?

Saranya: I mean, it's always tricky, right? Because, like, I just made partner at my firm. It's a huge firm. It's an Amlaw 50 law firm. So, like, you know, on paper, it looks like I got to where I needed to be in the end. So, you know, maybe not. [00:12:00] But, you know, I can tell you that, when I was trying to find a position to clerk at, for example, like not all firms were open to that opportunity because they all they follow this very strict method of recruiting, they go on campus and they recruit for your 1L summer and then they recruit for a 2L summer and I didn't fit any of those molds.

So I wasn't able to interview at these larger law firms because I wasn't able to just say, okay, well, give me a job for the summer. With the knowledge that, you know, the rest of the year, I would not be employed in any way. That wasn't really an option for me. So I had to find again, you know, similar to a tactical decision for for schooling purposes.

I had to be tactical about where I would apply. That would actually support my, my career choices in the end. But, you know, I will say that, you know, I, I lateraled over to the firm that I'm at right now. And it wasn't something that I was planning to do at the time. It just kind of was like, okay, what, what other options are out there?

Because I was very [00:13:00] restricted coming. out of law school with the options that I had. And then, you know, when I hit that like second, third year mark it was a good, time to just sit back and reflect on where I wanted to take this and the options were, were much wider to be honest. But I will say that like, you know, when you're at a larger law firm, like there are not a lot of people who went to these like so called practical or like, you know, tier two, tier three law schools.

So like there is a lot of bias still out there that, you know, if your colleagues went to Harvard or your colleagues went to Yale, like, that's regarded in a, in a different kind of way than if you went to a different type of school, even though you offer the same, intellect and grit and, you know, maybe sometimes more uh, yeah. I like to think so, but you know it is a bias that you have to put up against like, on the daily.

Emily: yeah, you know, in some ways I think kind of going the more typical path of like undergrad, you know, best undergrad you can get into best law school you can get into full [00:14:00] time. Best internships all the way that it's not to say it's easy. It's not easy, but it's the clearest path of what to do and how to get there.

And so kind of, like you said, if you have the grit, if you're really willing to figure it out and make your way. Then there's tons of other paths available to you, but they can be really hard. I mean, I just can't I'm imagining working full time and then going to school for three hours.

Just the class part. That's wild. You must have been very tired.

Saranya: Yeah, I was very tired. And you know, I was married at the time, so like, I had to factor that in as well, and my husband, you know, it's almost like he went to law school

for four years, too. Like, we weren't, like, talking about the law or anything, but I was gone a lot. I was gone for work, I was gone for school, and then after I come home, I'm like, okay, this was a great 20 minute conversation.

I'm going to have to go. Like read for class, right? So, you know, if you have other obligations just outside of your job, I mean, I think these are, important considerations [00:15:00] for you as well. A lot of my evening classmates were actually parents at the time, and I don't know how they manage that.

 I make my situation sound difficult, but, you know, I'm sure theirs was even more challenging.

Emily: Wow. Okay. So you went to law school at night. You got a full time clerking job at the end. When you graduated, how long after you graduated until you took the bar and what was the experience like taking the bar exam?

Saranya: Yeah, so it's a, it's a very, like, strict format, right? So you graduate in May and then you take the bar in 

I think it's July or August. Nobody quote me, quote me on this. What happens is

that you graduate, you like, you completely wipe your memory of

It's in the bar.

And that's why I don't remember, but you take the bar and then you, you go on like a fun trip because you want to erase all these memories. For me, I'm, I'm the kind of test taker that like you go in you take the test and you come out and people will be like, Oh, what did you write for question one by I have no idea.

Emily: Gone.

Saranya: And it's not like I'm not trying to share. I just don't remember. So like I'm after this into that I just completely erased that [00:16:00] part of my brain. And then you get your results in October. But typically, when you get your results in October, you're already employed at. At your law firm, right?

And so your title is something like law clerk or, you know, whatever the firm chooses, but it will say not admitted to practice in this state. And then, you know, there's this like magical date upon which like everybody in the state will receive their results. And you know, I guess back in the day used to be mail, but now it's just online and you just like refresh the page like a maniac and, you know, and it comes up with the result.

And then. You figure out what to what to do with that information, but it's a very stressful time because you are very unsure what happened. And so for some reason it still takes them, you know, two and a half months to grade this test that is only going to define your career going forward.

Emily: Yeah. Wow. Yeah. And it, it varies a lot by state and getting, is that right? And getting like reciprocity to other states, it really varies by, are there some states that are [00:17:00] you in Illinois?

Saranya: I'm in Illinois.

Emily: So are there some states that have kind of like, Like, I know Maine and Florida and Maine and Massachusetts have some kind of sweetheart deal, it seems like.

I don't know if that's the term you

Saranya: Yeah. So from what I know, there are specific requirements to become barred in New York, Florida or California, regardless of how many years you've been practicing. But there are other states, for example, a lot of my colleagues when I was early on my career moved from Chicago to Colorado.

And my understanding is that if you've been practicing three years or so. Somewhere somewhere in that ballpark range you can get reciprocity. And so you don't have to retake the bar exam, but the states that I mentioned earlier, I think you have to take at least some some portion of the bar exam again, or at least take the local portion.

But then now they also have the UBE, which is like a uniform bar exam that applies across many states. And so the way that works is you take one exam, but then every state sets their. Score requirement. [00:18:00] So as long as you score above their threshold, you can be admitted into that state. But I still think California, Florida, New York do their own thing.

Emily: What are the states with the low scores? Like, what states do lawyers need to not be as good?

Saranya: Unfortunately, all of that was after my time. So I'm not as familiar with those proceedings, 

Emily: It's like, Wyoming is like, eh, you know, 50 is fine.

Saranya: exactly. As long as you took it is probably 

Emily: It counts, yeah. Wow. So what kind of personality do you think does well in law?

Saranya: so law is like really, really varied, right? And there are so many different types of law, and I can't imagine trying to generalize a personality that'll work in law. And I can tell you, like, when I went into law school, I had very little appreciation outside of what I wanted to do of what. Like career pads and subject matters were explored in the law.

I feel like [00:19:00] a lot of us when we think of law, we just think of litigators and we think of like the criminal side of things like, oh, I can become someone in the DA's office or like I can become a judge, but like, no one thinks of like the people who are like, Filing patents, for example, which I did a lot at the start of my career, or like, if you work on M& A transactions or like a finance aspect of things or more transact like contractual issues and things like that.

So, I I can't speak to what, personalities would be ideally suited for that type of role, but I can certainly speak to mine. And again, it doesn't doesn't doesn't need to necessarily apply to everyone, but I'm just saying, like, it seems to me that these types of people do well in the role that I met.

So a lot of caveats. You're talking to the screen. I feel

Emily: Well, no, that's, that's helpful too, because it's like, you know, if you're someone who's interested in law, there probably is a field that might work for your specific likes and dislikes because it's just that broad. But just curious if you found anything maybe within your [00:20:00] specific field that you're like, Oh yeah, this sort of person seems to really thrive in this

Saranya: Yeah, I mean, with litigation, things are so unpredictable that you just kind of have to be the personality that goes with the flow and operates really well under pressure. So there are a lot of people that something bad will happen, and then they just completely shut down. 

And then I've heard from associates like that where I'm like, all right, we got to get this done.

And I work really well in high pressure environments. And I've worked with people who are not so great in high pressure environments and they don't thrive in litigation. They might thrive elsewhere where like the timeline is a little bit more flexible or like they have a long time to think. You can think and consider the whole problem, you know, three weeks to like sit on a project and think about it versus like in the job that I have, you have to be able to think on your feet.

And that's not just, you know, when you're in court and actually literally on your feet, like talking and making arguments. on the job, [00:21:00] you know, you have to reply to this motion by tomorrow. You can't spend two hours of the day panicking and running in circles in your office. You have to like sit down and figure out like what the strategy will be, right?

And so I found that, you know, grit, self motivation, and just the ability to like, Think clearly and like high stress moments makes for the best litigators.

Emily: Yes. I can imagine that. Do you, in your job, do you do billable hours, like tracking billable hours? And that's, that's something that I think, could you talk a little bit about what that is like and like what it's like day to day doing that? Because that's something that I didn't really know much about, before I get to know people working in the field.

Saranya: it's such a strange concept, right? So it starts with the fact that most firms have a billable hour requirement for their associates and if you're working at law firms, like similar at a similar position to the firm that I work at Winston and Strawn like your AMLA 50 [00:22:00] law firms, the requirement is usually like 2000 hours for associates.

And so that means that, you know, every associate is. Is expected to build that amount of hours in order to reach their bonus allotment for the year. And so I think what what gets missed or misunderstood most often about the billable hour is that it's not just you sitting in your chair from 9 to 5 o'clock, right?

So, like, you could be in the office from 9 to 5 o'clock, but like. Not every minute or hour of your day is going to be billable unless you're actually working toward a client matter. Now, you know, different people will you know, have different definitions of what it means to be working on a client matter.

But, that set aside, I personally, I don't take you know, an hour lunch break. I don't go to the water cooler and have a 45 minute conversation. Unless it's like something that I've accounted for during the day, right? Because I'm like, well, as a parent and as, you know, a person who wants to [00:23:00] work additional hobbies and, you know, social life and things into, into my daily routine, I can't sit at my office from 8.

30 to 8. 30 at night to only build six hours. And then, you know, build some more at night or whatever because I need to be like really focused. So the way that I do that is I come in at 8. 30 in the morning and then I usually leave the office like 5. 30 to go pick up my kids. But I make sure that like 90 percent of my time while I'm there is billable if there's work to be done.

And then I take a break and then I come back and build some more because that's how you get, you know, like the 2, 000 hours is like. is your minimum threshold for making a bonus, but, oftentimes, I work in a very busy practice group. So, like, my hours tend to be a little bit higher than than your average associate now that I'm a partner.

It's kind of it's similar, but, from an associate perspective, it kind of depends on how busy your practice is and so on as well. And the other thing to consider is that, you know, it also includes different matters. So, like, you're not always going to be working on the same client all day. So, [00:24:00] like, I'll bill, like, you know, X amount hours or minutes or whatever to this matter.

And then when I switch over and I, like, retrain my brain to think about this other thing, I'm now billing to a different path. And, you know, you hear a lot of jokes about billable hours because it's kind of a pain point for a lot of attorneys. So, like, there are a lot of, like, law memes out there but, you know, we bill at six minute increments.

So, every six minutes is, like, is one point one, right? The best system that I found that works for me is just have a timer and I just do like an on off timer, but it's it's a matter specific timer. So when I start working on something or start thinking about something, I start the timer.

And when I stop working on it, I stop the timer. So at the end of the day, I have a full list of timers that I've that I've used throughout the day. I think it's a little harder for work. Transcribed litigators who are managing a lot of different matters let's say I'm working on a brief and I'm very focused and I have the timer on for that matter and then an email comes in from a client and, you know, that takes priority because, you know, you want to be [00:25:00] responsive and you want to be a diligent attorney in that matter or maybe you're the lead on that matter and they ask an important question or something like that.

So, and you like have to stop what you're doing, start that, because you don't want to be billing to the wrong matter. So I know that you know, even as a as an engineer, I build my time, but it was mostly for like tax reasons. And so I would just say, I build my time today to exit my project. But like, no one was scrutinizing my time,


Like, it's not just the time you have to put in, like, I worked on this brief or like, I talked to so and so about this other thing, right? you're really having to document it. Everything that you're doing, because in the, at the end of the day, it gets included in a bill to the client and the client is going to review your bills and make sure that you're adding value for the money that you're expecting them to pay.

So, that's kind of the lay of the land in terms of why the billable hours required. And, you know, for better or for worse, law firms run on billable hours and their profitability is based on billable hours.

Emily: so that okay, so I was [00:26:00] just doing some math on this. How much vacation time do you get?

Saranya: Well, so we don't get any vacation time. So it's, in theory, it's unlimited vacation time,

right? And so it It really depends on how you have to be driven to actually take the vacation time. No one is going to come to you and say, Hey, if you don't take this, like, it's just going to fall off the calendar.

And I know because, you know, in my prior life as an engineer, you'd get a set amount of PTO. And, you know, at the end of the year, your boss doesn't want to have to say like, Hey, You know, 10 people that I worked under that worked under me, like, none of them took their PTO and it roll over. So, like, you better go on vacation.

Like, right now, no one is going to do that. Right. And so it's kind of on you to figure out when you can take these days off and, especially on the litigation side is a little bit hard to plan ahead. So my husband and I have come to the point where we plan our vacations two, three weeks in advance, because that's kind of when I can achieve that level of balance between like things are still available and.

I have [00:27:00] a reasonable certainty that my schedule case schedules are going to stay as is, or I can find someone to cover for me. It often does not work for me to like plan right now my summer vacation, unless I found someone who can, who I can trust. To sit in my place to run the cases that and, you know, as you get more senior, you have more matters to handle.

So then, you know, every time you go on vacation, you have to find someone to cover each of your matters while you're gone, and they might not have the subject matter expertise or the client relationships, and it gets a little bit more um, complicated. So I don't think I actually answered your question.

So. I would say I would like to take about two weeks of vacation a year. And, you know, I think there are pros and cons to it being flexible. So, like, you know, yesterday I had a tour to run at 3 PM. So, like, I didn't have as many, billable urgent things to attend to. So I, you know, I took off and attended to that and I didn't have to call anyone and tell them that I'm clocking out early.

Right? And so there's, there's a benefit to that flexibility, but sometimes this [00:28:00] notion of unlimited time. paid time off, it, it doesn't really exist.

Emily: 2000 billable hours a year for 50 hours a week is 40 hours a week. So do you find, are you working like. 50, 55 hours a week do you find


Saranya: I mean, I will just tell you though, there has not been a year in the last five years that I've billed 2, 000 hours. I have been significantly about that. So I think 50 hours a week on average is like fairly low for me. And that's just, you know, based on my career goals and what you want to do, right?

And so a lot of people are, if you are of a financial only mindset and you're just like, okay, I'm an associate, I don't plan on doing this for the longterm. I have no intention of making partner. You might just bill your 2000 to get your year end bonus. And then at your fifth year, you're like, I paid off my college loans.

I'm going to go do something a little bit more reasonable with my life. And that's, that's, 

a very common strategy. And there's nothing wrong with that right they pay you good money to put in the time you put in the time you're expected to do and then you're you're done. And then there are the other people who want to, you know, do the extra [00:29:00] thing and be like I want to be a partner at this firm, and unfortunately I mean it is the way it sounds right if you do the bare minimum, you're not going to get the extra reward.

I think that's fairly logical but yeah I mean, if you do the math I think it comes out to 50 hours or whatever, billable for 2000 hours maybe but you know it. It really requires that you do more than that to get to that amount. And it will add that, in order to be successful at a law firm, you have to actually be part of the law firm.

Like, you have to be a good ambassador for the firm. You have to, like, run committees and, you know, be a good mentor to the people who are under you, actually care about the firm, right? So,

you know, those things are not 

always accounted for. Yeah, like I can't bill a client for any of those things because you, it's just for like, you know, internal housekeeping and making sure that the firm culture is what you expect it to be as a woman of color, like, I, you know, I feel like I need to pay it forward or at least like use my position of power to include Other people who [00:30:00] might look like me or use me as an inspiration.

So I, tend to use a lot of my time towards things that are, you know, non billable in nature. I also have a lot of involvement outside the firm. So I, you know, I part of a lot of affinity bar associations and, you know, I try to network with other people in our profession and things like that. So I feel like.

Those don't necessarily have our marker associated with them. They're not, you know, they're not rate configured in any way, but they're things that take up time that are related to your work. If you weren't in this job, you wouldn't do those. 

so you have to consider them. 

Emily: valuable. Like, so worthy of your time. just wonderful that you're able to make time for that. 

Saranya: them very rewarding.

Emily: Yeah. Yeah. Wow. Oh, that's amazing. And I, I do love to hear, you know, I appreciate that you kind of can share those both sides that it's like some people, it depends on what your goals are.

If you're just in this, you know, if you're not trying to climb the ladder as quickly, there is this path where you can kind of, it can be more of [00:31:00] a sort of a regular day job and which it's still would be a lot of hours and a lot of work. But if you are shooting for that next level, it's like you really have to do 

Saranya: Yeah, 

Emily: Hammer down

Saranya: yeah. And so to kind of build on that a little bit so like most big law firms like the one I'm at are structured in a very like lockstep way so it's very unlike any other company where you're like, Okay, if I I'm a manager and I want to be a senior manager, there's no real guidelines as to like what.

That takes you kind of have to wait for your senior manager to perhaps leave or like you are now you're now you've now acquired the skills to do this job and they maybe move that person up and so on. Right? So here on our side. If you look at our associate breakdown, you just become a first year associate and then the next year rolls around, you're a second year associate and third and fourth.

You don't have like those titles that are based on necessarily your merit. You're just kind of increasing in, in gear. And you know, the way someone explained this to me [00:32:00] was that being an associate is a finite career path is that your eighth or ninth year you go up for a partnership. Typically, typically at the art trips.

And so if you don't make it like their alternative pads that are open to you, but you cannot perpetually be an associate. 

No, that's not an option. So, like you said something that kind of like triggered that in my brain, which was accelerating right there's no there's no acceleration, when you get to your eighth or ninth year that's when you become eligible.

And then you are past that. There may be some exceptions but you know for for the large part if you are an associate and you're like you're in your 11th year they're going to give you an alternative role either at the firm or if you're asked to go elsewhere or you know maybe you will choose to go elsewhere but either way you will not you will not be an associate like a 50th year associate like that's not that's not

Emily: That's not a thing.

Saranya: Yeah.

Emily: talked a little bit about compensation. [00:33:00] What can you kind of share with people about pay and benefits if they were thinking about pursuing this path?

Saranya: So what I've referred to many times during our conversation is the term am law 50 or am locked money, you know, and so what that is, is the American lawyer rating of, large law firms. And so they base this purely on revenue. And so you can look up essentially. Where firm stand in this American lawyer rating and if they're obviously if they're within the first 50, then there are 50, which makes a lot of sense.

But there are some leaders in that group that lead the compensation for the upcoming year. And so you will find a lot of this information online publicly. And so our. Compensation for associates and for partners is largely driven by what other firms are doing. And so you can go online and, you know, look up the Winston scale or, you know, it's just called the, the cravat scale or the Gibson scale, I think in 2024, and you can see what the [00:34:00] demarcations are for like first through eighth year associates and beyond.

And then what the, what the bonus scales. So just to give you a range of like what your first year is now making. So the class of 2023, which will be, I guess, that's the class that graduated last year. Their salary starts at 225. And then they get a 15,000 prorated bonus. All this is public information.

And then, you know, when you get to like your most senior level of associateship your salary ranges to like, the four hundreds or mid four hundreds, and your bonus is like upwards of like a hundred thousand bucks. And then partner comp is a little bit more of a, of a black box something that I'm figuring out myself.

So I don't have as much insight into that as I'd like. But you know, it's a lot about, you know, how many clients you bring in what value you're providing to the firm. And now you are a, you are a true partner, right? And so your, your compensation is not driven by a salary. It's driven by like your normal like [00:35:00] draws or whatever.

Whatever other mechanisms that firms may have to compensate their partners, but it's largely based on performance rather than this, strict scale. Again, you can find the term PPP online and you can look at profits per partner online for perform and it varies greatly. I will say for those of you who are mathematically inclined that the averages that you will see online are averages.

They're not medians, right? So like, you will see number and I'll say profits per partner, like, you know, 5 million or whatever. And that does not mean that every partner makes or even close to every partner makes 5 million. It means that, you know, most partners make somewhere far from that number. And then there are some partners who are such big outliers.

To that number because they're very, very successful and very important to the firm, but they're bringing up the app. So to put that caveat in in case, you know, you see a number that's profits or partner at this firm is like, you know, some absurd number and your eyes go wide and like, oh, wow, that's It's kind of wild.

Just, you know, think about that [00:36:00] as as a true average for everyone who is like an eighth year partner like me to like someone who is like, you know, close to their retirement. And, you know, is the person who some high level executive at a big firm would call to represent them in a key litigation, you know, and so from that level of expertise and then the other thing is the amount of expertise and, you know, fame you have all the way until a freshly minted partner.

That's a big range. I

Emily: Yeah. Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. 

That is fascinating. And yeah, it's really that, that noting of there's a, probably a couple outliers. It's like if someone's thinking about this career, they could get there, but it's not a, a given for sure that will, that will happen being on

Saranya: Yeah, 

I mean, for those of us who are kind of career minded and very ambitious and need that like goal. In life to like kind of keep the fire running like I think that's that's a good way to look at it right you're like, Okay, this is where I'm at now but you know if I just keep pushing like the type A's in us we're like, [00:37:00] Okay, so here's where I am relative to the average So here's where it could be.

I mean, everyone's gonna get there. It's gonna take a lot of work. It's gonna take a lot of luck. But, you know, I think it's something to strive for, and it gives people like a feeling that, like, if they put in the effort, there is a payout at the end of the day. Not, not to say that there isn't a payout right now, but there is a bigger payout at the end 

Emily: Yeah. Yeah. What are you kind of thinking about benefits? What does parental leave look like in this field? Is

Saranya: That is a very good question. So I will, I will tout our own because ours is excellent. Winston and Strong is one of the only firms in the country that has a gender neutral parental leave policy um, so everyone gets six months of parental leave.

Regardless of your gender. So I took six months off six months away from work to take care of the baby and recover and all those other things. And you know, I think it's promising that everyone is allotted the same time. To be with their family and [00:38:00] prioritize the things that they would like to prioritize.

Now you don't, you don't need to take all six months if you don't want to, or you know, there are probably options in which you can break up the six months based on like what your spouse gets or your partner gets. Right? And so you have to be a little bit more strategic about sometimes planning that.

But, you know, my husband is an entrepreneur and a business owner. He doesn't get any time. And so I. You know, I took all six months that I, that I got, I, I would say, you know, this is not, this is not career related at all. But for those of us who struggle with this idea of parental leave with my first kid, I got three months, I believe, at my prior law firm.

And I, I think I was in this mindset where I was like, okay, I have to show everyone I'm very committed. I'm going to come back at like three months and like, the first hour that I can be back in the office and I don't know that anyone really cared about it that much right and so with my second baby I was like I'm gonna get six months I'm going to enjoy this baby I'm going to spend every like [00:39:00] hour that I can and I need it like you know as a parent yourself as the birthing parent like you need time to recover you need time to to learn your baby get to know them and if you have the time you should take it and so that's kind of a Different viewpoint that I took separate from just like the time allotment that we got that that was really beneficial to me.

Emily: I totally agree. I took the longest leave that I could and you know, I consider that a total privilege. I wish it wasn't, but it is. But I do say to people when they're thinking about it, like. No one will notice if it's three months or four months if you can find a way to do it. It's and I will say that gender neutral policy, I just love that because there's so many statistics that show that if both parents have the opportunity to be that equal.

Parent early on, it just sets the whole family up for success in, you know, equality of roles, who's best suited for the role, has the role, regardless of whether they're a man or a woman or however [00:40:00] that

looks in your family. So I'm just like, kudos to the firm for that. That's really amazing that they took that stand and 

Saranya: Yeah, 

Emily: more people will follow suit as they see the results from it.

Saranya: exactly. And I think, you know, like when I share with my peers that we have six months of parental leave, sometimes they're like, Oh, well, I only get 12 weeks or like, you know, I only get like six weeks. Right. And so it may seem like a lot of time and I understand the privilege of having six months. It's a lot of time.

It's actually in the on the global scale.


not a lot. 

Emily: like, it's a lot of time for 

Saranya: It's a lot of time for America and it's relatively a lot of time. So, you know, I, I don't like publicize often that we get six months because I think for the people that do not have that privilege or luxury you know, add their respective.

Firms or corporations, which should also adopt a longer parental leave policy, in my opinion, but I tend to keep this to myself, but, you know, I will say, like, the, the rigor of this job is, [00:41:00] requires the six months, if you're working this Many hours and trying to further your career and bill hours and be, you know, you have to have the sharpest mindset in order to be a sharp attorney.

Right. And so if you're like falling asleep because your newborn won't go to sleep, like that's not going to be beneficial to anyone. And a lot of those, you know, detriments are applicable certainly across different careers, but I can definitely, if you ask me, I would say that since six months here are.

very justified. That's not to say that it's not justified for other people. I'm, I'm certainly here for, you know, everyone getting longer parental leave, because when I hear about people getting six weeks off, it really hurts.

Emily: I was barely like standing up at six, 

Saranya: No, well, I, I tore my ACL, so I, I had surgery at four weeks. Again, I was back in the hospital four weeks later. So if someone told me that I had to be back in the office at six weeks, I'd have been like on, in my crutches, you know, like, Limping into the office. So it's probably better for them that it wasn't

Emily: [00:42:00] Yes. Seriously. You don't want me there. Trust me. So you've mentioned a bunch of things that you love about your work, but is there anything that you would add, especially if it's something you think people might find surprising that you really enjoy about your work?

Saranya: You know, I really enjoy learning about technology and different types of technology. That makes me a nerd, but I will say that, like, as an engineer, you learn about, like, one type of technology that your company that you're working with is familiar with, or, like, whatever projects are coming your way.

But as a patent litigator, like one case is about, you know, cable systems and the next system is about like a heart pump. And the next one is about semiconductor device. And then the next one is about some contract that you have no idea what's going on. Right. And these are all cases that I have right now.

So, like, I have to like. Put my brain in here and then like transfer, and I'm learning all these different technologies all at the same time. Which is sometimes stressful, but also, you know, it makes for an interesting day because you're not, like, it's not as [00:43:00] monotonous. That's what the, what, what keeps you going?

So I think what people don't realize about patent litigation is that sometimes we do a lot more engineering than the engineers in the sense that we have a wider, wider breadth of the types of technologies we touch on a daily basis.

Emily: Yeah. Oh, that, that does sound fascinating. I could see that resonating with a lot of people too. Um, Not to go too negative, but is there anything that is challenging about your field, if it's something that you either didn't expect or you maybe didn't anticipate how challenging it would be?

Saranya: Yeah. So one thing that I find is, you know, as an engineer, you're most of us are very introverted, right? And so you're kind of like made to be that way because engineering school is kind of introverted. And so like we thrive in that like nerdy atmosphere. In, in a way, some of us are a little bit different.

I know you've talked to, you know, other other people on your podcast before that I actually went to school with and I would consider, you know, the two of us to be you know, we offer a little bit more personality and then many of the people that I'm training school [00:44:00] with. But I think to take that and then go into the world of litigation, we were expected to be this sophisticated, but lively and charismatic person.

Who now has to sell their services and obtain clients and network and walk into a room of like 100 people and be like, Hi, I'm so and so this is what I do. How can I do it for you? That's not something that comes naturally to a lot of IP litigators because you are like. You're very good at technology and you're very good at the law because you learned it during law school but like taking those things and meshing it with a personality that people will actually like to be around and then running what's essentially a sales job on the side of being an attorney is, is a lot.

And this is something that I'm learning to is it's great. It's like table stakes to be a good attorney who really understands technology. Even though that's a lot to start with. Right. But then add to that. If you progress in your career as a partner, you have to be able to sell yourself.

You [00:45:00] have to be able to like, sell your brand, your firm, your services, and, you know, just be a social person. And that's not that's not something that comes naturally to everyone. So it's sometimes something that you have to to embrace and work towards that challenge.

Emily: 100%. Oh yeah, I can imagine that. So this is the last question I have for you what's one piece of advice generally about work that you would give to your younger self?

Saranya: Oh, that's a hard one. I would say follow your lead, right? I've changed pads, so many different. And the way that I've done it is just to trust that whatever I'm Decision organically popped into my brain at the time was the right one. I can think of a lot of different turning points in my career that could have gone differently if I had made a different choice, right?

Like, if I had the choice of going to grad school at the same school that I was at, and I was like, no, I don't really like Florida. I'm going to go up north, right? And so that was a choice. And then, figuring out that I didn't want to be in, you know, [00:46:00] hardcore engineering. I want to go into tech, like that's a choice.

And then, you know, you go into tech and then you're like, I want to go to law school. That's definitely a choice. So just trusting you. And, you know, I didn't come from a family of engineers. I definitely did not come from a family of lawyers. So like a lot of my decisions were just like me thinking about stuff in the middle of the night and being like, all right, let's do this.

Let's try it. And so, you know, if, if you think that you were suited for something or you're interested in something, like, don't be afraid to pursue it.

Emily: Ah, that's amazing advice. I have so enjoyed talking with you. Do you want to share your your Instagram account so people can find you?

Saranya: Yeah. So, you know, among all the other things that I do, and I, I don't, I can't really explain how I have time to do this. That is not a question that I'm able to answer, but somehow I have become very passionate about literature for kids and picture books and graphic novels and board books. And so when my son was about two and a half years old, I started this Instagram [00:47:00] page at the time it was called Toddlers Who Read, and now it's called Shelves of Color, and I share book reviews with my son sometimes about books that he reads, and then with my daughter, Myra, who's almost two.

And yeah, it's just, a happy place where we, where we talk about reading and make sure that in this very technology driven world that our kids still enjoy books, and there's so many beautiful ones out there. A lot of it is, coming from a place of envy, because I'm like, look at these beautiful books!

that costs like, you know, X amount of dollars and whatever. And I couldn't ever buy any of these books as a kid, or like, maybe they weren't made or there are kids who look like me on the covers. And certainly there weren't a lot of those. And so, you know, it comes from a place where I'm like, wow, these, this is amazing.

But also it's something that I really enjoy doing with, with my kids and, you know, they love books. Thankfully otherwise that that effort would have been questionably allocated. You know, I think it's just something, something fun where you could find out more about other things that I, like to do in my you know, so called [00:48:00] free time to exercise a different part of my brain.

Emily: I love it. And actually, I don't know if you've heard the saying, if you want something done, give it to the busiest person, you know, but it doesn't surprise me at all after talking with you that you have this awesome Instagram account. So that's really cool.

Saranya: Yeah.

Emily: Well, thank you so much for your time. This was really fun talking with you.

Saranya: Thank you, Emily. Thank you for having me. This was a great discussion.

 Thanks for joining me. If you liked the show, please rate and review on iTunes and Spotify. And please share with a friend. You can also follow the podcast on Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, or ticktock. And if you'd like to be interviewed here or there's a particular job you'd like to learn about, please reach