Within a five-year span of emigrating from India to America at age 7, Devanshi Somaya and her parents lived in Florida and Georgia before settling in Texas, doing everything from working as clerks at gas stations to managing hotels. The experience of moving around frequently as a child helped the Jackson Walker associate learn to adapt to change quickly and take life day-by-day.
“My path since coming from India has changed constantly. That’s why I don’t think about the long term and set these specific goals for myself, because my life has changed so much in the short term that I don’t want it to be limiting,” Devanshi said. “It’s a freeing feeling to not know what the future holds and to take it as it comes.”
In an interview with Allison Stewart, creator and host of “Women in Law On the Record,” Devanshi shared insights about her immigrant experience, her path to practicing law, her life as a working mother, and the importance of maintaining relationships.
Launched in 2018, the interview-based podcast spotlights women in all stages of their legal careers as they share how they got to where they are, the lessons they have learned along the way, and what they are doing now to achieve their next goals.
Here are some highlights from the interview:
Path to Practicing Law
Prior to pursuing a legal career, Devanshi bounced from pre-dental to advertising while attending the University of Texas at Austin. Though she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in advertising and a minor in business, her heart wasn’t in it.
“The others were so passionate about it, and I didn’t have that. I knew at that moment that this is not what I’m supposed to be doing in my life,” she said.
What drew her to law came in the form of a mandatory business law class and results from the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.
“I remember specifically looking at my results and the first one said ‘lawyer.’ I thought that was so strange. While I was in my business law class, I started thinking of it as a real possibility,” Devanshi said. “That winter break, I came back home to be with my family, and I literally googled ‘law firms in Irving, Texas,’ and started calling every single one of them to see if they would take me just to get some experience.”
One firm answered and agreed to bring her on. That winter and the following summer, she shadowed attorneys at a small business/family law firm in the Dallas area, taking on a broad spectrum of litigation matters.
“That was, kind of, what helped me decide,” she added.
Entering Law School
During the first few weeks at Southern Methodist University, Devanshi found herself at a disadvantage. With no one in her family to turn to for answers to basic questions, she didn’t know what to expect.
“I was really scared, but eager. I remember my first couple of days at orientation, wanting to make friends. I felt like I was in middle school again,” she said. “I found the friendliest faces and they’re still my friends, so it worked out.”
She carried that adaptability with her throughout law school, seeking new opportunities along the way. In addition to working as a legal research, writing, and advocacy teaching assistant and a torts tutor for the Academic Skills Assistance Program, Devanshi also served as Articles Editor for the SMU Law Review Association and was a Student Bar Association mentor.
Through the guidance of her legal writing professor, Heather Stobaugh, she landed a clerkship at Jackson Walker, where she remained after graduating law school.
Joining Jackson Walker
Devanshi now uses her two years’ experience as a Jackson Walker summer associate to engage with current students and share why she decided to work at the Texas-based law firm.
“I chose Jackson Walker because I just felt like I fell into place there. I could pinpoint what their culture was, and that was so important to me to have an identity,” Devanshi said. “The way they treated people, from the bartender that was at our reception to the associates and partners, to all the staff, everyone is kind and thoughtful, and they’re never unnecessarily rude. They’re people you want to be around.”
I chose Jackson Walker because I just felt like I fell into place there. I could pinpoint what their culture was, and that was so important to me to have an identity.
Throughout her time at Jackson Walker, she has seen a transition in her workload and has gained hands-on experience from the beginning.
“My first year, I got a lot of courtroom experience, and I enjoyed that a lot more than I thought I would. When I first started working at Jackson Walker, I was so afraid of the actual trial process,” she said.
After a jury trial and a bench trial in Justice of the Peace Court, she found the confidence she needed.
“I really enjoyed doing that,” Devanshi added. “To have that opportunity at Jackson Walker – at a bigger firm where you would think associates don’t get that kind of experience, it was special.”
Now a third-year litigation associate, her work has extended beyond research and writing.
“I’m drafting quite a bit more than I did my first year, but also managing cases more. I am on top of all the deadlines. I’m on top of what needs to be done in the case – how we need to progress in the case. And that’s really the biggest shift I’ve seen recently,” she said.
Life as a Working Mother
As Devanshi continues to see a shift in the type of work she takes on, she also finds herself in more of a mentorship role for first- and second-year associates—especially the women.
“They come to me for advice or just to talk, to kind of bounce ideas off me,” she said. “And I think it’s been great that I just had a baby. They look at that and think, ‘OK, I can also do this. I can also work here and be a mom someday.’ You don’t see that in a lot of firms.”
During her second year at the Firm, she learned that the best time to have a child as an attorney is irrelevant.
“I was really scared and, as a second-year, I thought it was going to be a big hiccup in my career. That wasn’t the case at all, and partners told me that,” she said. “They said that is completely your choice, based on your family planning and what the right decision is for you. It has nothing to do with our firm, and we’re going to be here to support you when you come back. And that’s exactly what it was like. It was so seamless.”
Upon returning from maternity leave, Devanshi found nothing had changed in her role.
“Partners went out of their way to give me work. I was a little scared that they would think, you know, ‘She’s not going to be able to do this right now. Maybe we should give her some time.’ They were ready for me, and I was ready for them,” she said. “I questioned it a little bit when I first got back, and I thought, ‘Why don’t I want to be home? Should I be wanting to be home?’ I was very happy to be back at work, but I was also very happy to go home and spend time with my son and my husband.”
As fellow associates begin to think about having children, Devanshi said she hopes to show that raising a child while working toward making partner is possible.
The Importance of Maintaining Relationships
As a working mother, Devanshi prides herself on the personal and professional relationships she maintains. To her, friendships are a lifelong commitment.
“When you have that good group of people—just a really solid group of people—in every part of life, I think that makes you feel less overwhelmed, and that makes you feel like you can get through it because of that support system,” she said. “I was just really scared of how I would handle motherhood and working and being a friend and a daughter and a sister. I’m proud of the way that I’ve handled it and that I still have a social life outside of my role as a mom and as an employee and as a wife.”
When you have that good group of people—just a really solid group of people—in every part of life, I think that makes you feel less overwhelmed, and that makes you feel like you can get through it because of that support system.
Devanshi shared that it has been rewarding to see how her marriage has evolved. Since the birth of their son, Arav, she has found that her husband is a major part of her support system.
“I can’t imagine how much harder life would be with a partner who doesn’t support your dreams or is not encouraging. Alex is not just supportive and encouraging, but he’s just also so helpful,” she said. “That might be part of the reason that I feel like I can handle being a mom and working and still having a social life, because he helps me out so much. I never feel like I need to be there. He’s got a handle on things.”