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Catching Up With Sabita Singh of South Asian Bar Association (SABA)

Chitra Parayath

SABA Boston was launched on November 10, 2004 at Bingham McCutchen LLP in Boston.

Keynote speakers at the event included the Lt. Governor Kerry Healey and Dr. Gururaj "Desh" Deshpande, Chairman of the Board of Directors of TiE, Inc.

South Asian Bar Association (SABA) Boston is a voluntary bar association dedicated to the needs, concerns, and interests of lawyers of South Asian heritage. 

SABA's goals are to:

  • Promote the advancement of lawyers and students of South Asian heritage in the legal profession
  • Provide a forum for professional networking, development, and education
  • To educate and disseminate information to the South Asian community about the law, legal access, and relevant legal issue.
  • Increase awareness and encourage resolution of issues of concern for South Asian-Americans
  • Support the provision of legal services to the South Asian-American community, particularly less fortunate South Asian-Americans
  • Increase awareness of the legal, political, economic, and cultural environment of South Asia 

We talked to the president of SABA, Boston, Ms. Sabita Singh recently.

Could you tell us about your involvement in SABA ?
As you know, I am currently President of SABA Greater Boston. In 2005, I will be succeeded by Annapoorni Sankaran of Greenberg Traurig LLP. I am also currently President-Elect of NASABA and will take over as President of NASABA in July 2005.

I am really proud of both of these organizations. The talent, commitment and generosity of the membership is unbelievable. Also, I am very proud of the fact that the membership is so diverse. You'll find liberals and conservatives; Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Christians; native and foreign born; Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Indians and Sri Lankans. It's a powerful force.

Your background?
I was born in rural Bihar and came to this country as a child with my family. I was raised in rural Pennsylvania, went to Pennsylvania State University where I got my Bachelor's Degree in the Administration of Justice. I got my law degree from Boston University School of Law and then did a clerkship with the Massachusetts Superior Court. After that, I was an Assistant District Attorney in the Middlesex County District Attorney's Office. There I did both trials and appeals. I was on the office's search warrant, public records and open meeting law teams and I was the point person in the office on juvenile, school and hate crimes issues. 

I was also the Legal Director to Project Alliance, a youth crime prevention initiative. I had the good fortune to be able to work on some very high profile cases in the office, including the Eddie O'Brien juvenile murder case out of Somerville. That case was tried by the District Attorney and covered by Court TV. Issues in the case took us to the Supreme Judicial Court numerous times before we finally secured a conviction for first degree murder.

My last case in the District Attorney's Office was the Louise Woodward baby murder case. I argued the case before the Supreme Judicial Court. That case also received a great deal of publicity, including in India - so it was the first time my family back home could see what I did.  After that case, I joined Bingham McCutchen LLP, an 850-attorney international firm, where I now practice in the White Collar Crime and  Business Regulation group.

Why did you launch SABA Boston and why now?
It was actually the response I got from arguing the Woodward case that made me realize the tremendous need for South Asian attorneys in this country. I was contacted by South Asians from everywhere asking for legal help on every issue imaginable. 

There were so few South Asian attorneys I knew of, not only in Boston, but anywhere in the country. Of course, many of these people could have been served by non-South Asian lawyers, but legal services is a very personal business. Clients want to be absolutely comfortable with their representation. They want to know that they are not being taken advantage of, and the belief is that someone in your own community is less likely to do that. Also, in some cases, where there may be language barriers or cultural issues, the need for a South Asian lawyer is quite important. 

There were a number of experiences after that which reinforced the need in my mind for an association of South Asian attorneys. For example, I was once in a government building bathroom, where a woman in a sari came in crying. She told me about how her husband had turned her out of the house because he had taken on a girlfriend, and the woman was living in her daughter's college dormitory. She didn't know where to begin to assert her rights. There was another time where I read about an Indian child
whose parents were both imprisoned. The state placed the child with an American family, stating that they could not locate any relatives, although the child had relatives in India. I couldn't help but wonder what might have happened had there been some South Asian advocacy in the case. So there were many instances like that.

A few years ago, I was contacted by Navneet Chugh, an attorney in California. He contacted a few of us South Asian attorneys in Boston and told us of his desire to form a national organization of local South Asian bar associations. There were already some well-established South Asian bar associations in other cities, and we took up his call to form one in Boston.

Through a couple of years of hard work and perseverance on the part of the founding members, we formed a 10 member governing board with a distinguished board of advisors, and we gathered together about 150 South Asian attorneys in the greater Boston area. It turned out that this group of attorneys was thrilled to meet each other and energized to get involved with the South Asian community. We also now include area law students, paralegals, and legal specialists as non-voting associate members; there about 100 of these associate members. We communicate with one another through periodic email newsletters and we have a website: www.sabagreaterboston.org.

What does it mean to the Indian-American community to have an organization such as SABA in Boston?
On the local level, SABA serves attorneys, law students and the greater South Asian community by providing networking opportunities, mentoring programs, attorney referrals and pro bono services. On the national level, the National South Asian Bar Association or NASABA, serves these same constituents by intervening in certain criminal cases involving South Asian victims of hate crimes, commenting on pending immigration legislation effecting our community, providing educational workshops on
legal rights for South Asian immigrants, holding an annual national convention, submitting amicus briefs on issues of import to the South Asian community and organizing nonpartisan efforts to increase the number of South Asians on the bench. More information about NASABA, which now includes 20 SABAs throughout the U.S. and Canada, can be found at www.na-saba.org.

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Sabita Singh, President, SABA Boston

Lt. Governor Kerry Healey, Dr. Gururaj "Desh" Deshpande and Annapoorni Sankaran

Annapoorni Sankaran

Lt. Governor Kerry Healey and Sabita Singh

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