Upnit K. Bhatti grew up in Syracuse, New York, with her parents, sister, and grandparents. She is Managing Associate, Supreme Court & Appellate practice group, at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP. She serves a co-chair of WBA’s Amicus and Advocacy Committees. This past fall, she was WBA’s point person when we joined as a co-lead for an amicus in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Upnit serves as a mentor with the Appellate Project and is a member of the Syracuse University College of Law Alumni Association. With both organizations, she mentors law students and new lawyers.
Upnit told us her story:
I had to move to Toronto following the September 11, 2001 attacks, which spurred hostility toward those who practiced my religion, Sikhism, in my hometown and led to an arson attack on my temple. But my sister and I always knew we’d come back home to my grandparents in Syracuse. So I moved back to start law school.
I’ve wanted to become a lawyer since I was four (thank you, Hindi movies)! And my parents and grandparents always encouraged me to pursue this path. I was in a rush to get through college because I couldn’t wait to start law school. And law school was everything I had dreamt of—I enjoyed myself thoroughly! Nonetheless, everyone needs a break so I would resort to playing the tabla and hanging out with my grandfather whenever I had the time.
After law school, I worked at a mid-size law firm in Syracuse, my hometown, and then clerked for Judge McKee. He and Judge Dancks (who I had the opportunity to intern for during law school) pushed me to pursue my dream of moving to DC. I joined Arnold & Porter and then Orrick. I’m working my dream job at Orrick where I’m a Managing Associate with the Supreme Court and Appellate practice group. I travel to work with trial teams as appellate counsel and then come back to work on any resulting appeals. It’s a great mix of both worlds. I represent clients in federal and state courts at both the trial and appellate levels. I also maintain an active pro bono practice.
I recently moved to Miami to be with my fiancé who I met last year. He’s one of the best things that have happened to me so giving up my dream city, DC, was a no-brainer. I try to visit DC once a month to stay connected to the city and my friends and colleagues.
When did you join the WBA?
What committees/forums have you been involved in?
Amicus, Diversity, Advocacy Committees
Why did you join the Women’s Bar Association?
I was connected by my mentor at Orrick with Sadina and found the goals of the WBA compelling. I also was looking for ways to connect with other lawyers and be a part of a supportive community, which I have found with the WBA.
What benefits do you get from being a part of the WBA and why do you think others should join?
For exactly the reasons I joined. I have found a very supportive community made up of strong women from all walks of life with diverse backgrounds. I’ve also had multiple opportunities to get involved in projects that I’m passionate about because of the WBA’s mission and work and the backing of its members. For example, I recently had the opportunity to lead the WBA’s amicus brief filing in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in which we push the Court to recognize the role Roe and Casey have played in the daily lives of millions of women across the nation. These precedents have served as monumental building blocks to achieving gender parity in our country.
Do you have a mentor/hero?
I have multiple heroes who have all played huge roles in my life. Starting with my mother and grandfather – I jokingly call my mother my “career advisor.” She has been the driving force behind my every professional achievement. My grandfather was my No. 1 cheerleader, mentor, and my best friend.
I’m the first lawyer in my family and the first female with a doctorate degree. I know what it took for my mother to make this happen. All she asked in return was for me to pay it forward. WBA’s work and goals are a great catalyst in making this happen.
The list of heroes doesn’t stop there, and I’m grateful for that – professionally, and to a great degree personally, Magistrate Judge Thérèse Wiley Dancks of the Northern District of New York and Judge Theodore A. McKee of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals are my role models. With no lawyers to go to in my family, I turn to them for guidance whenever I need it. They have encouraged me to push my limits and step out of my comfort zone and have stood behind me at every stage of my career. Apart from career advice, I look up to Judge Dancks and Judge McKee for their positive attitude toward life and willingness to help others – I hope to imbibe these qualities.
What words of advice do you have for women new to the profession?
Find a mentor now and seek mentees later in your career. Also stay busy – find opportunities to learn about various practice areas if you have time – this will not only help you learn about subjects you may never otherwise discover but will also push you to make new connections.
What is the best advice you have received?
Don’t underestimate yourself! As a woman and a minority, I feel the constant need to prove myself. You don’t see a lot of us in this profession. But I constantly remind myself of these words to brush away baseless insecurities.