As a group, first generation law students and lawyers tend to encounter common issues. Saumya Kuriakose, Nadda Rungruangphol, and Alysia Huskey give highlights from their panel focused on the experiences of first generation lawyers. They each share what led them into the law, discuss the unique challenges they faced, and offer insights on how law schools and firms can support first gen attorneys.
Saumya Kuriakose is an Attorney at The Pettit Law Firm in Dallas, Texas.
Nadda Rungruangphol is a Staff Attorney at the Texas State Securities Board in Austin, Texas.
Alysia Huskey is a licensed attorney with The State Bar of Texas and works as an Assistant District Attorney in Kaufman County, Texas.
Special thanks to our
Intro: Welcome to the State Bar of Texas Podcast, your monthly source for conversations and curated content to improve your law practice. With your host, Rocky Dhir.
Laurence Colletti: Hello and welcome to another episode of the State Bar of Texas podcast. We are recording live from the annual meeting here, the State Bar of Texas’ annual meeting and it’s from Austin, Texas that we’re recording from. And so, I mentioned this already before. I should come up like quippy way to start this show, and so I talked about Lady Bird Lake, how it’s really the Colorado River. Let’s everybody should grin. And I talked about being at the JW Marriott, how it’s awesome being off of Congress Avenue. But I think I’m just going to say it’s really awesome to be here. It’s been a while since I’ve been in Austin. I’m looking forward to trying some barbecue and I’ve got a wonderful lineup of guests. And obviously, as you guessed, I am not Rocky Dhir. He is off doing conference matters. A surprised interview coming up later in the day which are going to be very, very, — it’s our privilege to breathe. It’s actually going to be a fun one. So, hope you guys look forward to that. I won’t spill the beans just yet. I’ll let Rocky do that. But anyway, I’m Laurence Colletti. I’m your guest host for today and I’ve got a wonderful lineup of guests and I’m going to need some help with you all’s names. I’m sorry. I did my best. It took me forever to get the first names. So, I’ve got Nadda, and is it Korikos, Kuriakose?
Nadda Rungruangphol: It’s Rungruangphol.
Laurence Colletti: Oh, my gosh. I’m not even close. I’m not even close. So, anyway, no — oh, there we go. So, not as over there. She’s off to my left and everybody that doesn’t have a camera me right now, I’ve got like a little notepad that’s telling me who’s here because I get confused. And so, then I’ve Saumya, and Saumya, your last name is – wait, your last name is Kuriakose.
Saumya Kuriakose: I am Kuriakose, yeah.
Laurence Colletti: Kuriakose, okay. And then we’ve got Alysia, Alysia Huskey. I think I got that one.
Alysia Huskey: Yes, you nailed it.
Laurence Colletti: All right, perfect. Sorry about that. It’s just one of those days. I’m running on too little caffeine. Anyway, thank you all for coming down and of course, you guys just got done presenting at the Futures Now 1st Gen Lawyers Speak on Their Issues, Challenges, and Hopes. So, how’d it go, was it a good presentation?
Nadda Rungruangphol: Yeah, it was really wonderful. So, this was actually my first panel I’ve ever spoken on and this is actually also my first time moderating any panel, and it was kind of a last-minute thing because we actually had somebody who was supposed to be the moderator but they couldn’t make it and they’re like, “Okay, Nadda, you’re in the hot seat now.” And I’m just like, “Okay, I need go like practice or something.” So, it was last minute, but I think there was a really great turnout.
Saumya Kuriakose: She did great. Yeah.
Laurence Colletti: She did great.
Alysia Huskey: It’s wonderful.
Laurence Colletti: So, not just a presenter, she’s a moderator as well, double threat gal.
Nadda Rungruangphol: Yeah, exactly. So, now, I can like add that to my resume. It’s going to be a game changer.
Laurence Colletti: Alright, perfect. Perfect. So, my first question, and so everybody here, we have one person who’s an immigrant from India and that would be Saumya. And so, she’s an immigrant from India but everyone else, it’s first generation in the family to be lawyer. So, the question, the burning question is, why? Law school is difficult, sometimes very boring. But a serious question. What was your calling? What drew you to the practice of law, why don’t we start with Alysia.
Alysia Huskey: So, the short answer to that is to help people. But the longer real answer is that I grew up very poor, under the poverty level, very low socioeconomic status in a very bad neighborhood. And when we finally moved out of there which was Corpus Christi, we moved to El Paso, Texas and that came with a higher level of income and just larger perspective on life. And I realized that a lot of people who were in situations like that had legal issues, anything from criminal histories to rent, tenant issues, anything like that, and so, it was it was what drew me into law. I wanted to be the person who could help, but I also wanted to get out of the situation that I was born into.
Laurence Colletti: All right. So, I’m going to ask you last. I want to go to Nadda though. So, what was your calling towards the practice of law?
Nadda Rungruangphol: So, my calling came very much later in life and I always say that because whenever I was growing up, I actually wanted to be an actor and my parents hated that idea. And so, by getting to be on this podcast and like doing the panel earlier, I was saying like I feel like I’m getting my two seconds of fame. But with that said, I ended up graduating from college. I started doing some human resources jobs and I loved it. And that’s where I realized I really loved being in the support role, loving to help the people at the companies I was working at. But it didn’t feel like enough just because I didn’t feel very empowered to make decisions. I didn’t feel like I was making enough of an impact, and so, I threw out my life. My mom had always suggested that I go to law school. And so, after being in those HR positions, that’s when I kind of took the leap because I was like, “Hey, like maybe this is the change I’m looking for,” like maybe this will be the impact that I’ll eventually make, and so I did. And I agree like law school was pretty much torture. It was not fun for I think anybody. But like going through that and now getting to do what I do now, I am glad that I’m not in acting or trying to be in acting at all. So, it was good decision, I think.
Laurence Colletti: All right. And we saved Saumya because new country, you know, all new job, no history in your family being lawyers, and so what drew you to that. I mean a lot of new for you.
Saumya Kuriakose: Yeah. So, I actually wanted to be a vet initially but then, it turns out I’m allergic to cats.
Laurence Colletti: I’m a little bit unfortunately.
Saumya Kuriakose: Yeah. So, I decided to pivot and I wanted to be a designer, but I come from a very conservative family, a conservative Indian pastor background family and my parents were like, “No, let’s not a designer. You can be a doctor, a nurse, an engineer, pharmacist, maybe the law.” And so, my path to lawyering actually came out of rebellion because I wanted to do the worst thing an Indian girl could do, and people who come to our house and be like, “No, don’t let her go to law school because she’ll never get married,” or, “She if does go to law school, make sure she’s married before she goes.” It was just out of rebellion. But then also, during undergrad, I had a professor, Professor Maisch, he was an attorney for the ABLE Commission in Oklahoma and he just had thisbBurning passion for the law and kind of rubbed up, rubbed off on me and that’s why I decided to go to law school.
Laurence Colletti: I think you take designer inclinations to design a t-shirt, so lawyer by way of rebel, seriously, that’d be awesome. All right. So, my next question for you, obviously, if there have been people that you know are pretty close to kind of blazed the path in front of you, they can steer you through, I remember when I applied to law school, the weirdest thing for me was the whole LSAC process. I’m like, “Since repository to put all my scores, why?” Like, “Why can’t I just apply to –,” it was a whole thing. I got to learn all that new stuff and LSAC, things like that, so it’s just blazing new territory. But I imagine, you know, if you didn’t have any exposure to any of those, it’d been a challenge. But just want to kind of go down the line here and ask, what was the biggest challenge being kind of first to family to go to law school? And since we started with Alysia last time, we’ll start with Nadda at this time.
Nadda Rungruangphol: So, I think for me, I felt really lost, right? And so, I remember like my mom, she really did put in the work, like it was almost like she was going to go to law school with me because of the amount of research that she did. And so, I must say that the amount of work in like research and time on the internet spent that she did was very helpful. But even so, once I got into law school, it was a whole new world, right? Like I had no idea where to get an internship, I had no idea how to network. I’m actually a very introverted person and so, for me to go to like some happy hour or to go to some like after class event, that was going to really cause me to sweat. It was not going to be easy. And so, just navigating like being able to meet people and make connections, and what helped me was actually to lean on my school classmates and also my law school professors. And so just doing that and creating this like small niche group of people within my law school helps because each one of us knew one or two other people and that kind of helped us create a little bit more of a network for us, I guess.
Laurence Colletti: All right. Saumya, same question.
Saumya Kuriakose: So, I struggled a lot after undergrad. I knew I wanted to go to law school but I was incompletely sure because I don’t want to racking all of those debts, and I just wanted to talk to a lawyer. I took a year off, and just finding that one lawyer to talk to was a big struggle. I didn’t know a single lawyer. My parents didn’t know a single lawyer. No one in our church knew a single lawyer. So, I just remembered the pharmacist I used to work for, his son wanted to go to law school, and so customer actually gave him a 1L book, and I reached out to my pharmacist, just like, “Hey, do you still have that book with you?” So, that was my way of learning what law school could potentially even look like. That was the biggest struggle. But then after you start law school, there’s a different set of struggles.
Laurence Colletti: Oh, yeah, you learn all about struggle in law school. All right, Alysia, same question.
Alysia Huskey: So, my biggest struggle is kind of along the same lines, but it started really early. I was the most educated person in my family, very early on. And so, even going through high school was difficult because I was in an engineering program and my parents really wanted me to do that. And getting through that while thinking about college, no one had gone to college, so they were very supportive but they didn’t know how to help me apply. They didn’t know what was needed, the deadlines. No one understood what we were doing. So, that was a struggle just getting the facts to get into college. And I was lucky that a couple of my friends had family members who are helping them, so they tagged along and helped me. And then getting through college, it was now, “How do I get to law school?” And that was an even bigger issue to overcome and I think it just continued that way. Once I got into law school, it was what is the legal field, just the knowledge and having nobody around who could say, “This is what you’re looking for. This is what you’re doing,” was probably the largest challenge, and it continued into the law field as well.
And so, just knowledge when you come from a family or a first-generation group who has no resources to get you there is really hard.
Laurence Colletti: Let’s build on that. So, this question comes by way of my girlfriend who’s a first-generation attorney as well. And so, she said, “You know, you got to ask the panel, like, you know, why did they pick the particular area of law that they got into? And then what advice would they give to someone else who’s a first-gen to break into their dream section of the law if they want to practice in.” And so, we’re going to start with Saumya this time.
Saumya Kuriakose: I was actually a probation officer for five years while I went to law school.
Laurence Colletti: You have the most interesting background, like, unbelievable. All right, continue. Sorry, sorry.
Saumya Kuriakose: So, I thought district attorney was my route. I’m going to criminal law. I love it. I’m great at it at school. I thought that was it. My path was etched out. And then COVID happened during my last semester of law school and I didn’t know if that was the path I wanted to go into immediately anymore. And everyone kept telling you, “Maybe start with civil and then switch over to criminal. That’s easier. It’s hard to do make the switch the other way around.” So, I was like, “Okay.” And then one of my friends got this gig where she got to travel the world. I was like, “Wow! That’s a really neat gig. I want that gig.” And so, she got me an interview at this firm where we did compliance law and we got to travel the world with that. And then when that project ended, I was like, “Okay. Now, I’m going to go back to criminal law.” But then I was like, “Ugh, maybe not just yet.” I also don’t know how to make that lateral change. And another friend introduced me to my current boss who does civil litigation, and I thought civil litigation was going to be the most boring sector of law where you just read contracts and do boring stuff, unlike criminal stuff. But it’s been nothing but entertaining, of course, and that’s how I ended up in civil litigation.
Laurence Colletti: So, your advice as far as the career trajectories, make lots of friends.
Saumya Kuriakose: Make tons of friends. Rely on people. Don’t be shy. I know law school tells you not to rely on people or like, “This person is going to get cut. That person is going to get cut.” But, no —
Laurence Colletti: What law school did you go to? This sounds awful.
Saumya Kuriakose: But, no, rely on people, share with them, share your troubles, share your journey, share your joy. Just get to know people and trust them. That’s all I have to say.
Laurence Colletti: That’s great advice. All right, we’ll go next to Nadda.
Nadda Rungruangphol: So, like I said, I worked in some HR jobs before law school, and so then I really thought I was going to be like a labor law lawyer, Plymouth lawyer and I was going to be working in-house, so it’s going to be nice. And to be honest, like when I graduated, I ended up getting a securities job, so I worked at the state securities board, state agency. And to be honest, I didn’t even know what a security was. I was like, “Oh, security, like my house is secured. It’s locked.” But I’m like, “Oh, that’s not what that is.” And so, it was a huge learning curve, and I love it now because I get to learn about an entire body of law and Industry that I had no idea even existed. And so, I think I would just give advice to any law student or anybody looking for a new job or anybody like entering law school to just try everything out, like give everything a chance, don’t think that you already have your mind made up because it might surprise you. And honestly, I’m meeting a whole lot of people along the way, and to be honest, like I’m still a baby lawyer, so I still got many years to go. So, I always shift as time may allow. So, I would just say to try everything out and see what you like and also don’t like.
Laurence Colletti: All right. Same question, Alysia.
Alysia Huskey: So, kind of like Nadda was saying, I did not try everything out. I was the opposite of what her advice was. I knew what I wanted to do and I wanted to be a criminal defense lawyer, and I was convinced nothing else was interesting, not even the other side, and so, I did law school with that in mind. And I joined one of my professors, Cheryl Whatley on one of her cases as a criminal defense attorney and worked the case and was in love with it, and she kept saying, “You’re a prosecutor not a defense attorney.” And that was upsetting to me. And when I got out of law school, I found a job as a criminal defense attorney, did that for a little bit and realized there were some particular cases that I had that I just couldn’t do, and it threw me for a loop. I had no idea what I was going to do after that. I decided I had to leave the firm. I couldn’t do that kind of work. But I didn’t know what I was going to do, so I interviewed at a DA’s office, the opposite of what I ever intended to do, and I ended up loving it. And so, currently, I’m an assistant district attorney in Kaufman County and I have a lot of different types of cases, but it is the opposite of what I thought I would do and I enjoy it very much. And so, what I would tell as advice though to younger attorneys just starting out, definitely try everything out but especially just take one step at a time.
It was really hard for me to find a job when I graduated and it took a long time, and so, everything that you have in front of you, even if it’s a project that you don’t particularly have any interest in, 110%, every time, someone will notice, that person will put you in contact with another person who will notice your hard work and it’ll get you where you want to be.
Laurence Colletti: That’s really, really great advice. So, we just have a minute or so left, but, you know, I definitely want to tap into what you’ve all learn outside of the law. And so, being new is not easy. You know, breaking into a new industry without any familiar mile markers, not an easy to chart, not new territory. So, with that in mind, somebody that’s going into — wants to go to law, doesn’t have any exposure to it, what great piece of advice would you give them to make their journey a little bit easier now that you’ve been down the path, and we’re to close out this time, we’re going to go right back to Alysia.
Alysia Huskey: So, I’d say one day at a time, one problem at a time. It’s very easy to be overwhelmed because you don’t know and you may not have the direction that you’re looking for from someone. But take it one step at a time, work 110% and talk to the people around you, someone will notice and you’ll get there.
Laurence Colletti: All right. Saumya.
Saumya Kuriakose: I would say pay attention to where you’re going, so you don’t want to jump to the first highest offer with a big firm with the highest offer, yada, yada, yada. You know, pay attention to the culture you’re going into because a toxic work culture can really make you sour in the practice. So, make sure you’re paying attention that people that are going to be working with you or leading you that they’re going to help you grow and help you learn and guide you. You need that guidance as a first-generation lawyer. You need that guidance as a new attorney. So, make sure you’re picking the people you work with diligently.
Laurence Colletti: All right, now to bring us home.
Nadda Rungruangphol: And I think my piece of advice is definitely easier said than done and I still struggle with it myself, but I would say to be confident and if you’re not feeling confident, to just act confident. And I think that with that, like it’s going to eventually turn into actual confidence and with the more experience you get, it’s just going to come naturally. And so, I would just always keep that in the back of your head, or top of mind to be confident.
Laurence Colletti: All right. Well, thank you all so much for joining us. I really appreciate you stopping by and sharing your experiences.
Saumya Kuriakose: Thank you, Laurence.
Laurence Colletti: And thank you to our listeners for tuning in. And if you like what you heard today and found it at all helpful, you know, please just do us a solid, rate us positively in the podcasting apps or in Apple podcast, Google podcast Spotify, Amazon Music or better yet, the podcasting app that you prefer. So, until next time, I’m Laurence Colletti, stepping in for Rocky Dhir. This has been the State Bar of Texas Podcast, have a wonderful day.
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