Pushing the boundaries: Ashwini Habbu

New York-based associate* Ashwini Habbu talks about following her substantive interests and seizing the opportunity to take responsibility for her own career.

I became a lawyer because I like thinking creatively and wanted to work in a discipline that rewards innovation. There’s always a grey area, and I like exploring and pushing the boundaries of that.

I knew that I wanted to work in an advisory capacity, helping clients with the big-picture regulatory and governance issues. In late 2011, the firm established a dedicated group of lawyers to advise on regulations enacted after the global financial crisis. As a second-year associate, I saw an opportunity to get in on the ground floor and build my reputation as a go-to resource across the global network. Taking that chance was the best decision I’ve made so far.

Connecting with clients and internal teams

Being an effective communicator is critical to my practice. It’s one thing to be a good lawyer, but you also have to be able to connect with people in terms that make sense to them.

For that reason, I never shy away from using an idiom. Lawyers can get lost in the weeds of law … while clients are just thinking, “Can I do this?” It’s important to be personable and know how to make your advice relatable. Be curious; read the newspaper, including the business section, and be able to present a 360 view on the issues. My own mantra is to think expansively but work specifically.
Learn how to write well too, and especially know when it’s time to switch that legalese button off – write punchy, write clearly and don’t get overwrought. Assume your audience isn’t going to read past the third line. Come to your conclusion early and then follow with the analysis. The headline is key.

Internally, I think of everyone as a client. Your clients could be first- or second-year associates or the partner assigning you work. Everyone and everything is a deliverable, and we’re all working toward the same goal: executing.

Managing larger expectations

There will come a moment in your career when it’s time to take more responsibility. When you’ve successfully established your reputation and people start calling you, it’s time to get out of your comfort zone and consider your available resources.

In certain cases, you will need guidance – that’s okay. No one expects you to know everything (and no one does!), but it’s important to be resourceful and complete at each stage. Be willing and able to run the ball down the field as far as you possibly can before you pass it off. The most successful among us are those who take ownership while also knowing when to exercise discretion. It’s easier said than done, but it’s an important step to take early in your career.

*Since publication, Ashwini has been promoted to counsel.