From AP to IP
The skills Kalpana Srinivasan learned as a reporter help with high-stakes litigation
Published in 2018 Southern California Super Lawyers magazine on January 30, 2018
While her friends and loved ones were popping champagne bottles, Kalpana Srinivasan was on the clock. More accurately, she was watching the clock.
It was late on Dec. 31, 1999, and Srinivasan was in the newsroom in the Washington, D.C., bureau of the Associated Press. As a writer for the venerable news agency, she’d been covering efforts to prepare for the much-hyped Y2K bug in the lead-up to the turn of the century. Now she watched the seconds tick down.
“There was definitely some anxiety about the rollover and how our major telecommunications and satellite systems would respond,” Srinivasan says. “It was an invigorating, though ultimately uneventful—in a good way—night to be in the newsroom.”
During her four-year stint with the AP, she spent plenty of invigorating nights in that newsroom. Working the night shift meant that Srinivasan covered several state dinners at the White House. A standout memory: Oscar-winning actor Robert Duvall performing the tango for Argentine President Carlos Menem and other guests.
Most of her work, though, was on the media and telecommunications beat. She filed stories on everything from the rise of caller ID to independent booksellers’ fears of growing “cybershops.” “I got a lot of opportunity to write about policy issues but also to translate them into how they’d impact real-world experiences for people,” she says.
The pace of the job fit her well. “I enjoy that adrenaline rush,” Srinivasan says. “It’s also very disciplining because you have to figure the key elements and issues out quickly.”
Easier said than done when you’re trying to track the fallout of complex media policy like the Telecommunications Act of 1996—which allowed for media cross-ownership among other deregulation efforts. A deft touch was required to distill the intricacies of, for example, the legal challenges surrounding whether cable companies were required to share wires with competitors in the internet service provider market.
How do you present issues like that in a digestible form for a consumer audience? You focus on something everyone can relate to: dollars and cents. People make sense of governmental decisions, she says, “in terms of the bill they open every month.”
Her work inspired such confidence that Srinivasan ended up fielding “not infrequent” calls from random readers who figured she could talk them through the ins and outs of their cable bills. “I appreciated hearing from people,” she says, “because I’d sometimes get ideas about bigger-picture stories that were driven by what people need and not necessarily just by what the government wants to do.”
The more she dove into the issues, the more she got the itch to be involved in the action. “I thought I might like to explore being an advocate; being in the fray a bit more,” she says.
These days, Srinivasan isn’t writing the headlines—she’s making them. As a partner at Susman Godfrey, Srinivasan has helped secure multimillion-dollar settlements in copyright class-action cases on behalf of music industry clients against entities such as Sirius XM and Spotify.
The skills she honed on the beat are still paying off, too. “The nuts and bolts of how you interface with witnesses and meet people who might be potentially relevant to your case are things that feel very comfortable for me,” she says. “Sometimes you find that having a great rapport with witnesses gives you special insight into ways to approach a case that you might not have had just by focusing on the legal hooks.”
Read All About It!
Stories from Srinivasan’s AP career
Investigators Warn Consumers About Y2K Scams – April 27, 1999
Leave Net Alone, Feds Tell Local Officials – July 28, 1999
Phones Gain New Features: Users Love Caller ID, Fancier Add-ons – August 24, 1999
Digital Technology Expected to Rock the World of Radio – September 4, 1999
This Takes X-Ray Vision Out of the Realm of Science Fiction – June 22, 2000