The Real Power
Nisha Mungroo isn’t here for the paycheck
Published in 2021 Connecticut Super Lawyers magazine
By Amy White on October 12, 2021
Nisha Mungroo thought she had it all figured out—she was going to be a corporate lawyer, make six figures and wield real power.
As a first-generation West Indian American with Trinidadian roots on her mother’s side and Guyanese roots on her father’s side, and as the granddaughter of rural farmers, Mungroo felt she owed it to her family to dazzle.
“My father was one of 15, I was the first of my nuclear family to go to college,” she says. “To my parents, having educated children with careers is the American dream. When everyone heard I was going to law school, it was my parents’ and grandparents’ wildest dream. I associated being an attorney with making a big income and having the power to make a big financial impact on my life and the lives of others. But that wasn’t my story.”
A traumatic family event rocked Mungroo’s world while she was in undergrad, and the aftershocks followed her to law school. A few years later, she’d face another trauma, the loss of her sister.
“We don’t talk about mental health in our culture,” she says. “You suit up, you show up, you keep moving. So I did. But I was dealing with so much that my studies weren’t the focus. I didn’t get into the top-tier law school I wanted. I failed the bar twice. I am not ashamed of any of this. My spirituality is about standing in your truth, and this is mine.”
She soon found another truth. “I didn’t fit into all the legal clubs the way I thought I would,” Mungroo says. “I’m not white, I’m not American, I’m not male.”
Looking to find her footing, she tried her hand at a solo practice and as a contractor with personal injury lawyers, but neither took. So one day she walked downtown Hartford, firm to firm, with her résumé.
“Law Office of Deron Freeman was the only firm that called,” she says. Similarly, in 2015, she knocked on Freed Marcroft’s door, handed over her business card, and they offered her a position in family law.
“The firm was incredible,” Mungroo says. “I was making a good living. But divorce wasn’t where I belonged. I didn’t feel proud—I’m taking a kid’s future college money and billing it through the parents’ divorce? Pushing heartbroken people for a paycheck? I’m a person who needs to connect, and you can’t connect when you’re practicing law as a business. There is a boundary that comes with money.”
So she removed the boundary.
“It wasn’t until I arrived at the Victim Rights Center of Connecticut that I found a true legal home,” Mungroo says. “I make a low salary, but it’s OK. The traditional legal world is so surface level when you can’t go beyond business. The real power, I’ve finally found, is when we allow ourselves to be humans doing the work.”
At the center, under senior attorney Maura Crossin, Mungroo thrives. “Maura allows us to be who we need to be so we can bring our full selves to work,” she says. “We deal with some truly horrific cases. If it is so much that we need the mental space of an afternoon off, Maura gets that and lets us make up that time later. The result is I’ve never been able to fully give myself to my clients in this way before.”
The nonprofit, which is operated by six women, works collaboratively across a heavy client load made up primarily of victims of sexual assault and child abuse.
“The most fulfilling part of this is being able to walk with someone through an experience where they feel utterly alone,” Mungroo says. “There is no price tag on that, the human experience of connection and truly being of service. Without us existing, many of our victims would have never been able to feel heard, much less feel safe.”
But first victims have to get to the center, which is often difficult.
“For a society that purports to protect victims, it really doesn’t,” Mungroo says. “Victims are made to feel alone. The Office of Victim Services, God bless them, they were created with the right intention. But when you overwork people, there is only so much they can do. Our victims are referred to us, and by the time they get here, they’ve gone through hell. Dialed 211 a million times, referred out by a million different organizations, have been victim-blamed over and over again. So you can imagine how fulfilling the job is when we can allow these people to feel like people again.”
The center impacts Mungroo on a personal level, too, as it’s been an avenue for her to understand how to work through her own trauma—she credits Crossin for encouraging her to take time from her workday to go to therapy.
“Right now, as I sit here, I feel fulfilled in every way,” she says. “I don’t ever feel like I’m overwhelmed by my work or my environment. Even when a case comes in that is so crazy and we don’t know how we’re going to handle it—some of these child sex-abuse cases are just the worst things you can ever read—my coworkers all step in.”
Her self-care is still a work in progress, she notes, but her daily meditation run of 3 to 5 miles helps in that department. As does perspective.
“Sometimes in court, I’ll see these high-powered attorneys in their finest clothing, having climbed out of their fancy cars, and I’ll catch myself wondering, ‘Do I want that?’’’ Mungroo admits. “Then I just sit and smile and look around and realize, I am here with this client, in this moment, who is crying because for the first time in her whole life, she feels safe because of us. That, to me, is what a six-figure salary feels like.”
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