Up Is Down

Sampada “Sam” Kapoor’s path to Mississippi went through Japan

Published in 2023 Mid-South Super Lawyers magazine

By Nancy Henderson on November 27, 2023

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When she was 12 and already fluent in English, Hindi and Japanese, Sampada “Sam” Kapoor arrived with her family in Jackson, Mississippi, where she struggled with one language barrier: Southern slang. One day, for example, the teacher instructed the class to “put your books up.” Kapoor recalls: “I remember seeing everyone in class putting their books down beneath their cubbies, underneath their chairs. So I was like, ‘Oh, up means down here. Got it.’”

Kapoor laughs. “I feel like I have a Southern accent now,” says the business defense attorney at Forman Watkins & Krutz in Jackson. “But I used to be very, very confused.”

What’s between India and Mississippi? For the Kapoors, it was Tokyo.

Born in India, Kapoor was raised in Japan, where she attended an international school with friends who were Indian, Nigerian, Australian and Korean. “Everyone was mixed and that was sort of my normal,” she says. Her father, who managed an Indian restaurant, wanted she and her brother in private schools so they could learn English.

After turning down job offers in Texas, New York and Washington, D.C., Kapoor’s dad moved the family to Jackson, partly for the business opportunities and partly because he fell in love with the place. Says Kapoor, “He said it was so quiet, I think because he lived in New Delhi—always crowded, always the sound of cars and smoke and people. And then we lived in Tokyo: Everything was concrete. And he was amazed by the greenery, awestruck by it. And he just really liked Mississippi.”

Regional colloquialisms weren’t the only cultural challenges Kapoor faced. “During the ’90s, when you were 12 in Japan, you basically looked like an 8-year-old,” she says. “It was encouraged that you were more childlike. In the U.S., it was kind of the opposite. Girls here were carrying purses and wearing makeup. They had cellphones and boyfriends. And I showed up in pigtails.”

Some classmates also misunderstood her nationality. “A lot of people didn’t even know what India was and they thought I meant I was Native American. I remember being corrected once. They were like, ‘No, you’re Native American.’ And I was like, ‘I’m pretty sure I’m not.’”

Even so, Kapoor made friends quickly. “Kids all have the same things they want to do, the same games that they want to play, doesn’t matter what country they’re from,” she says. “You give a kid a ball or some candy, and we’re good to go.”

Thanks to her proficiency in writing essays, Kapoor landed enough small scholarships to go to the University of Mississippi. Fascinated by the stories of her grandfather, a diplomat with the newly formed Indian government in the 1940s, she considered becoming a foreign service officer. Then she realized she could bring about positive change and help people by practicing law.

By the time she graduated law school and accepted a position at Forman Watkins & Krutz in 2017, her first choice of a practice area—international law—seemed like an unrealistic goal, so she pivoted. “I’m kind of glad I [focused on business law] because I’ve learned so much and I’ve been able to do a lot for people in Mississippi. You can actually have a huge impact as an attorney in Mississippi because there are so few of us.”

For Mitsubishi, for example, she translated case details in Japanese; for a hotel chain, she communicated with a group of Indian clients in Hindi. Since 2022, when flooding caused the Jackson water and sewer treatment plant to fail, leaving residents without tap water, Kapoor has been helping the utility get back on track. “The Jackson water system has been crumbling, and we’re figuring out a solution.” Kapoor was also part of the group who launched the firm’s diversity pipeline program—a bootcamp with “tips and tricks” for pre-law students from historically Black colleges who want to learn what it’s like to be an attorney. “I was a first-generation lawyer,” she says. “I did not know anything when I walked into law school, not one thing. … This was a way of giving back.”

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