Paving the Way
Anna Sankaran is trying to make things easier for other South Asian and women attorneys
Published in 2021 Texas Super Lawyers magazine on September 22, 2021
What does a hard-charging commercial litigator who represents Fortune 500 companies do for fun? This one makes the world a better place. Anna Sankaran has been recognized more than a dozen times for her pro bono leadership. She’s even had an award named after her, by the South Asian Bar Association of Greater Boston.
Sankaran grew up in Los Angeles the child of immigrants from India. She was born in Madras (now Chennai), and watched her mom–one of nine children, including a sister with Down syndrome—provide a valuable service by teaching special education at public school. When Sankaran fell in love with the intellectual rigor of law, rather than the medical career her parents had hoped for, she started looking for ways to give back.
The first issue she tackled? The lack of South Asian women role models in law.
“I was always different,” she says. “There weren’t a lot of South Asians anywhere I went, and when I looked in law a generation above me, there were hardly any.”
When Sankaran went to law school at Boston University, she found there was no South Asian Bar Association chapter in the city. So she helped organize one, an effort rewarded by the creation of the Anna Sankaran Award for Excellence in Leadership.
She joined Greenberg Traurig in Boston, moving in 2010 to its Houston office, then in 2018 to Holland & Knight, where she has continued mentoring young minority attorneys.
“It’s very important as a young lawyer to know things are possible for you, when you’ve never seen a South Asian or a woman be a partner,” she says.
Her ideas have a way of becoming ongoing programs. Case in point: the Networking Through Service initiative for the annual Texas Minority Counsel Program conference, which connects private attorneys with in-house counsel at major corporations.
Previously, the conference offered attendees a choice of golf or a spa day, “which kind of separated the genders, so I wanted to make an inclusive option,” Sankaran says. Her idea? A volunteer option during the annual conference that pairs in-house lawyers and private attorneys and sends them into public schools to speak —”to help build the pipeline and encourage young women and minorities,” she says.
Sankaran also puts in more than 60 hours a year volunteering with Texas Accountants and Lawyers for the Arts. TALA was started in 1979 to help with the legal and accounting needs of artists and art nonprofits.
“For me, it is a great way to stay connected with people who are creative and help them with their legal issues—including setting up corporate entities, reviewing contracts, assisting with intellectual property disputes, and assistance with obtaining COVID government benefits,” she says. “I also end up helping many women- and minority-owned businesses.”
Sankaran also volunteers with Houston Food Bank’s Apple Corps. On her birthday, she invites friends to join her there and help out. This year, she became a team leader at the food bank, helping with mass food giveaways during the pandemic that served more than 4,000 carloads of people in a single day. “At the end, I was thinking, ‘What have I done to my body?’” she says. “But it was rewarding, and I was very excited to be involved.”
Sankaran has added a new niche to her volunteer work: pet therapy. She and her black pug, Seamus Shenanigans O’Sankaran, linked up with Smiles and Fur Friends Houston to lift spirits by visiting groups ranging from nursing home residents to stressed-out med students during finals week. A favorite trip of Sankaran’s is a visit to Children’s Museum Houston for its annual day dedicated to autistic children. The museum sets aside a room for pet therapy.
“It’s very neat to watch how my dog just understands,” she says, “and doesn’t mind being yanked on or poked.”