Master Mentor

Atleen Kaur means business when it comes to helping Michigan's South Asian community

Published in 2008 Michigan Super Lawyers — September 2008

Credit Atleen Kaur's parents with setting the stage for her success, not only in the legal arena, but also in her passion for community service.

"There was nothing I wanted to try that my parents did not encourage me to try," says Kaur, an intellectual property and antitrust attorney with Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone in Ann Arbor. "Even if I did not do well in school, I was not scolded or reprimanded. My parents would say, ‘You can do better. And you will.'" That confidence has encouraged Kaur to be open to opportunity. She attended college for a year in her native India before moving to the U.S. to attend Columbia Law School.

Her future husband's residency in psychiatry prompted a move to the Midwest. "I always say love brought me here," she says. Her husband, Ravi Kirbat, now has his own practice. Kaur saw a need to create a network among legal professionals of the South Asian community. Two years ago, she helped organize the South Asian Bar Association's Michigan chapter, a business and professional networking group for lawyers. The group also mentors South Asian law students, provides a professional-referral service to the community, encourages greater involvement in civic affairs and holds social events with other organizations that are open to everyone.

"We were surprised by the interest and the number of people" who participate, she says. "It's growing, and people are excited to be here." That role also plays to one of her fascinations, the balance in this country between protecting intellectual property and protecting consumers against monopolies that may lower the quality of goods and raise prices. It's the fine balance that makes for interesting jurisprudence for Kaur.

All countries, including India, she says, struggle to achieve that balance. India is setting up its own commission along the lines of the Federal Trade Commission and has drafted antitrust laws. Kaur, who speaks Hindi and Punjabi in addition to English, has shared her expertise in India, as well as among the fledging entrepreneurs in the South Asian community here.

"They're all here for the ultimate American opportunity. We provide resources as best we can for them. At all levels of business, there are IP concerns. The more sophisticated the business, the greater the IP stakes," she says. One of the organization's long-term goals is to offer free legal seminars on small-business and immigrant issues.

Kaur quickly made herself useful in Ann Arbor. She serves on the boards of the City of Ann Arbor Employees' Retirement System and the Ecumenical Center and International Residence. She's very active at Miller Canfield, serving on its hiring committee and working to bring more diverse clients to the firm. She is also involved in her firm's antitrust section and the American Bar Association's antitrust and intellectual property section.

Kaur says she grew up watching her parents give back to their community. Her mother was involved in a program that helped and encouraged women to save money; her father helped launch a chapter of the National Alliance of Young Entrepreneurs.

"I feel fortunate to have the opportunities I have had, and I do not want to let them go," she says. "My parents' work ethic rubbed off on me."

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