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Law Firm DEI through the lens of Belonging

Tessa Jacob and I caught up over coffee at Banksia.  Tessa is a law firm partner and a nationally prominent expert on eDiscovery law.  She’s a Gen Xer, of Indian/South Asian heritage. Tessa and her husband have raised two daughters, one headed to medical school and the other in college.  And though this may trigger her innate modesty, Tessa is inspiring.   

Tessa was born in Kerala, on India’s southwestern coast.  When Tessa was five, her mother moved with Tessa and her three siblings to the United States to join Tessa’s physician father, who had previously emigrated here to establish a surgical practice.  After a brief stint on the East Coast, Tessa’s family moved to Eldorado, Kansas.  Tessa recalls an isolated, family-centered childhood there.  While her family was Catholic (Kerala is one of India’s most religiously diverse states, with a mix of Hindus, Muslims, and Christians), there weren’t many people of color in overwhelmingly White Eldorado in the 1980s – certainly no one from India, much less fluent in Malayalam.   

After returning to Kerala for her first year of college, Tessa came back to the U.S., received her undergraduate degree from the University of Kansas and her law degree from Washburn University, clerked at the Kansas Court of Appeals, and was then hired as a litigation associate at Blackwell Sanders (now Husch Blackwell).

Tessa realized early on that professional success means different things to different people, and that she would need to define for herself what success was, and how to get there.  To Tessa, success meant to become expert in an area of law practice, mastering the details so that she would become a sought-after resource within the Firm and to clients.   And so, when an opportunity presented itself in the mid-2000s to figure out how to practice litigation eDiscovery (at the birth of this discipline, when no one really knew what was going on in the collision of new rules and technology), she jumped at the chance.

Fast forward to now: Tessa is Managing Director of the Firm’s eDiscovery Solutions team, and she frequently represents clients as lead eDiscovery lawyer in class action lawsuits and SEC and DOJ investigations.  She also serves on the Steering Committee of The Sedona Conference Working Group 1, Electronic Document Retention and Production (if you’re not familiar, that’s a very big deal).  I’ll add that lots of folks talk a good game on eDiscovery, but after decades of determined work in the trenches developing mastery, Tessa knows how to actually get eDiscovery done, and done right.

But that’s not all that is inspiring about Tessa.

Practicing Belonging:

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