Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 28

MEMBER SPOTLIGHT

FATEMA MERCHANT
BREAKING BARRIERS FOR
MUSLIM WOMEN IN THE LAW
Interview by John Murph

I

n mid-March, Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton
LLP announced that Fatema Merchant, an acclaimed
international trade and white-collar crime attorney,
had made partner. It was a serendipitous broadcast,
considering that March is Women's History Month.
Merchant earned her rightful place in history by
becoming the first hijab-wearing woman to make
partner at a Washington, D.C., Am Law 100 firm.

"I do think for Washington, D.C., I've made history. [But] there is a lawyer at Littler
Mendelson P.C. in Dallas, Syeeda S. Amin, who wears a hijab and made partner
this year," Merchant says. "When I updated my profile on LinkedIn and reached
out to colleagues to share the news, I got so many messages from young
women lawyers and South Asian lawyers all saying that it was an inspiration.
So, that was very heartening. If am I the first [in the District], hopefully I'm not
the last."
Merchant spoke with the D.C. Bar about her historic professional milestone
as well as why it's important to challenge long-held notions regarding Muslim
women. A Texas native and avid champion of diversity and inclusion in the
legal workplace, she discussed not only some of the challenges she has faced,
but also how inviting tough conversations helped open doors for her in the
legal field.
Take us back to your childhood and how the spark to become a lawyer
ignited inside of you.
I was born and raised in Irving, Texas, which is right outside of Dallas. My parents
immigrated to the United States in the early '70s. My dad actually [earned] an
LLB [in] Karachi, Pakistan, but he never practiced law. I think that I was always
drawn to the law from a young age. When I was in the third grade, I was part
of a mock trial in which I was the plaintiff's lawyer in a case about a little girl
who wanted to play soccer but there was no girls' soccer team at the time at
her school, so she was bringing a lawsuit to play on the boys' soccer team. I still
remember that vividly.
I studied Arabic and Islamic studies in college. I entered law school with an
interest in international women's rights and international law. For me, as an
international trade and white-collar crime lawyer who focuses on laws that
impact international business, my practice is really at the intersection of law,
foreign policy, and business; I find all of those issues very interesting, challenging, and complex. My practice focuses on anti-corruption, export and
import laws, economic sanctions, anti-money laundering, and foreign investment. I'm also involved in pro bono matters. I've spearheaded a lot of pro bono
projects, including the firm's partnership with a women's rights organization to
do an amicus brief on the travel ban case in the Supreme Court.
What were the first reactions when you learned that you had become
partner at Sheppard Mullin?

Courtesy of Sheppard Mullin

So, I have three young kids. I went home the day I was elected partner and
said, "Mommy made partner!" And the kids were like, "Can we have ice cream?"
[Laughs] My family and my friends were all very happy and proud because
it's an accomplishment. It's a big deal for me and my community. My oldest
daughter, who is seven, asked me, "Mommy, why is that important?" And
I thought, "Uh, that's an existential question to answer and explain to a young
child." [Laughs]
28 WASHINGTON LAWYER

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MAY 2019

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https://www.dcbar.org/

Washington Lawyer - May 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Washington Lawyer - May 2019

Digital Extras
Your Voice
From Our President
Practice Management
Calendar Of Events
Cybersecurity Rules & Risks For The International Lawyer
Borders, Refugees & A Global Crisis
Climate Change: Turning To Law In Race Against Time
Member Spotlight
Global & Domestic Outlook
Worth Reading
Media Bytes
Attorney Briefs
Ask The Ethics Experts
Disciplinary Summaries
The Pro Bono Effect
Community & Connections
Special Coverage: Youth Law Fair @ 20
Last Word
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Cover1
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Cover2
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 1
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 2
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 3
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Digital Extras
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Your Voice
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - From Our President
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 7
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Practice Management
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 9
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Calendar Of Events
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 11
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Cybersecurity Rules & Risks For The International Lawyer
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 13
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 14
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 15
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 16
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 17
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Borders, Refugees & A Global Crisis
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 19
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 20
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 21
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Climate Change: Turning To Law In Race Against Time
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 23
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 24
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 25
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 26
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 27
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Member Spotlight
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 29
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Global & Domestic Outlook
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 31
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Worth Reading
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Media Bytes
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Attorney Briefs
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 35
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Ask The Ethics Experts
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 37
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Disciplinary Summaries
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 39
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - The Pro Bono Effect
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 41
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 42
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 43
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Community & Connections
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 45
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Special Coverage: Youth Law Fair @ 20
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 47
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Last Word
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Cover3
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Cover4
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