By Julia Albertson
Dartmouth College and Harvard Law School alumna Suma V. Nair was named to the “Top Women of Law 2021” by Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly. Nair earned her place on the list after submitting an essay and displaying exceptional work with the Boston Bar Association, American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, and Goulston & Storrs Law Firm.
Nair left her hometown of Monroe, Wisconsin, to attend Dartmouth College where she studied international relations in the Department of Government, graduating magna cum laude in 2000. Remembering the distinctive Phi Beta Kappa cords she wore at graduation, she stated how much it meant to achieve the honor. During undergraduate school, Nair studied human rights and social justice issues, writing her senior thesis on economic, social, and cultural rights for women in India. Nair’s budding interest in law stemmed from her desire to have tangible approaches to the issues she was researching. “It seemed to me like the needle was only moving due to suits that were being brought either to the international arena or in local courts,” she said. “It seemed to be the place to go if you wanted to have a direct impact.” After graduation, she tested the waters as an international trade and finance paralegal at the Covington & Burling Law Firm in Washington, D.C., working on international law issues and traveling to the Hague for an East African boundary dispute case. “It scratched the itch of the international piece for me,” Nair said. She confirmed her passion for law and was accepted to Harvard Law School.
Her first year studying human rights law, Nair took a class about international law and trade disputes but was turned off by the loose structure and lack of guiding documents, she explained. When choosing other electives, she remembered a comment that a lawyer at Covington & Burling had made, suggesting tax law as a path. She decided on an introduction to taxation course. She recalled thinking to herself, “I’m going to do this right away because I want to know if tax speaks to me in a different way.” Al Warren, a tax law professor at Harvard, taught pivotal classes for Nair, addressing tax as public policy structures, incentivizing human behavior through Congressional codes. “It was hitting all the right notes for me,” she said. “As much as I do enjoy being creative and finding new ways to solve problems, I need some kind of framework.” Excited by the way codes, regulations, and interpretations coalesced in tax law, Nair began taking on tax projects, eventually working as a private client and trust associate at Goulston & Storrs Law Firm in Boston, Massachusetts.
Practicing tax law with a human rights background appears unconventional, but Nair credits her success to her experience with social justice. At Goulston & Storrs, Nair worked with high-net-worth individuals and families to create wealth management and estate plans to help them navigate wealth transfers and the tax work involved. When discussing wealth, personal conversations about clients’ lives and families arise that require personable solutions. “When you ask someone what it is they want to accomplish today, they talk about their family. They talk about their hopes and fears about living and dying,” she said. “They liked working with me because I tried to approach them as humans who have deep-seated desires, who have fears and anxieties, and I tried to understand those.”
Nair recently accepted a role as the chief fiduciary officer at the Fiduciary Trust Company in Boston, after nearly two decades of private client work. The same values she holds with her human rights work will remain intact at her new position. “When they approached me with an opportunity, I listened. I wouldn’t have done that if it was anyone else,” Nair said. “It was an opportunity to do it from a different role, but knowing that I wasn’t sacrificing any of the things that mattered to me.” Social justice remains a core component of her work. Nair is the secretary of the Boston Bar Association. She also serves on the Social Justice and Advocacy Board for the ACLU of Massachusetts as well as with the women-based shelter and advocacy organization On the Rise. Occupied by leadership positions and pro-bono work, she has not pursued much work with Phi Beta Kappa, yet. “It is the time for me to think about other ways that I could be involved more with the Society,” she said.
Julia Albertson is a senior at Temple University pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in environmental studies with a journalism studies minor. She was inducted by Temple University’s Rho of Pennsylvania chapter in May 2021.