Palak Sheth

Lawyers of ACS: November 2019

Co-Chair, ACS Bay Area Lawyer Chapter


If I’m honest, I don’t know if I chose the law or the law chose me.  Growing up in Michigan as an opinionated girl who immigrated with her parents from India, I was told I would be a good lawyer because “I liked to argue.”  I was eight when I first remember being asked in class what I wanted to be when I grow up.  Instead of answering with a profession, I said I wanted to make a difference like Mahatma Gandhi.  And so, at eight years old despite never having met a lawyer in real life, I told myself I would go to law school and commit to civil rights and social justice work because Gandhi was a lawyer and I liked to argue.

I dedicated the first 12 years of my legal career to public interest work.  First at the Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center, a DC non-profit that provides direct legal services to the APA community, and then as the Program Director for the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association. It was there that I developed my passion for diversifying the bench, vetting the most esteemed lawyers in the APA community for Senate confirmed Article III judgeships.  This is also where I first learned about ACS’s work, its mission, and my desire to work with like-minded lawyers on a common goal.

Prior to joining ACS staff, my understanding of the organization was limited to the annual Convention.  I had never been surrounded by so many progressive lawyers with such deep Constitutional law expertise.  I immediately looked for a job with ACS and felt fortunate to join the Department of Network Advancement shortly thereafter.  My three years on staff were pivotal to my career.  Through the ACS network I found my next role as Managing Director of the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office Affirmative Litigation Task Force.

I first learned about the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office in 2013 when I read a feature in the New York Times about their work against California’s Prop 8 banning same-sex marriage.  I remember being struck by not only the number of Supreme Court law clerks that worked for this local government office, but the number of women leading its most impactful work.  The Office is nationally recognized for its innovative consumer protection cases on behalf of the People of the State of California.  In my five years at the Office I worked alongside some of the brightest attorneys I had ever met.  First to develop cutting edge consumer protection cases, then to fight the Trump Administration on issues that impacted San Franciscans, including protecting SF’s sanctuary city laws.  I also managed the partnership with Yale Law School through the highly regarded San Francisco Affirmative Litigation Project (SFALP) clinic and published a guide for more local government law offices to engage in affirmative litigation work.

After a long-standing public interest career, I joined Instagram’s Global Public Policy team earlier this year.  As the legal profession evolves, many of us striving to leverage our education to make a difference need to branch out to discover where we can maximize our impact.  Being a consumer advocate has highlighted my interest in working for a tech company that has global impact.  In my limited time at Instagram I’ve learned so much and continue to believe this was the perfect career pivot.  It has also made my commitment to ACS, both the Bay Area Lawyer chapter and the organization nationally, that much more important.

ACS engages, activates, and charges the progressive legal community to defend the rule of law.  But, to this day, when people ask me about ACS I speak about the strength of its network.  It distinguishes ACS from other progressive legal non-profits and is its richest resource for members.  ACS has pushed me to continue to advocate for a more diverse and progressive bench.  It has given me a platform to bring legal luminaries together to amplify our mission. Lastly, it has allowed me to continue to debate and engage on legal issues that impact our democracy.  I guess those that knew me at eight were right all along.  When it comes to advocating for what’s right, I do like to argue.