In his 2L year, Anand Sharma ’97 hit the law student jackpot: He landed a job at one of the world’s largest intellectual property firms: Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, LLP.
For the past 22 years, Sharma has held a series of leadership roles at Finnegan. This past summer, he took on his biggest role yet: Managing Partner. Sharma now oversees the day-to-day work of the firm’s 10 global offices. He is Finnegan’s first managing partner of color, and with his appointment, Finnegan became one of the largest firms to be led by an individual of South Asian descent.
Sharma recently reflected on his new role, his career path, and NYLS.
What is your top priority as Managing Partner?
At Finnegan, our focus is solely IP, and we’ve been fortunate to be at the top of the field. My number one goal is to keep us at the top. We can’t rest on our laurels.
What makes IP law such an exciting field today?
I came to this field directly from NYLS in 1997. At that time, there was some understanding of IP and patents among CEOs. Today, it’s a completely different universe. You talk to the C Suite, general counsels, and CEOs, and they all have knowledge of IP and an appreciation for the importance of their companies’ intangible assets. That’s true in nearly every industry now.
What inspired you to attend law school?
I was a software engineer at NASA while I was in college and for a short period after I graduated. It was fascinating, but it wasn’t quite the right fit, so I started looking at different career options. Law school wasn’t even on my radar until my uncle, who worked for Xerox, suggested that I meet with patent attorneys at the company. Discovering patent law was a revelation. It combined my love of science with the advocacy skills needed to protect and enforce patents.
Why did you choose NYLS?
In hindsight, it’s amazing how quickly my decision to attend NYLS unfolded. I grew up in Maryland and planned to go to law school in D.C. After I took the LSAT, NYLS contacted me about visiting the campus. I had already written a check to a law school in D.C., but I decided it was worth exploring. Simply put, when I visited NYLS, I felt at home. The School also generously provided me with a scholarship. I quickly planned my move to New York City.
How did NYLS prepare you for what you do today?
The coursework certainly prepared me, but it was more than that. Some of the professors I remember best were from fields outside of IP law: Professor Robert Blecker in Criminal Law, former Professor Karen Gross in Contracts, and former Professor Annette Gordon-Reed in Property come to mind. What struck me was their way of thinking about the law and approaching arguments. I learned something different from each one.
Beyond academics, one of the most important qualities of NYLS was the strong sense of collaboration and collegiality among the students. I had heard horror stories about how law school was cutthroat, but NYLS wasn’t that way at all. When I began looking for summer associate roles, I wanted to find a law firm with the same sense of collegiality and collaboration as NYLS. I was lucky to find it at Finnegan.
Can you speak to the impact of NYLS’s Black Law Students Association on your experience?
BLSA was at the center of my law school experience. When I started law school, I felt a bit like a fish out of water. BLSA provided a very welcoming environment. I was born in Guyana, in South America, and my culture is Indo-Caribbean. A number of my BLSA classmates were also Caribbean.
My BLSA family at NYLS made so many good things in my life possible. They were my study partners. We helped each other prepare for job interviews. And one of my BLSA friends set me up on the blind date where I met my wife. Because of that, I try to give back to NYLS BLSA whenever I can, whether it’s talking to students about their job searches or attending the NYLS BLSA annual alumni dinner.
You served as Finnegan’s first Diversity Chair. What perspective on diversity and inclusion do you bring to your new role?
In every role I’ve had at the firm, diversity, inclusiveness, and an interest in new ideas have been at the forefront of my mind. When you come up in a law firm as an attorney of color, you look at who holds leadership positions and ask if you can see yourself in them. To me, that’s a very important reason to serve as Managing Partner, not just for Finnegan but also for the industry. I’m proud that Finnegan supports the full spectrum of diversity in management positions, and I see first-hand how that approach benefits our firm and our work.
What advice do you have for first-year NYLS students?
Regardless of the path you plan to take, focus on doing well in your courses. Take advantage of the opportunities NYLS presents to you. NYLS’s professors and fellow students are very approachable. Finally, try a few courses that are outside your area of interest. You might surprise yourself, and you’ll certainly broaden yourself as an attorney and a person.