Suma Nair is an Associate in the Private Client and Trust group at Goulston & Storrs. She provides sophisticated estate and tax planning advice for high net worth individuals, counsels clients regarding charitable giving, and advises generally on family and tax matters involving business and wealth succession. Additionally, Suma represents professional and family fiduciaries in connection with estate and trust administration. She has held a number of positions within the BBA’s Trusts & Estates Section, including Public Service Committee Co-Chair from 2006-2009, Public Policy Committee Co-Chair from 2009-2011, and Section Co-Chair from 2012-present. In the community, Suma is a Board member at On The Rise, on the Corporate Engagement Advisory Board of Birthday Wishes, and a mentor with the Boston Lawyers Group.
1. What initially drew you to tax law and estate planning?
I really fell for the way tax law intersects public policy and human behavior. Tax law creates so many incentives and disincentives for certain behaviors, and so it drives how individuals and entities act and do business. I enjoy puzzles – knowing what the end product should generally look like, but having to fit the pieces together to get there. Tax law isn’t that different. You know your client’s objective, and you need to fit together pieces of the Code to achieve the most tax-efficient result. It’s not always a linear thought process, but that makes it all the more complex and fun.
So at an intellectual level I’m interested in and challenged by tax law issues, but the compelling part of my practice is the human element. Most of the conversations I have with clients are not about taxes, but about family dynamics, leaving a family legacy, and involving and empowering the next generation. As an estate planning attorney, you get to build relationships with clients on a personal level that are very different from the relationships that a corporate lawyer or litigator might have with the same client; you get to be a part of your clients’ personal lives as well.
That’s why I think having a mentor in an estate planning practice is crucial. Senior lawyers in my practice brought me to client meetings and made sure I was responsible for some part of the presentation so that I could start to build the client’s confidence in me, both in my technical skills and in my judgment and counsel. Mentors also asked me to join them for meetings with investment advisors, accountants, insurance consultants and others to help me build my network and become familiar with the non-legal aspects of my practice. These experiences helped me build the skills, relationships and confidence I needed to develop my practice.
2. What has kept you passionate about your work? What would say to younger lawyers – or any lawyers – struggling to find their passion?
What I do for a living appeals to me on both an intellectual and personal level. However, not all lawyers have found this passion. But passion can develop over time as you become more knowledgeable about and experienced in a particular area of law. When you’re a young lawyer, you’re working so hard to just understand the law, but as you become more experienced, you will have opportunities to apply that understanding and directly counsel clients. Clients will not just seek your technical expertise, but your judgment and guidance. Client interaction at that level can be very compelling, but you need to build the foundation to progress to that kind of practice.
If you’re struggling to find that passion in private practice, consider getting involved with your firm’s pro bono projects, joining a nonprofit board, helping write amicus briefs for issues you care about, and joining the BBA. Bring your legal skills to bear on a wide variety of community and social justice projects.
3. You serve as a board member for On The Rise. Can you give some background about the organization and why you got involved? What has this experience taught you about leadership in general?
By my fifth year of practice, I was ready to get involved with community projects outside of law. I asked several people at my firm about their experiences with organizations working in social justice and women’s rights and met with a number of organizations to find the right fit. I wanted to be on a hands-on board and to invest in Cambridge, where I live. Everything came together with On The Rise, a day program for homeless women, most of whom struggle with a number of other issues, such as substance abuse, childhood trauma, mental illness, domestic and other violence and trust issues, which are often the root causes of the cycle of homelessness. We take a holistic view, recognizing that the “cure” isn’t just about getting housing, and we follow the women even after they are housed.
My experiences at On The Rise and the BBA have taught me that success in leadership comes from motivating others to action. Good leaders identify passionate people who want to give 110% to the cause, and then they support and encourage those people so that they’re not taking on a task they have to do, but one they want to do. At its core, On The Rise motivates women who have slipped through the cracks of society to recognize their own self worth and break the cycle of homelessness. As board members, we try to communicate to the advocates and management staff that their work is valuable to society and that they are truly appreciated.
4. You have held a number of roles in the BBA’s Trusts & Estates Section; what has been your favorite part, and for what reasons? Why has it been important for you to stay involved?
I have continued to be an active member of the BBA for the opportunity it gives lawyers to participate in the development of jurisprudence and public policy in a way that isn’t often available in daily practice. I have really enjoyed getting to be a part of the sweeping public policy initiatives that the Section has supported over the years. Massachusetts has been a national leader on a number of social and legal issues, and I’d like to see that continue. For example, I remember when the Bird case came up, the best and brightest minds in our section put together an amicus brief asking the SJC to address the consequences for fiduciaries who acted in reliance of a statute that was later found to be unconstitutional. The Court directly addressed the Section’s concerns in its opinion by providing reassurance and protection for fiduciaries who acted in good faith.