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Texas Exes Asian Alumni Network » Alumni Spotlight » February Alumni Spotlight: Mani Walia

February Alumni Spotlight: Mani Walia

Mani is an attorney practicing commercial litigation and appellate law in the Houston office of Baker Botts, L.L.P.  He graduated with honors from UT in 2003 with degrees in Finance and Business Honors, as part of the Business Honors Program.  In 2006, Mani earned his JD with honors from the University of Texas School of Law, where he served as an editor of three law journals, including the Texas Law Review.  He also served for one year as the Law School’s Representative to student government.  After graduating from law school, Mani served as a law clerk to the Honorable Hayden Head of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas and then to the Honorable Jane R. Roth of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.  He also taught as an adjunct professor at Widener University School of Law while clerking for Judge Roth.

Mani’s recent scholarship includes an article written with Judge Roth that is forthcoming publication in a leading appellate law journal—The Journal of Appellate Practice and Procedure—and an article written with Judge Amul R. Thapar published this month in the St. John’s Law Review that has already been cited by a federal court in a judicial opinion.

Mani’s involvement with the Asian American community is extensive.  He is the president of the South Asian Bar Association in Houston, a professional organization dedicated to serving the South Asian legal community, and is a co-chair for the North American South Asian Bar Association’s 2011 National Convention.

In addition to being a Longhorn football fan (of course), Mani and his two brothers are avid Denver Broncos fans and claim that they have not missed a game (collectively) in about 15 years.

1. What is your favorite memory, tradition, or thing about UT?

Playing pickup basketball at Gregory Gym.  I think that I might have played just about every day or other day during my seven years at UT.  During my Freshman year, I had to maintain a 3.5 GPA to stay in the Business Honors Program, and my Dad was so (rightly) worried that I might not make it because I was overplaying, he and my two younger brothers (politely working on his behalf) would call and remind me to leave the gym and do homework.

Not only did I enjoy simply playing ball at Gregory, but I also made many great, lifelong friends along the way.  In fact, I met my two closest friends there during the first week of Freshman year.

2. How did you get involved with the North American South Asian Bar Association?

Since becoming a lawyer, I thought that it would be helpful to meet, network with, and learn from other South Asian lawyers.  So when I heard about the North American South Asian Bar Association (NASABA)—a national organization focused on professional growth with numerous well-credentialed South Asian lawyers—I immediately signed up.

Luckily, soon after, NASABA’s president moved to Houston and helped reenergize our local chapter, the South Asian Bar Association of Houston (SABA).  She was nice enough to allow some relatively new, but enthusiastic SABA members, including me, to form SABA’s Board, where I am currently serving as President.  Because of that fun opportunity, which taught me important organizational skills, I became a Co-Chair for NASABA’s 2011 Convention.  It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s great to be part of an organization that is so important and valuable to the South Asian community and that has provided me with both, friends and the opportunity for further professional development.

3. What have you learned from UT outside of the classroom?

Two important things—teamwork and initiative.  First, from group projects in the Business Honors Program to editing law-journal publications, and not to mention all the basketball at Gregory Gym, I learned valuable lessons about teamwork.  To me, teamwork is about finding common ground and purpose with people whom you might not otherwise be friends to achieve a goal.  Second, because UT is so big, I learned that to discover opportunities in organizations, scholarships, and preparing for graduate school, I would have to be a self-starter.  Taking initiative is just as critical to success in the working world.

4. UT’s motto is, “What Starts Here Changes The World.” What would you like to see change at UT?

Nothing.  UT is the best of all worlds: students are fortunate to have world-class educational programs, amazing professors, high national rankings, great sports facilities and teams, 6th Street, and a ton of organizations that foster any interest, from politics to music.  Just my two cents: Anyone who gets to spend his or her college years at UT is a lucky person who should take advantage of all the school has to offer.

5. What is your vision for the Asian American community at UT, in Texas, and beyond?

My hope is for Asian American community to continue to support diversity among the careers represented in our community.  It would be beneficial for the professional networks that we have already created (like the Texas Exes Asian Alumni Network) continue to grow, so more students and young professionals can readily learn about a wide-array of careers.

6. What has been your biggest struggle in your career?

Luckily, I haven’t yet encountered a big struggle in my career.   From picking where to practice law to which mentoring relationships to establish, I have been very fortunate so far to have made decisions without needing to overcome any obstacles.  Of course, my support group of family, friends, and professional mentors has played an invaluable role in guiding my career.  In particular, I owe tremendous appreciation to Judge Roth, for whom I clerked, and Judge Thapar for graciously offering career advice and always steering me in the right direction.  Both have become unofficial mentors to me, and I keep searching for ways to thank them enough.  I definitely know that I’ll face struggles down the line, and I hope that I’ll be prepared to overcome them with research and organized decisionmaking.

7. Who has been an important role model to you?

My Dad.  Even though it’s become trite to say, he embodies the American Dream.  After growing up in India, my Dad moved to London, England to earn his masters in chemical engineering.  (He also met and married my Mom there.)  They then emigrated to the United States in the 1970s.  My Dad is part of that great group of first-generation Asian Americans— including most of his friends and my father-in-law—who came from modest backgrounds and worked so hard to earn success.  And to them “success” included raising their children in this country.  That is true selflessness.  A good reminder of how easy most second-generation Asian Americans (including my wife, siblings, and me) have it when compared to their parents is this: most of our parents arrived in this country with no house, no car, and only a tiny sum of money in their pockets.  By contrast, we have enjoyed the reward of their hard work and started our lives with more.  I owe my Dad my deepest gratitude.  His focus on education, merit, success, and working hard are American values.  And I hope to pass those along one day to my children.

8. What advice would you give to incoming freshmen or current students at UT?

Academic journeys are so long, especially for those who get graduate degrees.  So even though I may not have standing to offer advice, I pass along my Mom’s: Do everything in moderation and become well rounded.  Work really hard, but don’t burn out.  Make friends, have fun, and party, but don’t go crazy.  Enjoy travel and cultivate hobbies.  Because if you focus exclusively on studying, you won’t have many friends.  And of course play basketball, but don’t get close to being thrown out of your academic program.  (The last piece of advice is my own.)

Written by Alison Kwong

Filed under: Alumni Spotlight

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