Salaam Bhatti, a Queens, NY based lawyer from The Law Office of Jamil, Bhatti & Sikder PC. He received his law degree from Touro Law School and was one of hundreds of lawyers who descended on our nation’s airports in late January to offer pro bono services to immigrants caught up in the surprise of our President’s new immigration ban.
What propelled you to show up at JFK last weekend [January, 2017]?
I never got into law to make money. I wanted to use the law degree as a weapon – to help people. I was raised with Spiderman and Marvel Comics, and I saw a law degree as some sort of superpower. This was actually the first opportunity I had, in a legal way to help people out. Living in Queens, it wasn’t even a question of going there.
What surprised you most at the airport?
I was surprised by the cohesion for attorneys of all ages, with all kinds of different practices, from small firms to big law, all working together. Nobody pulling rank, like you would think someone from Holland and Knight would be trampling on me, having a small practice, but everyone was very respectful of everybody.
And what did you do specifically?
There were plenty of lawyers doing habeas petitions, intake and all that other stuff when I got there. I realized very quickly that we didn’t have a media plan. In my volunteer time, I’m a spokesperson for the leading organization of Islamic content in America. I know how to talk to the media, I know how to contact the media, I know how to speak in statements instead of long, rambling fact patterns. As an attorney, I know what is confidential, what is not, what’s OK to talk about and all that jazz, so I brought the best of both worlds together and constructed a media policy, of what to do, how to do it, what to talk about what not to talk about, where to log everything, what a press release looks like. It got canonized by the team at JFK and there were attorneys from other airports that were asking for it from across the country.
What was your best moment at the airport?
Being taken in as an equal, without having to show off or anything like that. There was just a collegial understanding between attorneys: “I trust you and let’s go with it.” We’re all here for the right reasons. We’re all doing this pro bono and it wasn’t an ego trip or anything like that. It was really just a “faith in humanity restored” moment.
How long have you been a lawyer and why did you decide to become a lawyer?
I was admitted to the bar in 2012. I’m a South Asian kid and in our culture, it’s always like, you’re going to become a doctor or a scientist or an engineer when you grow up. So when I was a kid I thought there were plenty of brown people who were going into those professions, but I didn’t know any brown lawyers, so I went with that.
What is your area of practice?
I just formed a partnership with two other lawyers, so we’re more general now in civil matters. I focus on landlord/tenant and probate, immigration, wills, that kind of thing.
What’s the most valuable thing that a lawyer can do for his clients?
Communications. Updates. Updates every three days is the most important thing. Even if there is no update, let them know that there is no update. Even if you don’t communicate with your client, that’s an update and that’s not a good one.
What do you do to unwind?
I have a chocolate chip cookie review blog. I love chocolate chip cookies. There were no cookie reviews out there. And so I saw a wide open option. And I’m not talking about chocolate chip walnut cookies or oatmeal raisin or sugar or anything like that. I’m talking: Just. Chocolate. Chip. I prefer a crispy edge, so that it holds its shape, but with a chewy center. I never try to eat the same one twice.
If you weren’t a lawyer, what would you be?
I would have gone into acting. I loved watching District Attorney McCoy on Law & Order. I was so enthralled by what he did, I wanted to be just like him, but now I’m thinking, wait, maybe I didn’t want to be a lawyer, maybe I wanted to be an actor the whole time, so we’ll see what happens.
What are you most proud of on your resume?
I wrote a couple of Op-Eds defending Malaysian Catholics. Malaysian Muslims wanted to deny Catholics the right to use “Allah” in their Christian writings. The Malaysian Muslims were saying that Catholics couldn’t use the word “Allah,” essentially saying that Muslims have a copyright on the word “Allah.” I’m a Muslim guy and you’d think that I’d be arguing for the Muslims, but I was arguing for the Catholics because “Allah” is a word that has been used for millennia, way before Islam even came about. Nobody can own God.
LeanLaw believes that lawyers are heroes, critical to the rule of law in a free society. You can find out more about Salaam at SalaamBhatti.com. If you know a heroic lawyer whom we should spotlight, please let us know in the comments below.
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