The Business Side Of Law: Zakiya J. Norton and Somita Basu Of Norton Basu On 5 Things You Need To Create Or Lead A Successful Law Firm

An Interview With Eric Pines

Eric L. Pines
Authority Magazine
Published in
9 min readJun 12, 2022


Get involved with community leaders: Give back because it feels good and to enhance the firm profile.

Law school primarily prepares lawyers for the practice of law. But leading or starting a law firm requires so much more than that. It requires the entrepreneurial skills that any CEO would need to run a business; How to manage personnel, how to hire and fire, how to generate leads, how to advertise, how to manage finances, etc. On the business side of law, what does an attorney need to know to create a successful and thriving law practice? To address these questions, we are talking to successful law firm principals who can share stories and insights from their experience about the “5 Things You Need To Create Or Lead A Successful Law Firm”.

As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Zakiya J. Norton and Somita Basu.

Zakiya has a strong strategic mindset for litigation matters and a keen eye for the intricacies and potential pitfalls of estate planning. She understands that just because something is possible, that doesn’t always mean it’s practical. She leans on her extensive legal experience when advising her clients without ever losing her signature sense of compassion, kindness, and sense of humor.

Somita’s life and background are truly representative of America’s diversity and mobility. She brings a unique cultural perspective to the firm. Having lived and worked abroad and as an immigrant herself, Somita has a deep appreciation for how cultural perspectives can impact decision making for her clients and understands the complexities of handling overseas assets.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series!I’m a huge fan of mentorship throughout one’s career. None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Who has been your biggest mentor? What was the most valuable lesson you learned from them?

The Honorable LaDoris Cordell, Retired, author of Her Honor: My Life on the Bench…What Works, What’s Broken, and How to Change It, has been an incomparable mentor. By sharing her experience as the first female African American judge in Northern California and first female African American Superior Court judge in Santa Clara County, California, she demonstrated the value of staying the course, valuing ourselves, and continuing to persevere. We draw on the inspiration of her strength and fortitude to stave off doubts, fears, and distractions.

From completing your degree to opening a practice and becoming a business owner, your path was most likely challenging. Can you share a story about one of your greatest struggles? Can you share what you did to overcome it?

At the outset, our overwhelming challenge was lack of funding. Because we were unable to secure start-up capital, we risked our personal savings to invest in ourselves and in this partnership. That was a giant leap of faith, considering that we met while volunteering for a local legal non-profit (which provides low-cost or no-cost services to the public) and opened the doors to Norton Basu, LLP, only three months later. The good news is that we enjoyed early success and gained access to capital, which fueled our expansion. The solidity of our partnership was also key, as we trusted the sound business and legal expertise of one another, which allowed us to clasp hands and jump in with both feet (and both bank accounts!).

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story about how that was relevant in your own life?

“Cream rises to the top.” By doing the right things, for the right reasons, and in the right way, prosperity will come. For us, it may have taken a little longer because we maintained the courage to stick to our guns and declined cases we didn’t believe in. This, coupled with focused determination to become extremely proficient in estate planning and probate law, continues to bring us the right clientele.

This is not easy work. What is your primary motivation and drive behind the work that you do?

Practicing law while helming a firm with three locations may not be easy but the rewards are great. One of the things we gleaned early on is that lawyers are notoriously difficult to reach. Clients feel left out to sea when their attorney does not proactively communicate, nor return calls. We broke the mold by making client service a top priority, which boosted our reputation in the Silicon Valley and Los Angeles areas, thereby rewarding us with clients who rave about us. This increases the scope of our reach and allows us to enjoy serving clients who wish to engage an attorney who is thorough and attentive.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Due to client demand, we are contemplating an expansion of our practice to include complementary areas of law. It has always been our vision to scale Norton Basu to greater heights, and we now see the clear path and prudent direction which will make that dream a reality.

In addition, by the power of old-fashioned networking via modern technology, we are increasing our Southern California following while steadfastly retaining our presence in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Fantastic. Let’s now shift to discussing the business of law. Can you tell us a bit about the nature of your practice and what you focus on?

We are passionate about estate planning law, including Wills and Trusts, Trust Administration at Death, and Probate, as well as Trust and Estate Litigation.

You are a successful attorney. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? What unique qualities do you have that others may not? Can you please share a story or example for each?

The three character traits we posses which were most instrumental to our success are:

Practicing conscientiously: From day one, we set ourselves apart by crafting our law firm to be client-centric, delivering an exceptional and memorable client experience. While knowledge and competence are certainly vital in the legal industry, few law firms practice in a way that is intuitive and edifying for the client. We aim to practice differently.

Taking risks: Our forward-looking approach, coupled with business savvy gained in the corporate environment of our previous careers, has informed our ability to make quick, savvy business decisions even when they involve an element of risk.

Being accessible: Using a touch of humor and illustrative stories, we are known for our educational presentations such as the one we delivered to NASA employees. By making complex legal concepts easy to grasp in our relatable style, we open a conversation which encourages everyone to seriously consider the need for proper estate planning.

Do you think where you went to school has any bearing on your success? How important is it for a lawyer to go to a top-tier school?

In our experience, you get what you put into your education, so it is up to you to make the most of it. Furthermore, it seems that clients are far more concerned about our competency and response time than whether we attended a prestigious college.

Managing being a law practitioner and a business owner is a constant balancing act. How do you manage both roles?

A robust and competent support team to whom we can confidently delegate is essential. As a boutique law firm, we have found that it is crucial to engage employees who execute tasks independently, are proactive about creating or improving systems, and innovate new ways to expand the scope of their role.

Can you help articulate the entrepreneurial skills a lawyer needs to run and lead a successful law firm?

As with any entrepreneur, a solid faith in your own gifts, talents and abilities is invaluable. Additionally, you must be able to accurately analyze the numbers to determine what is profitable, then translate that data into appropriate business decisions. Perhaps the skill which has served us best is our ability to fail fast and pivot immediately.

As a business owner you spend most of your time working IN your practice, seeing clients. When and how do you shift to working ON your practice? (Marketing, upgrading systems, growing your practice, etc.) How much time do you spend on the business elements?

There is never enough time to spend solely on the business side of the practice, but since we have “believers” working for us, our mission extends beyond our own personal time. We also schedule regular time to step away from our everyday duties and reflect on the big picture to assess year-to-date performance, revise our business plan, and envision our next steps.

We’ve also taken the novel step of hiring a full-time Director of Marketing and Business Development who spearheads marketing and outreach campaigns, generates new referral partner relationships, and increases the visibility of the firm.

Can you share some specific, non-intuitive insights from your personal experience about how a leader of a law firm should:

  • Manage personnel: We believe in leadership by example and providing opportunities to excel.
  • Hire and fire: We adhere to the trusted motto: Hire slowly and fire fast. Intelligence means more to us than pedigree, hence, our best employees bring holistic value, are dedicated, and take initiative.
  • Generate leads: We have taken a rare step for a boutique law firm by bringing on a full-time Director of Marketing and Business Development to increase our network and nurture relationships.
  • Advertise: Another way that we do things differently than many firms is that we don’t advertise. Instead, we rely on our organic reach, social media impact, and business to business referrals.
  • Manage finances: By outsourcing to a bookkeeper and tax expert, we wisely unburden ourselves of the minutiae, freeing us to oversee the big picture.

Ok, thank you. Here is the main question of our interview about the business side of law. What are your 5 Things An Attorney Needs To Know In Order To Create A Successful And Thriving Law Practice.

  1. Establish a strong network of attorneys, including those in the same area of law, as well as professionals in related industries.
  2. Develop a Mission Statement to remind you of your purpose when facing critical decisions.
  3. Connect with a mentor, whether an attorney or not, to share your challenges and celebrate your triumphs.
  4. Craft a clearly branded website, robust with educational content and which clearly reflects the personality of the firm. Ensure that it is client-focused and keep it fresh. Don’t set it and forget it.
  5. Get involved with community leaders: Give back because it feels good and to enhance the firm profile.

You are both people of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

We strongly believe that equal access to justice should be an essential human right for every American. If we could inspire a movement to expand the Public Defender’s office, so that a person’s wealth does not dictate what they are likely to experience in the American court system, that would be a giant leap toward true “justice for all”.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!

About the Interviewer: Eric L. Pines is a nationally recognized federal employment lawyer, mediator, and attorney business coach. He represents federal employees and acts as in-house counsel for over fifty thousand federal employees through his work as a federal employee labor union representative. A formal federal employee himself, Mr. Pines began his federal employment law career as in-house counsel for AFGE Local 1923 which is in Social Security Administration’s headquarters and is the largest federal union local in the world. He presently serves as AFGE 1923’s Chief Counsel as well as in-house counsel for all FEMA bargaining unit employees and numerous Department of Defense and Veteran Affairs unions.

While he and his firm specialize in representing federal employees from all federal agencies and in reference to virtually all federal employee matters, his firm has placed special attention on representing Veteran Affairs doctors and nurses hired under the authority of Title. He and his firm have a particular passion in representing disabled federal employees with their requests for medical and religious reasonable accommodations when those accommodations are warranted under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (ADA). He also represents them with their requests for Federal Employee Disability Retirement (OPM) when an accommodation would not be possible.

Mr. Pines has also served as a mediator for numerous federal agencies including serving a year as the Library of Congress’ in-house EEO Mediator. He has also served as an expert witness in federal court for federal employee matters. He has also worked as an EEO technical writer drafting hundreds of Final Agency Decisions for the federal sector.

Mr. Pines’ firm is headquartered in Houston, Texas and has offices in Baltimore, Maryland and Atlanta, Georgia. His first passion is his wife and five children. He plays classical and rock guitar and enjoys playing ice hockey, running, and biking. Please visit his websites at and He can also be reached at



Eric L. Pines
Authority Magazine

Eric L. Pines is a nationally recognized federal employment lawyer, mediator, and attorney business coach

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