Prominent Indian American attorney Ronak Desai named ‘rising star’ by National Law Journal

Ronak Desai
Ronak Desai

The award recognizes the DC region’s 40 most promising lawyers age 40 and younger.

The National Law Journal has recognized prominent Indian American attorney Ronak Desai as one of its DC “Rising Stars.” The award recognizes the region’s 40 most promising lawyers age 40 and younger, “who have wielded influence in their practice areas in the D.C. area and beyond,” and is conferred upon “innovators who develop unique practice niches, secure wins for clients, and demonstrate strong leadership qualities.”

Selected from hundreds of nominees, Desai’s impactful work in the white collar, anticorruption, India, and congressional investigations spaces along with his “sustained pro bono work and commitment to public service,” earned his inclusion on the coveted list.

Desai is a longtime Indian American community leader who has fast emerged as an influential next-generation practitioner and scholar in the legal and foreign policy fields. In addition to his private sector work at some of the country’s most exclusive law firms, Desai also spent two years as counsel to the U.S. Congress. In 2014, Representative Elijah Cummings appointed Desai as legal counsel to the high-profile House Select Committee on Benghazi. The pioneering congressman passed away in October 2019.

Although his Capitol Hill tenure concluded shortly before the 2016 presidential election, Desai continues to serve as an informal advisor to several members of Congress and other high-ranking decision-makers on law and foreign policy issues. “There are few folks, particularly at his age, who have the expertise and insights Ronak has and it something we continue to rely on all the time” one member noted.

Following his government service, Desai returned to private practice. He is currently an attorney at the elite Los Angeles-based law firm of Paul Hastings LLP. The firm’s roster includes such white collar luminaries as Robert Luskin, Kwame Manley, and Matt Herrington. With 22 offices around the world, the firm generated over $1.2 billion in revenue last year. Paul Hastings consistently ranks among the top 10 on The American Lawyer’s “A-List” of law firms.

Desai named Herrington as one of his greatest mentors in legal practice in his interview with the NLJ, along with DC Circuit Chief Judge Sri Srinivasan, and former U.S. Ambassador to India Richard Verma.

“Ronak is an outstanding lawyer who combines a razor sharp legal mind with a natural affability. [He] is respected by clients and adversaries in equal measure,” Herrington told the American Bazaar.

The view was echoed by opposing counsel Desai has worked with on Capitol Hill, who said Desai was “deeply respected by both sides of the aisle for not just for his high-caliber work and brilliance, but also for his reputation as someone you can trust and work with even in this highly partisan environment.”

Desai’s clients similarly heaped praise on him, with one calling him the “gold standard.” Another stated that “no matter how complex the [case] becomes, [Ronak] handles it with unparalleled skill, grace, and sophistication,” adding that every client should want Desai “firmly on their side.”

Kwame Manley, a former federal prosecutor and Global Chair of Paul Hastings’ award-winning White Collar Defense practice, said “Ronak is a superstar. He has achieved tremendous success for his clients so early in his career. We are excited about his continued excellence at [the firm].”

Desai’s award from NLJ comes less than a year after he received the “Rising Star” award from DC’s South Asian Bar Association (SABA). The honor recognizes “a talented individual within…the community, who…has been practicing for fewer than 10 years, and has achieved prominence and distinction in their respective field while demonstrating a strong commitment… to the South Asian community.”

Cook County Circuit Court Judge Sanjay Tailor told the American Bazaar, “whether it’s assisting clients with the minefields of India’s regulatory environment, navigating the complexities of Congressional investigations, or bringing media and public pressure to bear on the Sureshbhai Patel case, Ronak does it all and does it with customary aplomb.” He noted that “there are few who are able to successfully employ their skills [in the service of so many] on such a wide breadth of issues. His portfolio is endless.”

Several other Indian Americans were also named members of this year’s “NLJ DC Rising Stars” class.  They include: Sandeep Nandivada, a government contracts attorney at Morrison and Foerster; Kapil Pandit, an investment management attorney at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld; and Alka Pradhan, an eminent international humanitarian law and human rights attorney with the Guantanamo Bay Military Commissions Defense Organization.

Pradhan is one of the country’s most respected lawyers in this realm and was the subject a glowing New York Times Magazine profile feature spotlighting her work in December 2017.

Pradhan and Desai both overlapped during their undergraduate studies at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where Desai was elected Phi Beta Kappa. Originally hailing from Orange County, California, Desai earned joint public policy and law degrees (M.P.P./J.D.) from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and Harvard Law School, from which he graduated magna cum laude and received the Dean’s Scholar Prize.

Outside his legal practice at Paul Hastings, Desai is an associate at the Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute at Harvard University, a Law and Security Fellow at New America, and an Asia 21 Leader at the Asia Society. He also serves as pro bono General Counsel and board director to the Partnership for a Secure America (PSA), a foreign policy think tank that promotes bipartisanship on Capitol Hill.

Desai also maintains an unwavering commitment to public and community service. In 2016, DC Mayor Muriel Bower appointed Desai to her Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI). The commission is responsible for advising the Mayor and the public on the unique needs of the AAPI communities residing in the District of Columbia. Desai was unanimously confirmed to a second term by the DC City Council last year.

Desai has also attracted recognition for his exhaustive thought leadership in publications like Forbes and Bloomberg, where he regularly publishes on a wide array of important legal and policy issues. According to one Congressional source, “virtually every community member currently in a position of public service has benefited in some way, shape, or form from Ronak’s longstanding efforts to chronicle the steady rise of the Diaspora community and raise its profile within the United States.”

Herrington appeared to capture the views of many individuals toward Desai when he said, “I was thrilled but certainly not surprised to see [Ronak] recognized as a rising star.”

Judge Tailor went on to say that despite his tremendous success and extensive accomplishments, “Ronak is down-to-earth and instinctively self-effacing. His family, community, and faith are his North Stars.”

In his interview with NLJ, Desai noted that one of the most important lessons he’s learned in legal practice was that “victories are sweetened and setbacks softened when working together.” He added, “no one achieves anything alone.”


Prominent Indian American attorney Ronak D. Desai appointed to DC Mayor’s AAPI Commission (August 11, 2016)

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