Where can a graduate degree from the University of Illinois take you? In this series, we catch up with one recent Graduate College alum and ask the question: “Where are they now?”.
Fatimeh Pahlavan lives at the intersection of law, business, and technology. She graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with a JD in 2016 after previously earning a BS in Biochemistry from the University of Illinois at Chicago. In 2018, she founded Legal Intelligence to Entrepreneurs LLC (LITE), a law firm devoted to providing proactive and holistic legal advice to early-stage entrepreneurs.
I understand you are participating in a cohort of the Justice Entrepreneurs Project. Could you describe what that entails, how you got involved/interested, and what your ultimate goals are for the experience?
The Justice Entrepreneurs Project (JEP) is an incubator for entrepreneurial attorneys launching innovative, socially conscious law practices. I joined JEP with the intention of building a new kind of law firm – one that rejects the billable hour in favor of better, client-centric service models. JEP has provided me with space to create, a supportive community of like-minded lawyers, and education on every aspect of building a sustainable legal practice. As lofty as it sounds, my ultimate goal is to realign the power dynamic between lawyers and their clients and transform the way that legal services are delivered.
What is the most interesting, rewarding, and/or challenging aspect of your work?
The most rewarding aspect of my work is that I wake up every day with an explosive sense of purpose. The biggest challenge is having the self-awareness to slow down, focus on self-care, and maintain a sense of balance in my life.
What experiences had the biggest impact on your career choice?
My work is wholly informed by my interdisciplinary background. I studied the classics at a great books college, then pivoted to biochemistry, and later attended law school. My path was serpentine, but it equipped me with tools I use daily as an entrepreneur and as an advisor to entrepreneurs. The great books taught me to formulate meaningful questions. My undergraduate studies trained me to test hypotheses in a methodical and controlled manner. In law school, I cultivated the ability to articulate conclusions persuasively. Inquire, analyze, influence. This is my job in a nutshell.
What has been the most valuable transferable skill you gained from graduate school?
In graduate school we constantly find ourselves short on time, energy, grey matter. Law school taught me that I cannot always be everything to everyone, and that is okay. This is a lesson I am constantly relearning, but it has been invaluable in developing LITE. Sometimes the most productive thing we can do is take a step back and stop trying so hard.
What is one piece of advice you would give to graduate students at Illinois?
Trust yourself. Trust your instincts. Do not discount your ideas simply because you are young or inexperienced; white hair does not necessarily engender wisdom. You are capable of exactly what you decide you are capable of.
This interview was conducted by Mike Firmand, Assistant Director for Employer Outreach in the Graduate College. He works with employers to connect University of Illinois graduate students to new opportunities and promote the value of graduate education. He previously worked for the College of Business at Illinois State University and has held positions in insurance, marketing, banking, and retail and event management. Mike holds a B.S. in Recreation, Sport and Tourism from the University of Illinois and an M.S. in Communication from Illinois State University.