Manisha Bhatt: Educating the South Asian Community About Their Fundamental Legal Rights

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Manisha Bhatt

WALTHAM, MA–Manisha Bhatt is a senior attorney with Greater Boston Legal Services where she practices family law concentrating in domestic violence law. Currently, she works with area hospitals’ domestic violence programs to facilitate their patients’ access to civil legal services and staffs a legal clinic at Rosie’s Place, a refuge for homeless women in Boston.

Bhatt also serves on the advisory board of Saheli, a South Asian domestic violence prevention organization.  She is a past president of the South Asian Bar Association of Greater Boston.

In 2013, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick appointed Bhatt to the Massachusetts Judicial Nominating Commission. In 2009, Bhatt received the NASABA Cornerstone Award for her work with domestic violence survivors.  In 2010, she founded the Know Your Rights! Program of the South Asian Bar Association of Greater Boston and has been the chief architect and director of the program since its inception.  Know Your Rights! is designed to empower the South Asian community with knowledge about fundamental legal rights and providing connections to lawyers and other legal resources so that community members can actually exercise their legal rights.

Manisha Bhatt

Bhatt is also an active member of the Boston Bar Association. She served on the Board of Editors of the Boston Bar Journal. In 2011, Manisha was awarded the BBA’s John G. Brooks Legal Services Award.  She was named a “Rising Star” in family law in Boston Magazine’s May 2005, May 2006, May 2007, May 2008, November 2009 and November 2010 Super Lawyer editions. She is a graduate of Boston College and Suffolk University School of Law.

INDIA New England News: Please tell our readers about your work and what you enjoy most about it?

Manisha Bhatt: I am a Senior Attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services. I work with the underprivileged people in the greater Boston community and assist them in domestic relations cases. My specialty is working with survivors of domestic violence. What I love the most about my work is that I have the honor of being a small part of a person’s triumph over tragedy. You see- when people come to me, they are at rock bottom. They have no money, minimal emotional support, their lives are falling apart and they are terrified of what the future holds for them. They are being sued and they don’t have the money to hire a lawyer.  That is where I come in.  I don’t charge for my services and I am able to represent them in court and connect them to services so that they can pick up the pieces and move forward with their lives.

INE: To which charitable, community and professional group do you belong and why?

MB:  I have been a volunteer for Saheli for the last 16 years. My life’s work is directly related to their mission. I am also an active member and past president of the South Asian Bar Association of Greater Boston. I am also an active member of the Boston Bar Association.

INE: What are your hobbies and interests?

MB: I am classically trained in dance.  My guru is none other than the wonderful Neena Gulati- I have been under her training for decades now and dance is a significant part of my life.  Apart from that I deeply enjoy cooking, exercising, spending time with my loved ones- especially my niece and nephew who are my precious little angels!

INE: In what way do you feel you have positively influenced or served the local community and your company/organization and professional field?

MB: I am most proud of the “Know Your Rights” class that I started seven years ago.  It is a free of charge lecture series on your fundamental legal rights in the areas of criminal law, immigration law, elder law, trusts and estates, family law, employment law, bankruptcy law, health law, civil rights and racial profiling.  Some of the best and brightest lawyers in the community that are experts in their fields teach in my class. It is my intention to provide our community leaders with information about their legal rights in these areas so that they can help other people in our community access legal resources in a timely fashion.

As a lawyer, I have seen firsthand people lose their rights simply because they didn’t know who to turn to for help or they talked to a lawyer too late. I wanted to change that so I started this class.  People who enroll in this class not only learn about their legal rights but they make professional connections with good lawyers that are experts in their fields. Should they or someone they know need to consult a lawyer in the future, they already have a relationship with so many good attorneys who can guide them. Thanks to the SABA GB and its sponsors, now I can offer this program free of charge to the community. To date, I have had approximately fifty people graduate from this class. I am still in touch with many of my former students. Just the other day, one of my former students called me to tell me how happy she was that she took my class a couple of years ago and how she is still using the information she learned to help people in the community. This program has served as an inspiration for other bar associations in Massachusetts to create their own and I have been asked to consult with them to help them develop a program like Know Your Rights.

INE: Your rare talent?

MB: I remember the silliest details of events from years ago. It takes people by surprise.

INE: Your favorite books?

MB: “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen, and cookbooks in general.

INE: Your favorite quotes?

MB: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world”- Mahatma Gandhi

INE: Who inspires you the most?

MB: At this juncture in my life, my Sadguru Rajyogi Narendraji in India.

INE: The one person you would like to meet and why?

MB: I would love to meet former president Barack Obama.

INE: Your core value you try to live by?

MB: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

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