In celebration of Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, we are pleased to feature Davis Polk alum Arif Dhilla (MP, ’14), Associate General Counsel at Meta, and Ashok Ramani, Head of Davis Polk’s IP Litigation practice and co-chair of the firm’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee.
Read on to learn more about Arif and Ashok’s careers and what Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month and diversity generally mean to them.
Ashok, you have been recognized by leading publications as among the country’s best IP trial lawyers. What initially drew you to the practice?
AR: I observed early in my career that IP cases were the significant civil cases most likely to go to trial. I wanted to be a trial lawyer and have always enjoyed learning about technology and biosciences, so it was a natural fit.
Arif, prior to law school, you worked as a consultant in the antitrust and competition field. What attracted you to that work?
AD: I was an economics major in college, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to pursue economics as a career or be a lawyer. At the consulting firm, I helped support economists who were hired to provide expert testimony and written expert reports in antitrust cases. Antitrust is a good intersection between law and economics and being at the consulting firm gave me an opportunity to work with both economists and lawyers, allowing me to see both options.
Why did you decide to move from consulting to law?
AD: One of the things I enjoyed a lot at the consulting firm was developing arguments that would be part of the expert reports. But my work was necessarily limited to developing economic-related arguments. I saw that the lawyers I was working with had a broader scope, thinking about both the legal and economic arguments and how those arguments could impact all aspects of the case. Being able to work on the broader scope helped persuade me to move on to law.
– Ashok Ramani
Ashok, you are a Fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers and have tried 21 cases. Do you have a particularly memorable trial experience that you would like to share?
AR: I think of every trial as a new adventure, so generally think particularly fondly of my latest one. We had a great trial experience in April. We defended Comcast in a jury trial in Tampa, brought by a small company that claimed to have a patent that covers the integration of Netflix and other apps into Comcast’s cable offering. We fashioned a simple trial theme: The patent talks about giving control to users while, in contrast, Comcast decides what channels its customers can access. The evidence came in well and the court ultimately agreed with us and granted us judgment as a matter of law just minutes before we were preparing to close. It was gratifying to see that our theme and evidence came through clearly.
Arif, after Davis Polk, you went in-house to Facebook, now Meta, and are currently an Associate General Counsel for Competition. What attracted you to in-house practice?
AD: I had the opportunity to work closely with a few in-house attorneys while I was at Davis Polk, which gave me insight into their day-to-day roles. I noticed that their roles required a focus on strategic thinking and looking around corners – whether that was determining a strategy for engaging with regulators or partnering with the business to consult on a product decision. That strategic thinking opportunity was attractive.
Ashok, are there any other career highlights that you would like to share?
AR: One of my favorite things about my trial practice is that it provides opportunities for capable younger lawyers to get early opportunities. By way of example, we tried two jury trials over the last nine months. In both, we had associates take witnesses and argue significant motions in limine and jury instructions. It is rewarding to see what our talented associates can accomplish when given the opportunity.
What advice would you give to lawyers that has guided your own career?
AR: Always say yes. There were times in my career where I was already overloaded but an interesting opportunity presented itself. The easier – and perhaps prudent– course would have been to decline, but I’ve always found it better to take on the new opportunity and figure it out.
– Arif Dhilla
Arif, what advice do you have for lawyers at firms who are interested in transitioning to in-house practice?
AD: Do your homework, as best you can, to identify the issues the company is facing and consider whether those are the legal issues you find interesting. Also, try to get a sense of how the legal department is viewed within the company – is it viewed as a valued partner or a hurdle to getting things done? The work experience will be much better if you are viewed as a partner.
Tell us about your time at Davis Polk. Do you have a favorite memory from your time in the NorCal office?
AD: I loved my time at Davis Polk. I still have a lot of friends who work there or are fellow alums of the NorCal office. I loved how it was a small office and the litigation team was even smaller. We all knew everyone and worked closely together. On the partner side, I worked most closely with Neal Potischman and Chris Hockett, and I learned a lot from both of them. And I really enjoyed our yearly litigation team fantasy football league. The live draft was always fun.
Ashok, tell us about your work as the co-chair of the firm’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee. Are there any initiatives of the committee that you are particularly proud of?
AR: To me, diversity means that everybody brings their own perspective and life experience to work and we all profit from those different perspectives. This is not a political issue—I am particularly proud of having formed groups for our Veteran and First Gen colleagues, to give support to those who have served our country and those who are the first to obtain a professional degree in their immediate families, respectively. Both groups have been well received thus far.
Arif, what does Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month mean to you?
AD: It’s a good month to take stock of the members of the AAPI community I have had as mentors and learned from over the years. Ashok is a great example. Ashok and I only overlapped at Davis Polk for a few months, but he always had an open door and was a good sounding board, which I really appreciate.