Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, November 8, 2019

Arora heeds emotional pull to family law

Sonali Arora moved to the U.S. from India in 2008. She earned her degree in criminal law and juris doctor at UT. - Photo by David Humber | Hamilton County Herald

Sonali Arora’s fast-track journey to a corporate law career took an abrupt turn when, while studying at the University of Tennessee School of Law, she participated in a tax clinic in Oak Ridge helping attendees navigate their problems with the IRS.

“I knew then that instead of just doing tax law or corporate law, I wanted to interact more with people rather than just sit in an office and deal with papers every day.”

Born and raised in New Delhi, India, Arora, 30, now an attorney with the Purple Law Firm in East Brainerd, became interested in the profession at age 17 after taking a class in business law while pursuing a bachelor of commerce degree in her native country. Her detail-oriented nature seemed like the perfect fit for the corporate side – at least until the tax clinic shifted her perspective.

“The law in general, I think, is about helping others and about service to others,” she says. “I’ve always liked dealing with people, helping someone when they need you the most, in their tough times.”

Arora had finished high school by the time her dad moved his family to Tennessee in 2008 to take a job. She earned an undergraduate degree in criminal justice at the University of Tennessee before interning at the Purple Law Firm. She earned her juris doctorate in 2016 and passed the Tennessee bar the following year.

She immediately gravitated toward family law, representing clients in divorce, child custody and support matters, and adoptions.

“You’re going to help your client go through one of the most stressful situations, like divorce, and people are at their worst at this time,” she points out. “To know that you made a difference in their life – that’s the biggest joy.

“To be honest,” she adds, “the clients are not very reasonable when they’re going through divorce, so our job as an attorney is to make sure the clients are protected and that their kids are protected.”

Unlike criminal defense or civil litigation, the problems that come with a divorce seldom end with the judge’s decree.

“Most of the time the issues don’t come up right away,” Arora explains. “Then, more than half of the time, there’s no attorney on the other side or the attorney has been gone a long time ago.”

Mindful that after-the-fact petitions and amendments cost clients’ money they might not have, Arora takes care to enter the proper orders up front and lessen the financial burden. Still, she says, things frequently change.

“Now maybe the child is of an age where what you have agreed to five years ago is not working, or the child wants to stay with the father now, or the child wants to stay with the mother now or new things come up that need to be dealt with,” she says. “In family law, the file doesn’t close just because you closed your file.”

Covering all the bases, especially in emotional matters, takes careful thought, Arora notes. “You don’t want to be the one getting a call after everything has been done, six months down the road: ‘Hey, we’re still having a problem. We didn’t cover this.’ That happens a lot in family law. A client is not clear on the plan, or we missed an asset, and then the clients are like, ‘Who’s going to pay the bill?’”

Despite the difficulty in achieving closure, especially in custody and visitation battles, Arora takes great satisfaction in seeing a difficult case head in a positive direction. One of her most memorable involved a husband who had physically assaulted his wife. Arora helped the woman secure an order of protection, stood by her through the divorce, and made sure the children were taken care of.

“We even ended up making sure the father got some help, to move forward and make sure the kids were protected,” Arora says. “Everyone in that case was happy because the father agreed to get some anger management classes out of the whole thing.”

Arora says she isn’t afraid to get aggressive on behalf of her clients when necessary.

“I don’t give up,” she says. “If I know it’s something that my client is entitled to, and the judge would very likely give my client, I will fight for it.

“I’m the middle child,” she says, laughing. “We don’t get things that easily. We’ve got to stick to it.”

Arora is not one to wing it in court.

“As an attorney, you need to be prepared, especially if you’re going to court, to think on your feet,” says Arora, who also handles some criminal cases and probate matters. “You need to have your research, your cases, your facts and your legal issues in mind before going to court. I prepare a lot, even for mediation, which happens most of the time in family law cases, so that I do not waste my client’s time or the mediator’s time or the other attorney’s time.”

One of the most surprising aspects of practicing law, Arora admits, is how much time she spends dealing with her clients’ emotions and problems. “It’s not so much about the law,” she acknowledges. “It’s about being their counselor, their therapist, their psychologist. You’ve got to just be there for them.”

And yes, it can be difficult to detach. “I’ve gotten myself in trouble, caring too much, especially if the kids are involved and I know the decisions we are making are going to affect their lives,” she says. “I would say I’m getting better at it. I’m still not there.”

In her spare time, Arora likes to bike, watch TV or curl up with a good legal thriller. She is fluent in Hindi, which she sometimes uses to communicate with her Indian business clients and, at home, her parents.

In her practice, she says, “Being a counselor to people, just to help them in their stressful time is the most rewarding part, just to put a smile on someone’s face and say, ‘Hey, I have got this. I’ll take care of this for you. You don’t have to worry.’”