Episode 26

Finding Empowerment in Disability: Raj Mahapatra, Senior Counsel at Wilson Sonsini

Episode summary

Introduction: 1:20

  • Introducing Raj Mahapatra, Senior Counsel at Wilson Sonsini, chairman at the National Axial Spondyloarthritis Society, executive committee member at the Axial Spondyloarthritis International Federation, and long-distance runner.

Receiving a life-changing diagnosis in your twenties: 2:45

  • Dealing with chronic pain after years as an athlete.
  • Processing the news that you might spend your life in a wheelchair.
  • Learning from experience and fellow sufferers that doctors aren’t always right.

Changing your perspective on work by living with a disability: 6:27

  • Asking for allowances to improve your working conditions.
  • Raising your hand to make life easier for everyone in the room.
  • Transforming your relationship with pain into a professional motivation. 

Incorporating charity into your running practice: 13:17

  • Receiving an invitation to help a charitable organization and being elected chair.
  • Transitioning from raising money for charity to giving your time to charity.
  • Seeking to change people’s personal relationships with their health conditions.

Going beyond legal roles and into operator positions: 20:41

  • Leveraging early computer experience in the 80s and 90s into the start-up world. 
  • Understanding that there is a commercial end to every legal role. 
  • GCs are always asking “why?”

Fundraising as General Counsel and Head of Intellectual Property at Cervest Limited: 24:45

  • Changing the relationship between farmers in Ghana and the marketplace to increase the standard of living.
  • Suffering through three climate disasters in a short period of time. 
  • Recognizing the need for AI models that predict climate change on a global scale.
  • Losing your VC funding to the market dip after Russia invaded Ukraine.

Reflecting on the experience of building and losing a business as a lawyer: 32:13

  • Taking time to learn and understand your reasons for creating a business.
  • Finding investors who understand your personal mission, even if your missions don’t align.
  • Championing the colleagues who will run into the burning building at your side.

Resetting after a difficult work experience: 35:58

  • Avoiding dispassionate legal attitudes and leaning into your feelings.
  • Moving through the trauma and giving yourself a moment to reflect.
  • Getting involved with other organizations that share your passion for ending climate change.

Joining Wilson Sonsini as Senior Counsel: 42:19

  • Entering a legendary tech law firm as an expert in business operations. 
  • Blending legal, tech transactions, and clean tech into a single role. 
  • Transitioning from leading to advising. 
  • Looking forward to the challenges he hasn’t contemplated yet.
  • The flexibility and loneliness of the GC role.

Building a meaningful life: 51:28

  • Breaking out of the work/life balance paradigm to fill your days with meaningful actions.
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Tyler Finn
Head of Community & Growth, SpotDraft
Raj Mahapatra
Senior Counsel, Wilson Sonsin

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