Outside of Miami, Greater Boston boasts one of the largest Haitian-American populations in the United States. When local community leaders told Boston attorney Vikas S. Dhar, AB ’99, of Haiti’s sexual violence and trafficking issues, his law firm took action. They began to explore partnerships with the American Bar Association and other organizations to help train lawyers to represent survivors. “A gaping hole exists right now for that type of work,” Dhar says.
Although Dhar and his younger brother, Vilas, founded Dhar Law, LLP with a primary focus on business law and litigation, they also practice nonprofit law — much of it on a pro bono basis.
Recently, Dhar and his brother led a firm trip to Haiti, advising NGOs and governmental institutions on best practices for fair and democratic elections and associated rule of law work. The brothers’ spring 2012 itineraries included travels to Africa to establish micro-finance ventures there.
“Microfinance work excites us because it allows intelligent, enthusiastic people to build a business and further local economic development,” he says. “In Rwanda and Kenya, we see an amazing opportunity — highly motivated, bright and ambitious people — and we hope to provide the framework for these individuals to get ahead.”
Dhar says his firm’s strength in nonprofit work involves assessing clients’ needs from both a humanitarian and legal perspective. “We are passionate about supporting our clients, but realistic in how to structure and build programs and advise organizations,” he says.
Nonprofits must understand their capabilities and expect to expand them rapidly once they hit the ground, he says, pointing out the importance of building partnerships with NGOs and local communities in advance. Without this support, organizations often find themselves lost.
Currently, Dhar Law, LLP advises the School of Leadership–Afghanistan(SOLA), an organization that prepares Afghan students, particularly young women, for study in the United States. Another nonprofit client, the Milana Foundation, focuses primarily on health care in India.
Dhar’s experiences at Washington University fostered his interest in international advocacy work. When he arrived at Washington University at age 17, he immediately felt a sense of community, particularly among the international students, who also inspired Dhar’s love for travel. As an undergraduate, Dhar nurtured several important lifelong relationships, including one with his future wife, Sheila Iyer. The couple met during their freshman year when Iyer was a student in business and chemical engineering.
The product of a bicultural upbringing — born in India, Dhar immigrated to the United States with his parents when he was 4 — he liked the size of Washington University and the opportunity to interact with students pursuing a wide range of majors.
“I remember wanting to dabble in every major,” says Dhar, who describes his undergraduate experience as nearly perfect and one where he experienced “an explosion of cultures.”
Chancellor Emeritus William H. Danforth and Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton made an impression on Dhar too. Their messages not to waste opportunities, to give back to the community, and to help those less fortunate remain an inspiration.
Dhar took on their challenge, opting for a career in high-stakes courtroom advocacy, remembering always to leave room to fight for indigent people and to advise businesses on a pro bono basis. “Building community partnerships provides the ultimate pathway to success, regardless of what field one chooses,” he says.
His own law practice encompasses defense litigation representing commercial entities and white-collar clients, but Dhar delights in fulfilling his firm’s commitment to engage and support local communities both near and far. He likes to connect the firm’s nonprofit clients with the corporate ones, building mutually beneficial relationships.
As for the future, Dhar wants to continue to build his firm with like-minded people and extend its good works. He encourages alumni who need help forming a nonprofit to reach out. “We’d be more than happy to explore assisting on a pro bono basis.”
Sheila Callahan is a freelance writer based in Larchmont, N.Y.