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Puneet V. Kakkar

Posted By CMCP, Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Updated: Friday, February 27, 2015
Untitled Document
Puneet V. Kakkar, Caldwell Leslie Proctor, PC.
by Won Hur, Lee, Hong, Degerman, Kang & Waimey's LA Office

Growing up in an immigrant family, Puneet Kakkar witnessed firsthand the injustices and burdens faced by his parents and other immigrants, in part because they lacked command of the English language. He saw that the law was often used unfairly to take advantage of others, particularly the most vulnerable. These experiences shaped Puneet’s desire at an early age to go to law school, with a goal of doing his part to level the playing field. Born in the U.S. to parents that were forced from their homeland due to the partition of the Punjab region in 1947, Puneet also developed an early appreciation for the impact of international events on people’s lives and a strong interest in international law and policy.

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Puneet’s interests led him to an internship at the U.S. Embassy in Paris as part of his undergraduate studies at UC Berkeley. At the embassy, Puneet received an invaluable education, sitting in on diplomatic meetings, preparing briefings and press reviews, and attending various state and embassy receptions. He followed that with an internship at the U.S. Supreme Court, where part of his duties was to coordinate the hosting of judges and academics visiting from foreign countries to learn about the U.S. judicial system. During college and law school at Boalt Hall, Puneet continued to feed his passions by interning at the Department of State, Afghanistan Office and the U.S. Department of Justice. After Boalt, Puneet clerked for U.S. District Judge Valerie Baker Fairbank following a stint at a top law firm. He later worked as a volunteer attorney on criminal justice reform at International Bridges to Justice in New Delhi, India.

Today, it’s hardly surprising that Puneet is a rising star at Caldwell Leslie & Proctor (recipient of the CMCP Majority Owned Law Firm Award in 2013), where he handles both civil litigation and white-collar criminal defense matters. Puneet also spends considerable time advising and counseling entertainment clients on intellectual property issues.

Despite a very full plate, Puneet continues to make time to support organizations providing services that align with his passions and interests. For example, Puneet serves on the Board of Governors of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association, previously served as the President of the South Asian Bar Association (SABA), and led SABA’s Public Interest Foundation for 3 years. Puneet was recently named to the Editorial Advisory Board of the California Lawyer magazine, a board that includes the likes of Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, State Treasurer Bill Lockyer, and Southern California Edison General Counsel Russell C. Swartz. He is also a founding member of the Council of Advisors for the South Asian Network, a nonprofit advocacy group.

A strong sense of justice drives Puneet’s community efforts and he regularly serves the Asian Pacific American community pro bono, including participating in "know your rights” seminars and legal clinics, and prosecuting wage theft. Working in conjunction with Asian Americans Advancing Justice in Los Angeles, Puneet represented a Bangladeshi cook who had suffered from sexual harassment and who spoke little English.

When she reported the abuse, the restaurant owners fired her and even sued her for defamation. Puneet provided pro bono counsel on the matter, and along with Asian Americans Advancing Justice, obtained a very favorable $45,000 settlement for his client. More importantly to Puneet, the settlement was reported in the local ethnic papers and sent a strong message within the "Little India” community that such abuses would not be tolerated.

Puneet considers such pro bono work a part of his practice, and points out that the work allows him to expand his skill set and obtain invaluable litigation experience that would ordinarily take longer within the firm context. He also credits his firm’s unwavering support of his pro bono work and his community activities, recalling events where more than two-thirds of the entire firm’s attorneys came to show support, including all of the senior leadership. In fact when asked if he wanted to highlight some people that have played key roles in his career, Puneet states without hesitation "everyone at my firm” (which is not an answer you hear often). Puneet also counts U.S. District Judge Fairbank as a key mentor who has helped him immeasurably.

Recently, Puneet has turned his considerable talent to working against an election strategy that targets incumbent California Superior Court Judges with ethnic names. These challengers appear to rely solely on name distinction, as they do not campaign, have no judicial experience, and are rated to be significantly less qualified than the incumbent judges. These judges, unlike many of their colleagues on the bench, must expend significant efforts and expenses to campaign, and Puneet saw this as a call to action. He has worked with the community to inform the electorate of the issue and helped produce videos of interviews with the judges. Puneet hopes this kind of strong community mobilization will dissuade further attempts at what the legal community views as racially motivated challenges, and more importantly, preserve minority and quality representation on the bench. "We should be proud of our last names, and we want to support our excellent judges of minority descent on the bench and encourage more to join them,” he states.

When asked for advice for those starting out their legal profession, Puneet states that finding mentors is important, but stresses that it’s key to find a mentor who you want to emulate beyond just his or her job title and professional achievements.

Puneet’s final words of wisdom to newer attorneys: "Take a stand on what you believe in, and do things to support that cause.” By doing so, newer attorneys not only provide much needed service and support to worthy causes, they also realize a tremendous sense of personal fulfillment, gain valuable work experience, and begin to build their professional networks.

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