Southwest Florida attorney Shanthy Balachanthiran — in saying a lesson learned, or confirmed, in the pandemic is to “never take for granted life’s simple pleasures” — can trace that perspective back to her family.
Balachanthiran was born in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, amid a civil war. Her family immigrated to the U.S. in the 1980s when she was 4 years old. “There were riots and genocide going on,” she says. “My parents had no choice but to leave.”
Balachanthiran’s dad, Thevan, was the epitome of the American Dream: He worked his way up from being a line cook and mowing lawns to saving enough money to invest in a motel, which he ran with his wife, Balachanthiran’s mom, Rajam. He later owned a laundromat and invested in shopping centers. His work ethic and patriotic love of America rubbed off on his daughter, as did his affinity for education. “My parents didn’t have any access to education [in Sri Lanka]," Balachanthiran says.
With that backdrop, Balachanthiran went on to have a uniquely high-achieving education. She gradated from Fort Myers High School as IB Valedictorian — with the highest GPA in Lee County that year. With so many college credits, she enrolled at Penn State University with scholarships as a second-semester junior. She completed her bachelor degree with honors and highest distinction, ranking No. 1 in the English department and being honored as student marshal of her graduating class. Up next? At 23, she was the youngest member of graduate class at Harvard, earning a master's in theological studies. Then law school at the University of California, Davis.
Balachanthiran says she became a lawyer partly from an idealism born in her family’s experiences and partly from a desire to have a well-paying career, saying she sought to meld both goals. Balachanthiran worked for several firms after law school, and then in 2016, she started her own practice, focusing on business and tax law. In summer 2020, Miami-based Vernis & Bowling invited Balachanthiran to join their firm and expand their civil litigation practice in Southwest Florida. Balachanthiran took the offer and is settling into her role at the firm, which has 18 offices in the Southeast.
Balachanthiran says her get-out-bed-passion for her work, whether it’s solo or with a firm, remains being able to “move mountains” for clients who are in a difficult spot. From running a tax clinic for low income residents in Lee County to handling trials for corporate clients, that passion is complemented by a work ethic that doesn’t wane. And the example of her parents. “My parents never gave excuses,” she says, “and I don’t allow myself to have excuses.”
Vernis & Bowling
Jaffna, Sri Lanka
Years on the Gulf Coast
Married and expecting our first child in 2021
Penn State, bachelor's; Harvard, master's; University of CA, Davis, juris doctorate
What community group or organization are you most involved with?
Lee County YMCA Board of Directors, Lee County Bar Association and American Bar Association Tax Section
What's the weirdest job you've ever had?
Telemarketing coffee while in college
What's your top tip for being productive?
Discover your true passion if you want to be really productive and successful. When your chosen career path is driven by passion and interest, it won't feel like work, and your level of achievement and productivity will naturally soar. Take the time you need to discover your true calling; life's biggest decision is what we decide to do with the time we have here. Make it count.
If you could have a side hustle, what would it be?
What's your favorite off-hours activity?
What's your favorite board game, game show or video game?
What do you use most — Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams or Google Meetings?
What’s the best binge-worthy show you have enjoyed during the pandemic?
"For Life" TV series
What’s the longest virtual meeting you’ve been on since mid-March?
How many times had you used video for a work meeting prior to the pandemic?
Approximately 10-15 times
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned during the pandemic?
The pandemic changed much of the working world. Many businesses had to adapt by telecommuting and rethinking their business practices. If you didn't, you simply couldn't survive. I've learned that you have to be flexible and adaptive, regardless of the circumstances. You have to be prepared to meet life's challenges by offering solutions that might not have been available or viable previously. Creativity, flexibility and resilience can take you a long way during challenging times.
What do you miss most about the world pre-pandemic?
Never take for granted life's simple pleasures. Not being able to visit with friends and family has been really difficult during these challenging times. This pandemic has helped me realize the importance of social interactions and connections with our loved ones. Nothing is guaranteed, and no one is promised extra time. Love your loved ones with whatever time you have, and be grateful for the many blessings in life.
What have you been spending more time doing during the pandemic?
I've spent more time cooking, reading and self-reflecting about what I want the next decade of my life to entail.
Do you prefer working from home or working from an office?
A hybrid of the two
How have you kept up camaraderie with colleagues during the pandemic?
Maintaining camaraderie has not been difficult; through Zoom lunches, tea times and happy hours, I've been able to stay in touch with friends and colleagues.
What’s the first thing you’ll do after the pandemic?
The first thing I plan to do is visit with friends and family in-person. Pre-pandemic, we lived in such a busy world, and our lives were inundated with our daily goals, tasks and mission. The silver lining about this pandemic is the common realization that the social fabric of our lives helps shape our individual strengths. The connections we make with one another is vital to our well-being. As such, I can't wait to get back to connecting with family and friends!