Pooja Amin Makes a Good Advocate

Pooja Amin of CenterPoint Energy uses her expertise to help elevate the Houston legal community and the people it serves

“My dad always used his voice for the causes he was really interested in,” says Pooja Amin of her OB/GYN physician father, who fought to reduce high maternal mortality rates in India before moving to the United States.

Amin’s exposure to her father’s altruism inspired her to pursue a career where she too could make a difference, possibly as a lobbyist or government worker. But after graduating from the University of Baltimore School of Law and taking a clerkship with a federal judge in the Southern District of Texas, she realized there was greater potential for advocacy as a lawyer.

“I really didn’t care about making the rules,” she reflects. “I really cared more about advocating for people and issues through the law.”

Pooja Amin, Associate General Counsel, Litigation, CenterPoint Energy Photo by Debbie Wallace

Though CenterPoint Energy is a gas and electric utility services company, serving as its associate general counsel of litigation hasn’t prevented Amin from pursuing advocacy work. “CenterPoint’s vision has always been to lead the nation in delivering safe and reliable energy,” she says, adding that this mission is extremely important during a pandemic such as the one caused by the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus in early 2020. “We need to make sure that hospitals and others continue to have power and that gas and electrical services are working for those who are staying at home.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has also presented new challenges and opportunities for Amin as the company’s counsel for labor and employment issues. In this field, ensuring the safety and protecting CenterPoint employees has always been critical, but it is especially crucial during a pandemic.

“We have ‘essential employees’ who restore gas and electricity for residential and commercial customers,” she explains. “They’re at the frontline during this time when people need energy the most, so we’re making sure they have the right support. A lot of things have changed since the beginning of March [2020], so it’ll be interesting to see what the energy industry will look like in the future, but for right now we’re focusing on safety and reliability in responding to the pandemic.”

Despite concentrating in labor and employment, Amin has dabbled in many other areas of law, including being instrumental in integrating companies following large mergers. When CenterPoint merged with Vectren Corporation in early 2019, its general counsel had asked her to lead the legal, audit, and regulatory integration of both companies. In 2013, Amin was selected to lead the integration of legal, risk management, compliance, and records organizations for the merger of her previous employer, Service Corporation International, with Stewart Enterprises.

“Not only are you trying to integrate the two companies so that it’s seamless and everything goes well the first day following the merger, but you also have some synergies to plan for. Eventually, once you merge the two companies, there are obviously efficiencies to realize,” she explains of the process.

Beyond directing her attention to employment laws, integration planning, and general litigation for a utility, Amin has found satisfaction in using her legal expertise to support a cause that’s close to her heart: elevating women by providing a clearer pathway for them to enter the legal profession. This has included serving on the board of the Association of Women Attorneys (AWA) Foundation, through which she and a few other attorneys created the AWA Foundation’s Pro Bono Fellowship Program.

“I’ve always been interested in education, so I found a couple of opportunities outside of my professional life to give back,” says Amin. “I’m sure you’ve heard stories that it’s hard to get a job sometimes right out of law school if you’re not number one in your class, even if you have the skills and want to be a lawyer.”

“When I’m using my legal skills for something that matters, when I’m advocating for people who don’t have power, when I’m giving back like that, it makes achieving a work-life balance easier.”

Through the AWA Foundation’s Pro Bono Fellowship Program, Amin has helped address this imbalance by raising half a million dollars to pay the salaries and provide benefits for emerging female law school graduates in Houston.

“We saw it as a win-win,” she says. “We had women who needed a job and had the skills they learned during law school, and we paired them with pro bono agencies. So they’re helping the Houston legal community by giving back and dedicating their first year of practice to these organizations while gaining experience.”

By partnering with the pro bono organizations, the pro bono fellowship program has represented unaccompanied immigrant children who are in need of defense and families in Houston who need legal assistance with estate planning, child custody, divorce, landlord-tenant disputes, and bankruptcy.

Amin herself takes on pro bono cases when she can and also serves on the board of directors for Avance-Houston, a nonprofit organization that approaches deficits in childhood education by working holistically to educate the entire family living in an at-risk community. “I’ve always found a way to give back through education because I feel like that’s the greatest equalizer,” says Amin. “It’s also what gets me through the challenging parts of my day job.”

Those work challenges and her community service involvement are accompanied by another major obstacle: Amin is also raising six-year-old twin boys. “Work/life balance can be tough, especially during the pandemic,” she says. “But when I’m using my legal skills for something that matters, when I’m advocating for people who don’t have power, when I’m giving back like that, it makes achieving a work-life balance easier. That’s important for all lawyers because we do have influence, and we can persuade and advocate for those who can’t.”

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Consilio:

Pooja Amin is not only an excellent attorney but also gives freely of her time to women’s issues and organizations in her community. Consilio is proud to be a longtime partner to her and her team.”

–Cathy Rascoe, Director