Washington, DC – On June 29, Iranian-American attorney Karen Ostad began her tenure as the first female president of the Iranian American Bar Association (IABA). The IABA, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit founded in 2000, boasts 1,500 members nationwide, and has chapters in nine major metropolitan areas: Chicago, Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, Houston, Seattle, New York, Northern California, and Washington, DC. “I was very honored to even be considered,” Ostad told NIAC.
Ostad was elected unanimously in a June meeting of the board of directors. “Karen is a tremendous asset to IABA and the Iranian-American community,” stated her predecessor, Nema Milaninia. “We are incredibly proud that she is taking up this mantle as IABA’s new president. Her qualifications and expertise are not only impressive, but reflective of the growing prestige of our organization and the talent it attracts.”
Based in Manhattan, Ostad is a bankruptcy partner at Morrison & Foerster LLP. Her practice encompasses “a lot of corporate transactional work, as well as litigation advisory work that is focused on distressed companies.” She has been involved in representing two large Icelandic banks that had meltdowns in the fall of 2008, specifically representing them in re-structuring in Iceland and the US. She has also represented large overseas companies seeking to buy companies in the US and has worked in a variety of industries, including energy, telecommunications, real estate, mining, financial institutions, and insurance.
Born in Tehran, Ostad’s father, a physician, moved the family to Brooklyn when she was five years old. They were part of a very small but close-knit group of Iranians in New York at the time. “It was a very ‘Americanizing ‘experience,” she says. Even so, her parents ensured a very apolitical, culturally rich upbringing.
Ostad was in high school when the 1979 Iranian Revolution took place and Iranians began settling in the greater New York area in droves. “One day, nobody knew where Tehran was and I was totally assimilated,” she said, “and then all of a sudden the place on the map had some relevance to what we were hearing on the news.” Out of “necessity and desire” Ostad re-learned Persian and began acting as an ambassador between the two cultures – an indispensable and courageous act in the midst of the hostage crisis.
Her fellow non-Iranian students on Long Island didn’t know what to make of the hostage crisis. “On one hand there’s the situation in Tehran, and on the other there are all the new Iranian students who have come to the U.S. seeking refuge,” she said. “I decided then to start writing for the school newspaper, knowing it would be the right thing to do to share the stories of these new students and make sure they were not scapegoated for the taking of American hostages in Iran.”
She wrote about the food, culture, sports and family life of the new students from Iran and about the star soccer player who had catapulted the school’s soccer team in intramurals. After her first article, teachers and students alike sought Ostad out and thanked her for her efforts to help people understand the Iranian students. “I had a great group of non-Iranian friends beforehand, and then the Iranians came and had more parties, different music. It was a very fun time to have an influx of Iranian teenagers come in and diversify both our school and our group.”
Since then, Ostad has continued to serve as a bridge between the two cultures. “I’ve been really delighted to see the blossoming of the involvement of Iranian Americans in civic, social, and cultural organizations that celebrate not only being Iranian, but the best of the American and Iranian heritages and trying to be a part of society in a meaningful way.”