Mercer Law Professor Ishaq Kundawala started off wanting to follow in the footsteps of his father, a Texas physician. But instead of medicine, he became attracted to the law.
As a student at Austin College, where he majored in business, the Dallas native chaired its peer judicial board, conducting hearings concerning students accused of academic dishonesty or social violations.
“That experience was formative for me, the leadership role and the importance of it, because our decisions would affect students’ lives, one way or another,” he says.
Earning his J.D. at Tulane Law School, he further learned the personal implications of legal decisions when he clerked for a federal bankruptcy judge.
“I got to see the individual aspects of bankruptcy — people suffering, people trying to start over and get a fresh start in life,” he says.
As an associate at the international law firm of Baker Botts LLP, his cases were less personal and largely corporate. He handled the estimation and ultimate resolution of approximately $1.5 billion of toxic tort related bankruptcy claims against one of the nation’s largest copper producers.
Now the Southeastern Bankruptcy Law Institute and W. Homer Drake Jr. Endowed Chair in Bankruptcy Law, Kundawala has long enjoyed his transition from practice to academia. He got a good taste of his future profession as a law student himself.
“My first class, first semester, was contracts,” he recalls. “I just loved the way it was taught, I loved the Socratic aspect of it.”
The enthusiasm of his professors also made a strong impression.
“I saw the passion that they had when they taught and interacted with the students,” he says. “I saw how joyful they were and how much they really loved their jobs.”
It was at this early point in his first year of law school that Kundawala knew that he wanted to eventually enter academia.
Now, as a professor himself, he takes equal pleasure in interacting with his students.
“Seeing the light bulb come on when they fully understand something — that is the best part of my job,” he says, quoting an old adage, “‘You teach for free; they pay you to grade.’ That’s very true.”
Kundawala taught for 13 years in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, at Nova Southeastern University’s Shepard Broad College of Law. There, he created the school’s first consumer bankruptcy externship for students. He launched the same program at Mercer Law last year. It is the first of its kind among Georgia law schools.
“It’s going to allow students to represent real clients in real bankruptcy proceedings from start to finish,” he says. “They’re going to get hands-on, practical experience representing clients in bankruptcy court. It’s a twofold benefit: They get practical experience on one hand, and on the other hand, they are helping members of the community that don’t have access to lawyers and to the legal system. The students can start to see the real benefits of pro bono work.
“That’s important to the legal profession. Nobody likes to give away anything for free, but in our profession, as in other professions, you have to give back to the community.”
While at NSU, he met his wife, Joy. No, he never taught her. She graduated the year after he came there to teach.
“People always ask me. ‘Was she in one of your classes? Did she get an A?’” he says. “No, she wasn’t. We actually met at an alumni party, and one of my friends introduced us in 2009.” (Joy is an attorney with Cooling & Winter LLC. She currently works from home, handling civil cases in both Georgia and Florida.)
Moving from Fort Lauderdale to Macon has taken some adjustment.
Back in Florida, “We would take walks on the beach — we had a boat in our backyard, literally,” he says. “We would take our boat on cruises through the beautiful waterways of Fort Lauderdale, go offshore fishing, or even navigate the Gulf Stream all the way to the Bahamas.”
He said that boating takes his mind away from life’s daily stresses.
In landlocked Middle Georgia, Kundawala, his wife and their daughter, Jasmine, are developing new interests. They’ve enjoyed Macon itself — “It also has an old town charm that we did not have in Fort Lauderdale, and that I did not feel in Dallas” — and strolled through the downtown Christmas lights last year. They’ve enjoyed walking in Amerson River Park and the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park.
The city’s hub-of-the-state location also offers access to a lot of other destinations that they have explored together as a family. They’ve visited Atlanta, the Georgia Aquarium, Savannah, the Blue Ridge Mountains, South Carolina’s low country and some of the beautiful beaches within a few hours drive from Macon.
Back at home, they love their dogs: a mini Aussie doodle, gotten specifically for Jasmine, and a little terrier mix, who’s a little older, diabetic and partially blind. They also enjoy their daily swims.
When he’s not exploring his new state with family, Kundawala falls back on an old Texas hobby.
“I love barbecue. I enjoy smoking my own brisket. I do it Texas style with a pecan rub,” he says. “I’ve had barbecue from Georgia, and I do like it, but for me, as a Texan, I like brisket a certain way.”
Kundawala and his family are happy and settling into Macon. They look forward to their continued adventures and meeting more Mercerians. This summer, Ishaq will begin serving as associate dean for academic affairs.
Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the 2023 edition of the Mercer Lawyer magazine.