First in Family Law
Three family law attorneys with Hill Wallack LLP—Supti Bhattacharya, Megha R. Thakkar and Barbara M. Kirk—lead by example, both in and out of the courtroom
by Leigh Stuart

Although Supti Bhattacharya has established herself as an elite family law attorney serving the area surrounding Princeton, a career in law hadn’t occurred to her when she started her collegiate studies. She just knew she wanted to help others.

Today, Bhattacharya is a partner with the Princeton law firm of Hill Wallack LLP, which also has a Pennsylvania office in Yardley and a second New Jersey office in Morristown. Initially, though, she thought she would be a social worker. Then fate intervened to lead her in a different direction.

A native of Princeton, Bhattacharya attended the University of Pennsylvania as an undergraduate, where she earned a B.A. magna cum laude, with honors, with a triple major in sociology, urban studies and South Asia studies. As part of an Urban Studies externship, Bhattacharya served a public interest law firm that worked extensively with Community Legal Services in Philadelphia. During this time, she witnessed the powerful impact the law could have on members of her community, and she quickly realized this is what she wanted to do with her life.

Before earning her J.D. from Rutgers School of Law in Newark, N.J., Bhattacharya started her career with a high-end boutique Manhattan law firm. She worked there as a commercial litigation paralegal with, among others, now-U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey Paul J. Fishman, Esq. Then, from 2002 through 2006, she built her practice with the firm of Sterns & Weinroth, now known as Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, focusing on commercial litigation and family law.

By 2006, Bhattacharya sought greater independence. Within a year she had opened her own firm, the Law Office of Supti Bhattacharya, in Mercer County. Although she enjoyed her work in commercial and securities litigation, Bhattacharya began to feel the pull of family law and decided to root her practice in this area of law. She also discovered a dearth of Indian-American divorce lawyers serving Princeton and the surrounding area and has established herself as a leader serving this specific niche.

After approximately 10 years of running her own firm, Bhattacharya received an offer which steered her toward a new path. On April 1, she joined Hill Wallack LLP as a partner. She says the decision paid almost immediate dividends: “The phone is ringing even more than it ever did before. This was definitely the right decision—the best decision I’ve made for my career so far.”

In addition to being a partner with Hill Wallack, Bhattacharya is chairperson of the firm’s New Jersey Family Law Practice Group. In her capacity with the firm, Bhattacharya handles family law matters of all sorts, including divorce, separation, domestic and international custody, child support, emancipation, domestic violence, and pre-nuptial and mid-marriage agreements. “Any aspect of family relations, we handle,” she explains.

When asked why she chose to bring her talents to Hill Wallack, Bhattacharya lists many reasons. First and foremost is the boon this new partnership has been to her clients. And even though a wealth of resources has opened up to her clients, Bhattacharya notes that her billing rates will not be changing.

“You have to have a stomach of steel to do this kind of work,” Bhattacharya says, noting she appreciates that family law matters often involve the most sensitive aspects of people’s lives. “I think because I always wanted to be a social worker, I enjoy the counseling aspect of [family law].

“No one ever expects to get divorced,” she continues. “When you get married, you never expect this is going to happen to you. I want to make clients feel safe, comfortable and guided during that process.”

Bhattacharya’s expertise also shows through her affiliations: She has represented the Asian American seat on the New Jersey State Bar Association’s Board of Trustees for five years; she has been a member of the Asian Pacific American Lawyers Association of New Jersey since 2002; and she has been a member of the South Asian Bar Association of New Jersey since 2012. She has accomplished all this and more at only 40 years old.

Uniquely, Bhattacharya says her background as an Indian American helps her relate to clients who share her cultural heritage. “There is a connection that comes from my personal background,” she says. “I understand the culture, I understand why they’re seeking divorce, and I understand the legal ramifications in the family—not just the husband/wife relationship.”

Likewise, Megha R. Thakkar, an attorney based out of the Hill Wallack office in Princeton, uses her cultural background to help her relate to certain clients. As a first-generation American of South Asian descent, she, too, recognized the lack of Indian American attorneys in the Princeton area and sought to address this need. “When dealing with the Indian community, there are other cultural aspects of a divorce,” she notes. For example, among the factors to consider in the event of a divorce is sensitivity to input from a client’s family.

Thakkar, who earned her J.D. from St. John’s University in Queens, N.Y., approaches each case with the notion in mind that she is “dealing with people’s lives, and their most important assets—particularly, their children,” she observes. Thakkar, who is chair of the Middlesex County Bar Association Diversity Committee, takes an even-tempered approach to each case, which helps in matters that often involve highly charged emotions. “It’s important to have the attorney approach things more calmly and rationally,” she says.

Thakkar works in many of the same areas of family law as Bhattacharya.

“I think our firm is more resolution-oriented, settlement-oriented than a lot of other firms,” Thakkar says. “We try to get the best outcome for our clients, but we think compromise is necessary for any good settlement.”

Barbara M. Kirk manages the Pennsylvania family law practice and does municipal work for the firm. She earned her J.D. with honors from Temple University Beasley School of Law during the evening while working during the day with a husband and three children at home. Kirk, who rose through the ranks from paralegal to partner in a firm, worked extensively with Libertae Inc. of Bensalem, a nonprofit organization that provides resources for women who have addiction issues, and the March of Dimes. Today, Kirk is a member of the board of directors for the Pennsbury Manor Historical Society, which preserves the legacy of the William Penn homestead, while remaining involved with the local and state bar associations.

“Helping clients to be able to get through the process, to show that divorce is not the end of the world but an opportunity to start a new chapter, I think is the most rewarding part,” Kirk says.

Kirk echoes the importance of cooperation, both in the courtroom and among members of the firm’s staff. “Oftentimes maybe odd issues develop in family law,” she says, “and I have the resources here that I can tap for either opinions or guidance or support, which you don’t see always in other firms.”

The attorneys agree that the entire Hill Wallack team deserves credit for the firm’s overall level of achievement. From scheduling appointments to listening to clients’ stories, Bhattacharya says the entire Hill Wallack staff has been “integral” to the firm’s success.

Each of these three women—Bhattacharya, Thakkar and Kirk—has become a leader in her own right, both within the firm and in the community as a whole. Examples: Kirk serves as the first-ever female chair of one of three Board of View panels for the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas, and she is a former president of the Bucks County Bar Association; Thakkar received the Martin S. Goldin Family Law Award for excellence in practicing family law; and Bhattacharya strives to be a role model for females of all ages.

“I’ve taken my own path with a level of focus and confidence that has given me the ability to be where I am,” Bhattacharya says. “I want to encourage young women to follow their dreams. With hard work and preparation, anything can be achieved.”

Hill Wallack LLP

21 Roszel Road
Princeton, NJ 08540

777 Township Line Road, Suite 250
Yardley, PA 19067

60 Washington Street, Suite 105G
Courthouse Plaza
Morristown, NJ 07960

Photograph by Allure West Studios