From Tipping the Scales- Navjeet Bal: “Let Others Have Their Voices Heard”

Navjeet Bal is a member of Nixon Peabody’s Public Finance group. She was formerly the Commissioner of Revenue for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, a post she was appointed to in February 2008 by Governor Patrick. She is also a Board member of the Federation of Tax Administrators. Prior to her appointment, Navjeet practiced at Mintz Levin for 17 years, where she co-founded Mintz’s Domestic Violence Project. Navjeet is on the BBA Council and is a member of the BBA Executive Committee and Annual Meeting Steering Committee. She is a Board member of the Legal Advocacy and Resource Center, the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights, and was appointed in February 2010 by Chief Justice Marshall to the Access to Justice Commission. Navjeet is a member of the South Asian Bar Association of Greater Boston Advisory Board and was a 2008 recipient of the National South Asian Bar Association’s Cornerstone Award.

  1. How do you think a leader can most effectively explore and manage in areas outside their primary professional responsibilities?

I was an attorney for 17 years at Mintz Levin until 2007 and was then appointed the Commissioner of Revenue by Deval Patrick, so I was in charge of the Massachusetts Department of Revenue. At the time, I didn’t know much about state tax laws, and I inherited a department of about 2000 employees, about 1400 of whom were tax administrators who were very experienced and very knowledgeable. I dealt with that experience by educating myself – I would stay late and read the Massachusetts Tax Code. I also asked questions, and I very much empowered and encouraged those more knowledgeable than I was to speak up – I had no ego issue with that, which is really important for a leader. I was the department head and people knew that, but I was more than willing to let others have their voices heard. A mixture of intelligence, humor, and humility is necessary. That will help to bring out the best in others, and no one can do any job alone.

In terms of extracurricular, service-oriented areas, you need to find causes and projects that you’re passionate about, otherwise you won’t be compelled to make the time to do it. You also need focus – I’ve learned that if it’s not where I want to be, it’s not something to take on. In the end, it’s not as much time as you might think, and you need that break to focus on the issues you care about. I try to keep in touch with the legal services community because that’s something that means a lot to me – it’s all about access to justice.

  1. What advice would you give to those looking to start and promote a major project, such as the Domestic Violence Project you helped to found?

First, you need to be aware that you won’t know everything or have all the skills, but other people might – it’s important to build a network of those who do. The other part of it is to be smart about how a pro bono project benefits not just those it is aiming to assist, but those actually doing it. I think pro bono projects are great for the service that they provide, but also because it promotes cohesion and unity within a firm – and for younger lawyers especially, it’s really important for them to feel that they’re making a difference; so don’t lose sight of how a project helps all parties involved, including the institution. Last, you need to be respectful of the provider community and build alliances with them – don’t think you know more than them or can do their job better than them, because you don’t and you can’t.

  1. How do you continue to grow and develop yourself as a leader?

Most of it is looking for new challenges that force you outside your comfort zone. My skills are in the organizational level, so I look for roles that will utilize those but still present something a little different.

      4.      Anything else to add?

In leadership, it’s important to have different voices to create a diversity of viewpoints. Bringing disparate voices together – not just in race and gender, but overall different perspectives – is what encourages true progress.