Sarah Ause, Deseret Morning News
Karthik Nadesan heads up the Utah Minority Bar Association.

There are people who talk a lot about the benefits of diversity and then there's Karthik Nadesan.

Nadesan, a Salt Lake City attorney, was born in Sri Lanka; educated both there and in the United States in Jewish, British-style and Quaker schools; has studied philosophy, law and human genetics — and in his spare time teaches snowboarding.

Nadesan also is the new president of the Utah Minority Bar.

He has learned there are more than 400 minority lawyers in Utah, but only about 100 are well-known and publicized enough for people to get access to their services.

"I'd like to see us develop a directory of minority attorneys, and also include ethnic groups and languages spoken in Utah," Nadesan said. Utah is experiencing a significant change in the population, with an influx of newcomers not only from elsewhere in the United States, but from other countries as well.

Nadesan says any subsequent encounter with the legal system leaves minorities at a "serious disadvantage" if they can't find someone to represent them who understands their culture and language.

"We could have a list where people can look up particular categories of law that matches their language and background," Nadesan said.

He realizes this is a huge undertaking for a term that lasts only one year, but hopes it can be accomplished. He'd like to have both written and online directories available for the public.

Another of his goals is to expand the level of mentoring for young minority lawyers in a variety of ways. He wants programs that not only help them on the job and network within the legal community, but he also hopes for greater awareness of opportunities for internships and clerking for judges — all significant steps in building a strong resume and gaining valuable experience.

"Part of our focus is to get people involved," Nadesan said.

In the midst of all this, Nadesan also is busy working for the law firm of Snell & Wilmer where he handles civil litigation, particularly product liability defense.

"I find it really interesting," he says, referring to the legal system. "A lot of the arguments are the same ones in philosophy."

He graduated from Cornell University with a double major in biology and philosophy. In addition to getting a law degree from the University of Utah, he also has been a graduate student there studying philosophy and human genetics.

Nadesan's mother is a doctor in New York City and his father previously was an attorney in England and then in Sri Lanka. Nadesan's father also founded a drug prevention program, and Nadesan was chosen as a nongovernment representative for that group to the United Nations.

A fascinating moment at the U.N. involved a Rastafarian, whose religious beliefs call for ritual use of ganja, or marijuana, arguing for legalization of all drugs with a member of Interpol, Nadesan recalls, smiling.

His father now owns and runs a newspaper in Sri Lanka that is aimed primarily at the Tamil ethnic community.

Nadesan said he was drawn to Utah by the idea of becoming a ski bum while attending graduate school. "The mountains," he says, glancing out the window of his downtown office at the Utah skyline. "It's this whirlpool — once you're here, you never leave."

There was only one drawback for someone who mostly experienced slopes in the Eastern United States — "I realized I was terrible skiing on powder."

A friend suggested Nadesan try snowboarding and soon he was hooked. After only two months, Nadesan became a snowboarding instructor and teaches on weekends.

When the weather gets warm, Nadesan can be found rock climbing and happily points to framed color photos. "I'm that dot," he says, pointing to a speck on Angel's Landing in Zion National Park. "It's a lot safer than people think."

Nadesan said one of the major influences in his life has been the Quakers he has met and who ran the high school he attended, particularly since that faith so strongly encourages tolerance and diversity.

He also has seen firsthand the futility and destruction of civil war in Sri Lanka. "There are people who are essentially the same race on the same island in a war over essentially nothing. ... You might want to kill someone you don't know, but if you know them, you might want to get along."


E-mail: lindat@desnews.com