Girl #1 – Saba Zafar, Los Angeles

At 5:15 one Monday evening this March, I parked myself on a corner couch in Bodega Wine Bar in Santa Monica, California. Thanks to daylight savings time, it may as well have been noon from where I sat. Having been a clear and sunny day, the air felt warm and fresh.

Bodega Wine Bar embraces Southern California’s perfect weather by utilizing the indoor/outdoor living concept—the walls facing the street are giant windows, which were fully open that evening. I would have gladly taken a window seat had some gals wearing bohemian dresses, sitting cross-legged, poking away on their laptops, not already stolen that territory.

So back in the corner I sat, facing the windows, sipping my Malbec. About halfway through my first glass, Saba walked in—her hair flowed freely down, unusual for her. Her hair is thick and wavy and incredibly long, reaching past her hips, so she often pulls it back and out of her way. She wore a loose white sweater and fitted black pants, accented with printed pointy-toe flats with a buckle across her foot.

I first met Saba through a networking group for young professionals in the summer of 2015. We hit it off immediately, and have since had many laughs over bootcamp at Equinox, drinks at Bodega, and endless commiseration over various political and social grievances.

For the record, despite my allusion to bootcamp, Saba does not exercise regularly. Nor does she watch what she eats for superficial purposes. That said, Saba looks exceedingly healthy. Her Pakistani skin tone, slight frame, and voluminous Rapunzel-length hair contribute to an aura of perfect health and beauty.

As Saba sat down next to me, she immediately ordered pita and hummus along with her glass of white wine, for Saba cannot drink alcohol without eating. (Every time we pop a bottle, she also eats something bready, like pizza or pita.) I only wanted wine, so I simply watched as she began to eat her hummus.

Saba runs Playa Law Firm, which she founded. As we finished our first glasses of wine, I indicated my objective: to address her successes with her firm in a profile piece about her. True to her character, as I’ve come to know it, Saba requested that I not focus on the good she’s done, but rather to make note of her weaknesses—she’s flawed, she asserted, and people should know that…

Born in Pakistan, Saba moved to the United States as a child. She earned a BS in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from UCLA in 2006, and a JD from Loyola in 2010. When she isn’t running her firm, Saba gives back to the LA community by tutoring homeless children.

Saba established her law firm in April 2012—she dove headfirst, all in, leaving her in-house counsel position behind to pursue this goal. She had always wanted to found a firm because she craved the autonomy it offered. She desired ownership of every piece of every case she touched. Saba had read Agatha Christie novels growing up, and recalls always wanting to be a strong, powerful woman like the ones she read.

Significantly, Saba founded Playa Law Firm solo. She did not partner with another attorney, and did not accept loans from family and friends. Neither did Saba have any prior business experience. She simply took her savings and made this leap of faith—without a business plan, which she in hindsight advises against.

To be clear, Saba was never truly alone. Her family supported her along the way; her brother, for example, dedicated countless hours to the marketing efforts of Playa Law Firm. Even knowing her family would support her, however, Saba recalled acknowledging at the time of her decision to open her own firm, “I’m going to be really poor for a while.”

I laughed and ordered myself another round. The waitress brought my second glass of Malbec quickly, and it was around this time when I also gave in and started munching on Saba’s pita bread. Just one piece, I thought…

Saba focuses on wage and hour and wrongful termination cases, representing plaintiffs who have been wronged. Significantly, attorneys generally take these cases on a contingency basis, meaning Saba did not receive a paycheck of any significance until her first settlement—seven months after setting up shop. Saba faced the struggles of those first seven months and pushed right through them. She explained this simply, saying, “You set a goal, and you do it.”

It took Saba two years to feel like she was “doing it.” One landmark case she handled in 2014 bookmarks this timeframe in her memory. She attributes her success to keeping an open mind, avoiding inclinations to be stubborn, and acknowledging and learning from her mistakes. I might add that she is also smart and hardworking. Now, five years in, Playa Law Firm is going strong. That is not to say, of course, that Saba is necessarily content. Per Saba, “The day you stop chasing is the day it stops working.”

Now it was Saba’s turn to order another glass of wine, which—again—came quickly. Perhaps it was because it was a Monday night, but the bar was quieter than I’m used to seeing. A big group had come in for a birthday celebration, but we were still alone in our corner.

By now I had eaten more pita and hummus than Saba had. I was actively retraining myself from eating more than half; Saba is the one who ordered this, and I wasn’t even hungry, after all.

Nearing the end of our second round, Saba revealed she takes pride in taking pregnancy discrimination cases that most attorneys might not take. Saba is passionate about this issue in particular, and thus takes a risk on cases in which she truly believes. Cheers to that.

We wrapped by 7:30 p.m. The sun had just set, and it was time for us to go home. As we got up to leave, Saba walked away without her keys and her sunglasses—too large to fit in her tiny crossbody bag. I called her attention to the items left on the couch, wondering if I had eaten too much of her pita.

As we went our separate ways, I reflected on our conversations from that night. I realized that at all times relevant, Saba knew herself, and boldly pursued the path that she determined would make her happy. That is something worth drinking to.