KARINSHAK’S RÉSUMÉ IS SO
FORMIDABLE, and includes such a strong
military background, that on first meeting
her one expects a super-serious person
with ramrod posture. Instead, at Krevolin
& Horst in Midtown, where she’s a partner,
Karinshak is earthy and accessible. She
winks a lot, as if everyone is in on the joke.
Her Southern accent is especially heavy.
She was born Zahra Sheikholeslam,
the daughter of a Persian father and
an American mother, and grew up in
LaFayette in the wake of the Iranian
hostage crisis. Her father, she says, was
a curiosity in the small town, where folks
would drop in on Saturdays to invite the
Sheikholeslams to church. “We didn’t get
called names or anything, the way some
people did,” she says. “People stood up
for us; they protected us. They accepted
my dad; and they had intellectual and
religious conversations with him that you
would never expect in small-town Georgia.
That’s the beauty of a small town, which I
didn’t always appreciate when I was young.
But then I got out and saw what it was like
in other places. And I appreciate it now.”
She was the oldest of five children in
a family of limited means; but her family
was very patriotic, especially her father.
“He loved being in America and all things
American.” So military academy beckoned
as a promising option. Karinshak’s “
Paw-Paw,” who was a Marine in World War II,
sought guidance from their congressman,
“At that time, my district encompassed
suburban Atlanta and rural areas,
including LaFayette,” Darden says.
“Usually, the kids with higher test scores
were from the suburbs, so, to be honest, I
was skeptical at first. But the more I got to
know Zahra, the more impressed I became
with her potential.”
Darden nominated her for an appointment
to the United States Air Force Academy in
Colorado, where she was awarded a full
scholarship. “And this was important to me
at the time: I would be guaranteed a job
when I graduated,” she says.
Karinshak was part of the ninth class
to admit women, who were outnumbered
roughly 12 to 1 by male cadets. It’s her
understanding that no female student
from rural Georgia had ever graduated
from the academy. “I really stood out with
my twangy accent,” she says. “People
I regarded the law as a way to do that.
Someone comes to you with a problem,
and your mission is to solve it.”
So she returned home to Georgia and
enrolled in law school at Emory University,
where she was a Sidney Parks Scholar,
editor-in-chief of the Emory Law Journal
and a member of Order of the Coif. While
in law school, she interned for the Hon.
Robert Benham. She then clerked for the
Hon. J.L. Edmondson on the 11th Circuit
Court of Appeals. “I pretty much didn’t
sleep at all during my clerkship, but it was
another blessing in my life because Judge
Edmondson was such a great role model.”
From there, she joined Sutherland, Asbill
& Brennan as a litigation associate. A
highlight of her tenure was The Campaign
for Fiscal Equity v. State of New York, which
required her to live in a Manhattan hotel
during the work week for about six months.
“I loved living there without really living
During the re-enlistment of Wendell Daniels on the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.
there,” she says. “Riding the subway,
working in the attorney general’s office at 2
a.m. I was there during the Amadou Diallo
protests. I never dreamed I’d be doing that
when I was growing up in LaFayette.”
All the while, Rep. Darden stayed in touch
with her, keeping tabs on her progress. When
the governor asked him to recommend
a “real nuts-and-bolts lawyer, not just a
politician,” he suggested Karinshak. “There
are people who are highly intelligent and
people who work very hard—Zahra combines
both of those qualities,” Darden says.
would say, ‘So you’re from Podunk,
Georgia, huh?’ It was tough. It gave me the
sense that, if I could survive that, I could
survive just about anything. It’s one of my
greatest blessings and the foundation of
everything that came afterward.”
She didn’t just survive; she thrived. The
rigor suited her. She ran cross-country and
worked as an instructor pilot, making the
cover of USA Today while she was a cadet.
She earned a B.S. in international affairs
with a minor in Arabic. “I speak it with a
Southern accent,” she says. She was then
commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Air
Force and attended intelligence training,
where she achieved the highest academic
average in the program’s history. Then she
was sent to Washington, D.C.
“I was involved with this cool project that
was known at the time as ‘Star Wars,’” she
says, “but I really can’t talk about that. Or
I’d have to kill you.” She winks. While she
was in D.C., she met her husband, Bruce,
a West Point graduate. “We added it up,
and between our two families, we have a
combined total of 130 years of military service
in our generation alone,” she says, beaming.
She likes to note that she has “served” in
some capacity under five presidents—from
Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama.
“A lot of people don’t realize that the
military doesn’t just fight in wars but also
engages in a lot of humanitarian and
diplomatic work,” she says. “I wanted
to make a career of public service, and