Cake Decorating Fills Creative Gap for Immigration Attorney

With two sisters who took classes in cake decorating, Disna Weerasinghe spent her childhood in Sri Lanka surrounded by cake creativity.

 

Her career took shape, however, when she went to law school and practiced criminal law in Sri Lanka.  Then her husband wanted to get his Ph.D. in the U.S.

“It was a risk we took,” says Disna. “We were 20-something and came with $750.”

 They arrived in Pennsylvania and stayed with her husband’s brother. That’s where cake comes back into Disna’s life. That brother owned a bakery.

One day her husband stopped to buy some Italian bread at a bakery where people were lined up for delicious items that came in from New York. It was a franchise and Disna and her husband decided to take that on, launching them in the bakery business for three years.  Disna began her own specialty, starting with ingredients far from upper crust.

“I use Duncan Hines cake mix,” said Disna. “I have my own recipe for icing. It’s not too sweet. I made better tasting cakes and people loved it.” Her cakes attracted a following and soon she was making 50 cakes a month.

 

An example of Disna’s edible sugar flower orchids

 

Meanwhile, Disna was going to law school so she could practice in the U.S.

 “The bakery and cake decorating paid for law school, along with working in the school library,” she said. After law school, she worked for the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, then in the legal department of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

 

Edible flowers gracing a cake

Life got busy with work and two children, so cake decorating was for her sons’ birthdays or special events for friends. One of her most creative projects, in terms of traveling with cake decoration flowers, was when she made a wedding cake for her nephew in Sri Lanka. She made a cake structure out of styrofoam, something done in Sri Lanka, with only a small piece of real cake put into the top section for the wedding, so the bride and groom have some real cake.

 Disna made 70 flowers in advance, about 10 or 20 a day – after a couple of days they were not to be eaten, but just for decoration. She packed the flowers in bubble wrap in boxes and took them along to the wedding – in the airline’s baggage compartment.

 The bubble wrap did its job and the flowers survived to grace the wedding cake.

 

Disna decorating her nephew’s wedding cake in Sri Lanka

 Disna’s food creativity doesn’t stop with cake decorating. She is the author of a cook book, The Fine Art of Sri Lankan Cuisine: Clay Pot Style and Other Methods.  She’s made her law career suit her lifestyle. She has a solo practice in immigration law and works from home in Downington, Penn. She’s active in Toastmasters and enjoys her outdoor time, riding her bicycle five miles, three times a week.

 

Disna enjoying time outdoors on her bicycle

 

She still makes specialty cakes and has done them in the shape of a camera, shoes, flower pots and cars. If she needs a dose of cake creativity for a new project, she does what a person in any specialty might do – she finds it on YouTube.

Lawyer Lightning Round

1. What’s the best part of being a lawyer?

I’m a people person. People energize me.  I advise immigrants, so I get to talk to so many different people from so many different countries. You learn about their cultures, but when you get to know people, what I’ve learned is that everyone is alike.

2. What’s the best part of being an entrepreneur or having a business or passion outside your legal work?

It’s relaxes you, especially when you have a cake decorating business. It’s an art, and when you have an art, you get complete satisfaction. Every time I finish one of my projects, I’m completely happy.

3. How does your legal background help with what you love to do?

It really doesn’t. My legal background doesn’t really have any connection with cake decorating.

4. If you could change one thing about the legal industry, what would it be?

Now if you move from one state to another, you have to be licensed in that state. I come from a country where the whole island has a federal law system. The legal industry should be unified. Let the lawyers cross borders. There should be some sort of a way to practice without going through another bar when you move. I’m living in Pennsylvania. I am admitted to the New York Bar. I practice immigration lawn because it’s federal and I can usually do my work by phone, fax and email.

5. What’s the secret to juggling the practice of law and living a full life outside of the law?

Time management.  You just have to divide your time. I don’t decorate my cakes with flowers in one sitting. I do it little-by-little. Every single day I do several different things, maybe two hours at a time. It works for me.

6. What’s your advice to lawyers thinking of changing careers, starting their own business or just taking some time off?

You have to go for what your heart believes. If are passionate about any other business, there’s nothing wrong with that. You don’t have to do law just because you have a law degree. If you want to do anything, you should go for it.

7. Do you have one memorable horror story from your legal work, not mentioning any names?

In immigration, I really do not have a horror story to share. So, my horror story goes back to a time when I was a junior criminal defense attorney in Sri Lanka. My boss accepted a case to defend a rapist. I was assisting my boss the day we interviewed the man to get his side of the story. He explained in detail how he raped a 14-year-old girl and I really felt sick hearing it.  

8. What’s your next big adventure?

Write another book, perhaps a sequel to my cookbook or becoming a Distinguished Toastmaster.

9. Where do you want to be five years from now?

I have not been thinking that far ahead. I am an in-the-moment type of person and I take one day at a time. So in five years’ time, I will be wherever life takes me. I know it’s going to be good.

10. If you could pass any law you wanted, what would it be?

I would definitely pass a law for attorneys to have a “Unified Multistate License” for practicing law.

 

Disna Weerasinghe is an immigration attorney with a solo practice in Downington, PA. She is admitted to the New York bar and is an attorney in the Hire An Esquire network.

 

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