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Alia Abdi
Alia Abdi (Provided photo)

Breaking the Ice: Connecting with, welcoming other diverse attorneys

Name: Alia Abdi

Title: Associate, Nilan Johnson Lewis

Education: B.A., international relations, St. Cloud State University; J.D., University of Minnesota Law School

Alia Abdi appreciates the attorneys of color who have welcomed her into the profession. The Nilan Johnson Lewis associate strives to return the favor by welcoming newer ones.

“When you join the legal profession and you’re barely seeing people who look like you, it’s easy to feel like you don’t belong,” Abdi said. “It’s wonderful to see attorneys of color finding their way into the profession, and I hope to be a welcoming person to them, to bounce ideas off of whether it’s work-related, navigating the legal community or cheering them on to continue to succeed.”

Abdi is co-vice president of diversity for the Minnesota Chapter of the Federal Bar Association and serves on the firm’s diversity committee.

Diversity and inclusion also are issues in Abdi’s employment law practice.

“We spend so much time at work, it needs to be a place where people can thrive, so those types of cases are more meaningful to me,” Abdi said.

Q: Best way to start a conversation with you?

A: I’m a social person, so saying hi is probably enough to get me to start talking. If you really want to keep me engaged, ask me what my 4-year-old son is up to.

Q: Why did you go to law school?

A: I’ve always wanted a profession where I’d help people. I thought I was going to be a doctor and quickly realized that I wasn’t interested in those classes. In undergrad, I connected with a teacher, a professor, a retired attorney. I took her intro to law class, where she asked us to research a topic and argue our position, and I found that to be more enjoyable, so it was a natural lead to law school.

Q: What books are you reading?

A: A book that I read a lot for my 4-year-old is “Never Touch a Dinosaur.” We are obsessed with it.

Q: What’s your pet peeve?

A: People who are not authentic and aren’t comfortable being themselves.

Q: Best part of your work?

A: Helping clients through a tough legal issue. I really enjoy the attorneys and individuals I work with. They’re phenomenal attorneys and exceptional at developing legal strategy.

Q: Least favorite?

A: I really dislike billing. If there was a way to still do my job and not bill, I would be the happiest attorney in the world. But it’s a very important part of the practice.

Q: Favorite activity away from work?

A: Spending time with my family. Taking care of plants, checking out a new nursery to find a new plant and figuring out how to get it to thrive in my home. Exercising and cooking a new meal when I get the energy.

Q: Where would you take someone visiting your hometown?

A: I used to live close to the Stone Arch Bridge area and the Guthrie Theater. A favorite activity was walking across the Stone Arch Bridge, grabbing dinner and walking around that area. That’s probably what I would take them to do.

Q: Legal figure you most admire?

A: Growing up, I really admired Thurgood Marshall. It’s hard not to learn about the huge impact he had in opening so many doors that have allowed me to become an attorney.

Q: Misconception that others have about your work as an attorney?

A: That we are always in court, going to trial, and that’s just not the practice of law right now. Any time an Uber driver or a family friend finds out that I’m a lawyer, they assume that I know everything there is to know about the law.

Q: Favorite book, movie or TV show about lawyers?

A: “All Rise,” focusing on this Black female judge who used to be a prosecutor and now wants to practice differently than she was as a prosecutor, providing a fair playing field for defendants.


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