Profiles in Practice: Amran Farah

Amran-Farah-400It’s rare to meet an optimistic attorney. Most are known for, and indeed succeed by, worrying about everything that could go wrong and foreseeing every calamity.  

Amran Farah is not like most attorneys.  “I never really get stressed out,” she laughed during our recent interview. 

Which is not to say that Farah takes her work lightly. She’s a consummate go-getter who loathes making excuses for herself. In fact, she graduated from Hamline University School of Law six years ago, but she still remembers her worst grade: either a B+ or an A-. “My father used to say, when I got anything less than an A, ’So, do you have a secret family that you’re supporting? What are you spending all your time on if you’re not doing homework? Do you have a job we don’t know about?’”

Although her parents instilled in her a strong work ethic and dedication to excellence, they weren’t always on board with Farah’s decision to go to law school. Initially she was encouraged to go into medicine, but a fear of needles and blood, combined with a fortuitous conversation with a philosophy professor at St. Thomas, pushed her toward the law. The professor explained that legal reasoning is like mathematics with words. Farah, who loves math, was hooked. 

Farah’s “can do” attitude has helped her immensely in her legal career. Studying for the bar is difficult for any recent law school graduate; Farah did it while clerking for Hennepin County Judge Pamela Anderson and fasting for Ramadan. This meant that she sat for the bar—and passed—without eating after 4 a.m. and without breakfast or lunch.  

Besides her indefatigable industriousness, Farah’s parents also taught her Pan-African philosophy and pride in her heritage. As a former member of the Black Law Students Association and the current president of the Minnesota Association of Black Lawyers, Farah is proud of her black identity. But Farah admits that being a member of an underrepresented group can feel lonely. “I might go weeks, if not months without seeing another Somali attorney,” Farah said. 

Nevertheless, she believes that being comfortable with uncomfortable situations makes people better attorneys. “I think people should take a month and go somewhere else in the world,” she explained. “You can learn that there’s another world, where people have different cultural experiences, different languages, different ways of doing things.” If you are more comfortable embracing that, she said, you are more comfortable with clients, which puts them at ease.

Conversely, attorneys who have not been exposed to other cultures can have a negative impact on the entire firm. “If people are in a place where others don’t look like them, and they get uncomfortable, it makes the whole situation uncomfortable,” she said. Client relationships, and opportunities for a strong team, can suffer. “If a partner’s not comfortable with you being in their space, they’re less likely to give you opportunities.” Instead, attorneys should seek out situations where they are out of their comfort zone—where they are surrounded by people who speak, act, look, or believe differently from them. Successful attorneys can adapt and adjust to clients’ backgrounds with respect and tact and select the best associate for the job regardless of personal feelings. In Farah’s view, this takes deliberate exposure to situations where you are the minority. 

Despite her impressive resume, Farah doesn’t live exclusively for her work. She loves travelling (Barcelona is a recent favorite), bad jokes, and reality TV for relaxation. She finds meaning in creativity, spending time with people, and doing work that makes a difference in the lives of others. 

Farah’s father and mother, a math teacher and community health organizer respectively, taught her that she could do anything. “My parents would never let me think ‘Oh, I can’t do this,’” she said. She grew tired of teachers’ lowered expectations in grade school and recalls her frustration when a substitute teacher assumed she couldn’t read very well. In Farah’s eyes, all the substitute saw was an African, Muslim, immigrant girl with a scarf. In reality, Farah had placed in the advanced reading section, could speak two languages, and could read and write in a third. 

It’s this belief in herself and her own self-determination that fuels Farah’s optimism.
“I feel like stuff is always going to happen,” she said. “So you just have to move on. My dad would say, ‘Are you dead? Okay then, as long as you’re not dead, you can fix anything. You can re-do anything.’ And so, even if I had a hard day at work, tomorrow is a new day. What happens tomorrow depends on tomorrow. I can turn it all around.”

By Nora Huxtable

Ms. Huxtable graduated from the University of St. Thomas School of Law in May. A journalism major and former on-air host on Classical MPR, she now works at Smith Law as an associate, as well as an assistant public defender in the Minnesota Sixth Judicial District in Grand Marais. In her spare time, she volunteers with the local radio station and Cook County Search and Rescue.