Profiles in Practice: Alia M. Abdi


Alia M. Abdi, an employment attorney with Nilan Johnson Lewis in Minneapolis, has always been intrigued by the idea of law. As an undergraduate student at St. Cloud State University, Abdi took an “Introduction to Law” class with a professor who was a retired attorney—the first person Abdi met who had experience in the legal profession. “The class was so interesting. I just wanted to do homework for that class! I was just fascinated and knew that this is where I should be heading.”

That same professor encouraged Abdi to take the LSAT and apply to law school. She did, ending up at the University of Minnesota Law School, where she graduated in 2017. She immediately began working at a local plaintiff’s firm.

Abdi knew she wanted to explore employment law after her first wage-an-hour case. “Employment is important to people’s livelihoods, their identities.” Abdi found she could make an impact through labor and employment work. She found a home at Nilan Johnson Lewis. “I’m really grateful to have a job I love. Most people dread Monday mornings, but I find myself excited to hit the ground running and get back to getting things done.”

Practicing employment law also incorporates another passion of Abdi’s: equity and inclusion. As a black female attorney, Abdi understands the importance of being seen and heard. “Talking about diversity is one thing, living it is very different,” she notes. 

On a personal level, Alia goes out of her way to make people of color feel welcome within the legal community, whether it’s taking them out to coffee or simply making a point of engaging with them at a networking event. “People forget how important it is to get connected, how hard that is to do when you’re new,” she said. “Building that network is so important to your overall success. I had someone do that for me, and I’d like to think I’m doing that for others—another friendly face welcoming them to the Minnesota legal profession and cheering them on to succeed.”

Currently, Abdi co-chairs the Diversity and Inclusion Committee for the Federal Bar Association. This year, one of the committee’s initiatives is to increase pipeline efforts for diverse students to go to law school. “It’s hard to have diversity if you don’t have many diverse people coming out of law school. That is why we are focusing on offering scholarships and mentoring opportunities to students of color, both during and after law school,” she emphasized.


Alia-Abdi-2"Whatever your diversity is, there is a place for you."

Abdi encourages those navigating the legal profession to be confident in who they are and stay present in every situation. She recalls attending events where she was the only attorney of color or the youngest person in the room. “It’s easy to be a fly on the wall,” she said. “Don’t do that. There’s a lot of value you bring because you’ve got this different perspective that no one else in that room has. Whatever your diversity is, there is a place for you, but you need to be confident enough to be present.”

Outside of work, Abdi focuses on her relationships with family and friends. She’s especially proud of the relationship she has with her son. “I’m proud of how close we are and the relationship we have. And I’m lucky to be surrounded by supportive family and friends,” she noted. In the limited free time that parenting and working as a lawyer allow, she enjoys trying new restaurants with her husband and son, going to the gym, and reading for pleasure. “Any time someone says, ‘Oh this is a really good book, nothing related to the law,’ you can sign me up to read it,” she joked.

At the end of the day, Abdi said all she wants is to be the best attorney she can be. “My goal is to continue doing the work I love and finish my career being proud of what I did.”

Bethany-Lenderink-150By Bethany Lenderink

Bethany Lenderink graduated from Bethel University with a degree in English Literature and Writing. Lenderink is a Communications Specialist with the Minnesota State Bar Association and the Hennepin County and Ramsey County Bar Associations.

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