By HIBAH ANSARI
Friday February 19, 2021
Co-founder of the Somali American Bar Association. President of the Minnesota Association of Black Lawyers. Amran has used her professional success to create opportunities for other Somali attorneys—and the people they serve.
Recently appointed partner at Greene Espel, Amran Farah will help select the next U.S. Attorney and U.S. Marshal in Minnesota. Credit: Greene Espel
Amran Farah has had a busy past year.
She volunteered to connect protesters to lawyers after the murder of George Floyd in May—while figuring out how to care for her newborn son and work remotely from her Richfield home. When her maternity leave ended, she returned to her role in commercial litigation at Greene Espel, the Minneapolis law firm where she became a partner this January. While no one definitively tracks it, Amran, 34, is very likely the first Somali attorney to become a partner at a large Minnesota firm.
A few weeks after achieving that professional success, she accepted an invitation to help select the next U.S. Attorney and U.S. Marshal in Minnesota, The U.S. Attorney represents the United States in federal criminal cases. The U.S. Marshal serves as the enforcement arm of the courts and is involved in most law enforcement initiatives. Both posts typically turn over when a new president takes office, and together they exert great influence over what types of law enforcement take priority in Minnesota.“I know some people who believe that the system is inherently broken, and that by working within the system you’re just going to be another peg in the system,” Amran said. “While I respect that, I do think you can do some things within this broken system to help your community—as long as you don’t compromise your own values and principles in the process.”
The second week of February, U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith announced the members they invited to join the Federal Law Enforcement Selection Committee. Chaired by Ramsey County Attorney John Choi, the seven-member committee reviews applications and recommends candidates to the senators. Klobuchar and Smith will then bring those selections to President Joe Biden for consideration and approval.
Smith praised the selection committee that includes Amran: “These Minnesota community leaders will help run an inclusive and fair selection process to name top federal law enforcement candidates in Minnesota,” Smith said in a statement.
Amran said she hopes to ensure the selection of candidates who will serve all Minnesotans, especially those who come from the same communities as Amran. This new connection to the workings of government marks another step in Amran’s rapid rise in the legal profession. Throughout her still-young career, Amran has used her personal success to create opportunities for other Somali attorneys—and the people they serve.
‘I come to this work differently’
Amran was born in Somalia and arrived in the United States as a child. She said she has always held a strong presence in her community since she comes from a large family. Amran has 10 siblings and 34 nieces and nephews. Add that crew to her network of in-laws, Amran joked, and the whole family could make up a voting bloc.
That connection to extended family—and community—also inspired Amran’s commitment to create opportunity for immigrants and people of color.
“Knowing how important diversity, equity, and inclusion are to me as a person, I come to this work differently than somebody else,” Amran said.
Amran began to take an active role in the Somali community while studying at what is now called the Mitchell Hamline School of Law. There, she helped create the Somali American Bar Association, an organization for Somali American law students and attorneys. She graduated law school in 2013. Amran next served as the president of the Minnesota Association of Black Lawyers. Through this role, Amran got involved in helping protesters over the summer.
She now hopes to bring the interests of the Black, Somali, and Muslim communities to the selection committee for the U.S. Attorney and U.S. Marshal.
“If I felt like the reason the senators were inviting me is so they can just check off the boxes—oh, we have a Black person, we have a Muslim person, we have a Somali person, we have a woman—if I really truly felt that, then I would not be part of it.”
Making law partner in three years
A large part of Amran’s public standing comes from her rapid professional rise. In 2018, Amran started work at Greene Espel, a boutique firm that represents prominent local companies like 3M, Ecolab, and the Minnesota Vikings. This winter, she became a partner—after just three years at Greene Espel.
According to Guled Ibrahim, the current president of the Somali American Bar Association, Amran is the first Somali attorney in the state to become a partner at a major law firm.
“The culmination of Amran’s achievements is her recent achievement of becoming partner,” Guled said. “She’s a trailblazer. And now we have an image of what it means to be a partner at a top law firm.”
Amran works in commercial cases representing businesses and private companies. But she has carved out a niche in the litigation industry, where diversity, equity, and inclusion are not just buzzwords: They are tangible practices that she can help clients implement.
Amran noted that attorneys at the firm had been doing some work around diversity, equity, and inclusion—such as implicit bias training and discussions about employment law. In an effort to formalize these practices, she co-founded the firm’s diversity, equity, and inclusion practice, which provides consulting and training services for clients who want to develop inclusive workplaces.
What does diversity, inclusion, and equity mean in a legal setting? Amran joked, “I don’t want to give the lawyer answer of, ‘It depends’—but it literally does depend.”
For the most part, it depends on where the client could improve and what their goals are, Amran added. Diversity, for example, focuses on hiring, promoting, and retaining employees from different backgrounds. Because she understands the stakes for her own community, Amran takes a lead in helping her clients develop policies.
Sybil Dunlop is another attorney at Greene Espel and worked with Amran to develop the firm’s diversity, equity, and inclusion practice. She said that Amran has taught her the trick to effectively working with clients: deliver hard messages with kindness.
“She’ll say to someone who just doesn’t seem to get it: Have you ever been an outsider? Have you ever felt like you didn’t have power?” Dunlop said. “She’s really able to connect with them and they hear what she’s saying in a different way.”
A legal connector for George Floyd protestors
In April, Amran had a baby boy—during a pandemic. It’s been difficult not spending time with her large family and having to maintain social distancing. Her siblings hadn’t seen Amran’s son until he was about 6 months old. Some of her nieces and nephews didn’t believe her son was real, Amran joked.
Despite the difficulties raising a child during a pandemic, Amran said she’s grateful that she’s been able to maintain her responsibilities while working from home.
Amran’s day starts at about 8:30 when her son wakes up. She begins working and takes breaks for the baby throughout the day. She wraps her work up by 6 p.m. and spends time with her husband and her son. Then, when her son falls asleep in the evening, Amran logs back on for the night.
At the same time as Amran started juggling new needs at home, the broader community cried out for attention.
Then-Officer Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd in May. During the uprising that followed, protesters on the ground struggled to get legal representation after being arrested. Because she was the president of the Minnesota Association of Black Lawyers, she started receiving texts and emails calling for her help. Amran doesn’t practice criminal law, but she helped arrange legal help to protesters by acting as a liaison between her own organization and other local legal rights groups.
In the wake of the civil unrest, she also helped small businesses affected by the protests get insurance claims and Paycheck Protection Program loans.
Given her leadership role, Amran couldn’t ignore texts and emails with requests for legal support. But as a new mother, Amran found she was testing her own limits. Still, she said she had to continue improving the world her son would grow up in.
“It was hard, but I’m a lot less willing to accept excuses for people to say, ‘Not yet, not now, let’s take baby steps,’” Amran said. “We don’t have time for that.”
Getting everyone into the room
Amran hasn’t just assumed the responsibilities of leadership roles; she’s helped create them.
She served as the president and co-founded the Somali American Bar Association which, at first, brought together Somali law students, attorneys, professors, and judges throughout North America. Eventually, the organization shifted its focus solely to Somali American members: Today, the group includes about 20 attorneys from Minnesota and a growing number of law students.
Guled joined Amran and other law students in creating the organization to unite Somali people in the field, but also to serve as a resource for their own community. From the beginning, Guled said he’s seen the ways Amran uplifts people.
“If she goes into a room and she notices that people that look like her—people that deserve to be there—are not there,” Guled said, “she’s one of those people who will make sure that others are getting into that room.”
That’s what makes her such a good addition to the federal selection committee, Guled added. He said Amran isn’t shy to voice her opinions. He’s confident she will advocate for candidates who embody diversity, equity, and inclusion—values she’s worked so hard to formalize at her own firm and in her community work.
The Federal Law Enforcement Selection Committee will meet to review applications, which closed Tuesday.
While Amran said she’s pleased to take on this role, she said it will be hard to assure community members that the process is fair, since meetings are confidential. If people knew more about the candidates who applied and the discussions committee members had, they might be more inclined to trust that the committee picked a candidate who cares about equitable administration of justice. What she can do, Amran said, is encourage people to apply for the position.
“On the committee, my role is going to be to make sure that the senators and the candidates know that this is an act of service for all Minnesotans,” Amran said. “That includes, Black Minnesotans, Muslim Minnesotans, Somali Minnesotans.”