Shayda Zaerpoor Le
Attorney, Partner | Employment Law
Function: Provides employment advice and litigation defense.
Education: Undergraduate degree in economics from Portland State University; Juris Doctor from Boston University School of Law
EHC: What is your daily schedule like?
SZL: I religiously come in no later than 7:30, and I am often out the door by 5 o’clock. Often there is additional work to do during the evenings or weekends, but I can do that work from home, without having to stay late in the office.
EHC: What is your favorite part of your job?
SZL: The opportunity to work with business owners who are living out their dreams, and to help them with what is often their biggest asset – their people.
EHC: What were the steps you took to get your job?
SZL: I spent a lot of time meeting with other lawyers in the community to learn about different specialty areas and to gauge what the best firm culture might be for me (even though they weren’t necessarily hiring at the time). Then I worked to develop relationships with people in those firms, and simultaneously volunteered with community organizations so those people in my field could have an opportunity see my skills in action.
EHC: What is your best piece of advice for young women interested in this field?
SZL: There’s the usual stuff – pay attention to your grades, study hard for the LSAT, but my best advice is to meet with lawyers in your community who practice different kinds of law because it will open your eyes to the possibilities. There are so many different kinds of lawyers and so many opportunities, and most lawyers love the opportunity to share insights with someone considering law school.
EHC: What inspired you to pursue this career?
SZL: I really appreciate a well reasoned argument and finding the truth. In my job I get to use that to help people and be a resource to them.
Shayda is a partner at a boutique employment law firm in Portland, Oregon. She represents companies of all sizes, from a small summer camp for children with cancer to an industry-leading sportswear brand. Being an employment attorney means that she advises her clients on all issues and situations involving their employees, such as creating workplace policies to help the company ensure it complies with the law. She counsels them through difficult situations like layoffs, leaves of absences, and representing her clients in court. Shayda gets to work with all kinds of business owners who are living out their dreams and doing interesting things, and she gets to help the businesses protect their most important asset – their people!
But despite loving her career now, she didn’t always know she wanted to work in employment law. The job market was terrible for new lawyers when she graduated from law school and she felt lucky to get any job at all – even if it wasn’t going to be her forever job. Then she met the executive director of her current law firm, Tracy Ray. Tracy is a well-respected member of the Portland legal community and, more importantly, is happy and enjoys her work.
This prompted Shayda to make a change. She became very purposeful about finding out what kind of law she wanted to practice and which firms offered an environment that she thought would help her thrive. She started meeting with local attorneys to learn more about what they do, what kind of law they practice, and what the culture was like where they worked. This may not have been a typical approach, especially since most firms weren’t even hiring anyone. But the strategy worked – the meetings and the relationship-building allowed her to narrow down what she wanted to do and where she wanted to work, and she landed her dream job at Barran Liebman LLP!
Shayda’s parents have always been committed to education and hard work. They immigrated to America when Shayda was young, and she watched as they went to college while simultaneously learning English. This example of dedication rubbed off on Shayda, who as a student always worked hard and committed herself to school. When she eventually went to college, she majored in biology and even spent some time during college working in a research laboratory. Despite entering college with a clear idea of what she wanted to do, she learned that her interests and strengths lead her elsewhere.
After some careful thinking, she made the decision to change her major from biology to economics with plans to go to law school. It was a huge step, in part because she had no prior experience with the legal profession – no one in her family is a lawyer. Despite switching disciplines and effectively starting over, she graduated with a degree in economics and went on to successfully complete law school.
One thing she wishes she knew before starting law school is that you don’t have to go to the highest-ranked school to be successful. While school rankings tend to be more important in large markets like New York or Washington, D.C., they matter less in other market and there are lots of great regional law schools that offer an excellent education. In fact, in some cases you might be better off at a school closer to where you would like to eventually practice, since that gives you an opportunity to develop those community relationships while you’re still in law school.
Shayda noted that a lot of necessary knowledge for becoming a good lawyer is learned on the job, not in law school. When she was a student she was often told, ‘you’ll learn that on the job,’ which can be frustrating to hear. Many skills that make a good lawyer can’t be taught in a classroom because they are specific to the kind of law you practice, the area you live in, and your clients. It may not be obvious which specific skills are essential for you, but it will become evident when you are working. If you can appreciate the value of learning ‘on the job’ it will help you to avoid some extra stress in law school.
Lastly, a lot of work is required to be a good lawyer. She switched from a natural science discipline to law studies so she is confident that anyone with interest can go into law if they are dedicated to working hard for it. After law school, she spent a lot of time considering what kind of law to specialize in and networking became a valuable tool. She says that while you are in school ‘networking’ can feel like a dirty word because people see it as disingenuous effort to try to get ahead. But real networking is more about building meaningful relationships, not asking for favors. Getting to know members of your professional community can be the best way to build connections and find meaningful ways to partner and collaborate. Most lawyers would be happy to sit with you over a cup of coffee and chat about what their jobs are like and how you might enjoy becoming a lawyer.