Attorney at Law Magazine sat down with workplace civil rights attorney and founder of The Mom at Law, Candace Alnaji, Esq., to discuss her life and career.
AALM: What drew you to a career in the law?
Alnaji: I have always loved to write, and I’m also quite analytical with a deep appreciation for justice. Growing up, I was the consummate rule follower. At a certain point in my life, I realized that law would be perfect for me.
AALM: Tell us a little about your philosophy when it comes to your practice. Do you have a personal motto?
Alnaji: Since my very first day as a lawyer, I’ve kept a decorative sign on my desk that bears a quote from Mary Poppins: “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun.” That is very much how I have always approached my work and my legal practice. I enjoy the work I do, and even when I feel greatly challenged, I look for the fun. I feel fortunate to do work that inspires me. I’m very much driven by passion, so I am never bored.
AALM: Tell us about one of the most important lessons you learned from a personal or professional mentor.
Alnaji: My boss and mentor, Lindy Korn, has taught me so many incredible lessons in law and in life. She has always emphasized the importance of civility and building relationships. She takes a very holistic approach with clients and the courts. From her I’ve learned that the practice of law doesn’t have to be a boring, stuffy affair. There’s plenty of room for innovation and creativity.
AALM: What is the most important lesson your parents taught you?
Alnaji: The importance of believing in yourself. We didn’t have a lot growing up, but I always believed in my worth and value. I learned to define myself by own standards instead of someone else’s, and I learned the true meaning of grit and determination.
AALM: How is your practice today different from how you envisioned it in law school?
Alnaji: I am a workplace civil rights attorney. In many ways, my practice is similar to what I imagined because I focused on labor and employment law in law school. However, for a time during law school, I also envisioned myself working as a judicial clerk or in a big firm. My path has been so much better than I could have imagined though. I’ve truly found my passion supporting employees in the workplace, and I’ve parlayed that passion into a thriving online platform that supports workers globally through my work as a blogger and writer.
AALM: What drew you to your current firm?
Alnaji: I work for the Law Office of Lindy Korn, PLLC in Buffalo, NY. I saw Lindy speak at the law school when I was a student. She teaches a sexual harassment mediation course and is involved in the law school’s mediation competition. I remember being so impressed with her philosophy and energy. A few months after graduation, I reached out to Lindy by email to express my interest in her firm. We met for lunch and soon after, she offered me a position with the firm. I had the sense that I would truly thrive as an attorney in her office, and I truly have.
AALM: How would you describe the culture of your firm?
Alnaji: Holistic. Innovative. Progressive. Lindy is a trailblazer in the area of representing employee rights, and she is no different with her own employees. As a working parent, I have received incredible flexibility from Lindy. She has helped me succeed not only as a lawyer and advocate, but as a parent and ambitious professional woman.
AALM: Tell us about a single case that has significantly impacted you personally or professionally.
Alnaji: We represent a lot of pregnant workers in pregnancy discrimination cases and those always stick with me. Many of the women were terminated as a result of their pregnancies. Some were demoted or criticized for their choice to become pregnant. I always think of the injustices they experienced and hope their courage as plaintiffs will prevent the same from happening to future women.
AALM: As technology changes the practice of law, how are you adapting? Do you believe these changes are good or detrimental?
Alnaji: Personally, I am very much for technological advancement in the practice of law. I’ve been in practice for less than a decade, so I haven’t known a world without electronic records and online client portals. I’ve worked remotely for the last two years, which wouldn’t have been possible but for our law firm technology, online databases, and e-filing. With the type of work my firm does, we haven’t really been hurt by technologies like LegalZoom, but I certainly understand how some lawyers could struggle with that.
AALM: What are some of the challenges you see negatively impacting the judicial system?
Alnaji: Plaintiffs have a very tough time getting through to trial in our area of practice (employment discrimination). Across the nation, not only do the vast majority of plaintiffs get dismissed on summary judgment, but they also win at trial in only about 1% of cases. It’s an absurd figure with many conflicting explanations. Some blame the backlog of criminal dockets as the reason so many civil cases are thrown away. Others believe many judges, who often come from corporate backgrounds, share a bias in favor of employers. Workers need their jobs and often don’t have the upper hand in these cases — especially when up against huge corporations. Obtaining justice for employees feels very hard sometimes, especially when strong cases settle in light of these odds, and I hope to see that change at some point during the course of my legal career.
AALM: Tell us about a book, movie or event that changed your perspective on the practice of law or your approach to life.
Alnaji: I recently read “Atomic Habits” by James Clear. It is a fabulous book that discusses how small, incremental changes add up to something big over time. The author lists the four laws of atomic habits and the inverse of those laws for those seeking to break bad habits. It really helped me understand the reasons I’ve achieved great success in certain areas of my life and helped me understand how I can better improve areas where I struggle.
AALM: Tell us about your ambitions for your career.
Alnaji: Two years ago, I launched a freelance business and blog, The Mom at Law. I have been growing the business and I’ve seen a true return on investment and growth as a writer, speaker, and advocate. In addition to that, I am also in the process of switching roles from my position with my firm to president of a risk management consulting firm my boss Lindy founded over 20 years ago. The agency helps employers understand employment-related risks in their companies, provides training and education to employees, and even conducts in-house investigations of discrimination complaints. It’s a very exciting time, and I am so grateful Lindy trusts her company in my hands.
AALM: What are you most proud of professionally and personally?
Alnaji: I am most proud of my platform, The Mom at Law, which has united my personal and professional passions as a mother, lawyer, and working parents advocate. The Mom at Law currently has a following of over 100,000 people across the globe, and my words reach millions more each month. The experience is more than I ever dreamed of, and I feel so grateful that I’ve been able to unite my personal and professional identities in such a meaningful way.
AALM: Tell us about your life outside the law.
Alnaji: I am married to a physician. He works in a neuro ICU as a neuro intensivist, so he handles things like traumatic brain injuries, strokes, neurological disorders, and more. We have three children under five — a 4-year-old and 1-year-old twins. Our life is beyond hectic right now, but we are a good team. We try to make time for weekly date nights. We enjoy local live theatre. We take the kids on nature walks and to museums and art galleries. We have sushi night each week. We support each other’s personal and professional goals, and are doing a pretty good job keeping each other sane.
AALM: Tell us about your community involvement.
Alnaji: I’ve served as a law student mentor. For several years, I co-chaired the Working Parents Committee for my local chapter of the Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York. I also served a year on the Western New York Chapter’s Board of Directors. This year I am the chair of the speaker series and a member of the auction committee at my son’s school. I look forward to volunteering a bit more as my family and I emerge from the trenches of early baby/toddlerhood!
AALM: At the end of the day, what makes you happiest professionally and personally?
Alnaji: I love knowing that my personal experiences and insights are helping people thrive. I receive so many messages from women around the world who tell me I’ve helped them feel supported in their careers or that I’ve made them aware of their rights in the workplace. It makes me feel so proud of the work I’ve done, which hasn’t always been easy. I’m doing work I love with the people that I love. I’ve been working from home with my kids for over two years. Although I’ve certainly made sacrifices, I feel a sense of gratitude that I have been able to advance professionally while spending time with the people who mean everything to me.