High school valedictorian, classically trained ballerina, and college theatre and communication studies major, Shahrzad Emami continued her academic excellence through law school. “During my first year, I thought I had made a huge mistake,” she said. “After I graduated with my Juris Doctor, I enrolled in the real property LL.M. program at the University of Miami School of Law. During that year, I really blossomed.”
Looking over her own career, there is one case that propelled her to this moment. During her first year at Legal Services, Emami interviewed a young mother, who recounted her horrible living conditions. Beyond the open sewage in the back of her building and the mushrooms growing on the walls, she had a baby screaming at night because of the termites crawling into her ears. “I had never heard such an appalling story,” she said. The case eventually turned into her first affirmative case. At the age of 26, she was representing over 20 plaintiffs in a multiple count lawsuit.
“I had spent the last four years in Miami not realizing places like Liberty City – one of the economically forgotten neighborhoods – existed,” she said. “It opened my eyes and lit a fire in my belly. No human should have to live like that.”
Today, Emami practices transactional real estate law, specifically affordable housing and community economic development with Legal Services of Greater Miami, Inc. She represents local nonprofits engaging in affordable housing development as well as those that work in job creation, small business development and access to education and the arts in low-income communities. “I actually never envisioned engaging in this type of legal work,” she said. “It’s a very specialized area of law; one that most people – even attorneys – aren’t aware exists.”
“I really enjoy being a part of the affordable housing development process and seeing the finished product,” Emami said. “It is especially rewarding when I see a fully occupied affordable housing development with happy families as residents. If I can be just a small part of making an individual or a child’s life more comfortable by helping to create affordable stable living environments then that is the greatest reward.”
One of the greatest challenges Emami faces is the limited resources. “I want to fix everything,” she said. “I had to learn that you’re not always able to solve every client problem.”
With the recent economic downturn and the passage of the Economic Recovery Act, Emami has had a chance to impact more of the Miami area. “I was able to help my clients access and implement a large amount of federal recovery dollars, $89 million to be exact, for the stabilization of neighborhoods in Miami,” she said. It has since resulted in the production or preservation of more than 1200 units of affordable housing.
Outside the office, Emami is adjunct law professor at The University of Miami and FIU College of Law. She still enjoys the arts – particularly the theatre and ballet. “I’m thrilled Miami has evolved so rapidly in this area,” she said. She also enjoys music, yoga, dancing and spending time with her husband and their cat, Romeo.
As she looks ahead to next year, Emami encourages each lawyer to take on one pro bono matter. “We need to make legal assistance available to a wider group. In the short term, I believe we could achieve better access to the legal system if attorneys participate in more pro bono matters. I’m also a proponent of law school clinical programs. I co-teach The Small Business Clinic at FIU College of Law. The format benefits the clients and is a great learning experience for the students.”
Emami is also pleased to announce that she and her husband will be welcoming their first child in March.