By Frances Womble
Shelia Shadmand’s schedule is different from the other lawyers working for Jones Day in Washington, D.C.
While her partners are walking into the office in the morning, Shadmand is leaving hers. That’s because she is specializing in international litigation and pro bono work in Dubai.
In 2009, Jones Day, a large and geographically diverse law firm, sent Shadmand, a theater and English major from the class of 1995, to open a new office with six other lawyers in Dubai. She currently acts as an Administrative Partner and Pro Bono Partner at that office.
“Being a female in a very male-dominated field was hard enough in the United States, and that challenge has increased tenfold in the Middle East,” Shadmand said.
“Dubai itself is a very westernized, cosmopolitan city. But again, we are [in the United Arab Emirates] and we are serving the needs of our clients and working with opposing counsel throughout the region and in countries where there is simply no equality of the sexes.”
However, Shadmand feels she has complete support from her firm. “I have never been made to feel like a ‘female lawyer,’” Shadmand said.
She recognizes she is not only working with her colleagues, though, but also clients and opposing counsels who do not always share the idea of Western equality. Although it is a daily struggle to overcome the gender difference, Shadmand said she is up for the challenge.
“I look forward to looking back ten years from now and finding satisfaction in having done things that have opened the door and paved the way for the many more female lawyers who are sure to populate this region at the highest levels of the corporate world and government,” she said.
After Shadmand graduated from UMW, she proceeded to law school at the University of Virginia.
“I decided to go to law school as a senior when the prospect of embarking on a theatre career did not make financial sense,” she said. “My family had experienced some very difficult financial times when I was a freshman, and I had to be financially independent throughout college and needed to plan on a career that would allow me to support myself and my family.”
Not knowing what to do next, she turned to advice from various professors, including Dr. Gregg Stull, Dr. Alyson Posha and Dr. Chris Kilmartin, who encouraged her to apply to law school.
“I am so thankful that Mary Washington is an institution that purposefully creates a community with the kind of professors and educators who can provide the type of guidance that is as important outside of the classroom as it is inside,” Shadmand said.
Her appreciation for Mary Washington is not one-sided. Recently, she was a recipient of the 2010 Outstanding Young Alumnus Award.
“When I heard about it, I thought a huge mistake had occurred,” Shadmand said.
Her success does not stop her from recognizing the current job market is especially difficult for new graduates. She advises students to “think about [the] future now. Go to graduate school or take an internship that will give you skills and experience that your peers will not have.”
“Think global,” Shadmand said. “Today’s job market is not restricted to inside our own territory.”
Language skills not common to other students are one way to make a resume stand out. “Learn Chinese or Arabic,” she said. Everyone speaks French and Spanish.”
Shadmand says that Jones Day encourages their lawyers to take on pro bono cases and is grateful for the personal satisfaction and the legal experience they provide.
Recently the firm “obtained asylum in the United States for an Iranian women and her family who were arrested, detained, and tortured in Iran on accusations of being spies for the CIA,” Shadmand said. “In fact, the woman and her family were vocal in Iran about providing democracy and freedom throughout the country and had been organizing groups to bring about social change in the Islamic Republic.”
Although cases like that one are the reason Shadmand has continued in the legal profession for so long, she has not forgotten about her first love, theatre. “I’m still not giving up on Hollywood, although Hollywood may have given up on me,” she said.