Lawyer heeds father's advice: 'Examine more. Assume less'

Adine Momoh is on fire.

Last week she was honored in Chicago for making Midwest Region of Lawyers of Color’s “Hot List” of 100 high-performing minority attorneys. And the day before she was in Washington, D.C., as a director of the young lawyers division of the Federal Bar Association. She also is one of 167 lawyers nationally selected as a fellow of the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity.

And I haven’t even gotten to her day job yet.

Momoh, 29, is a four-year business trial attorney at Leonard, Street and Deinard. She’s on track to partnership in the firm. She’s been a clerk for a federal judge.

“Adine is an outstanding associate,” said Barbara Portwood, a senior partner at Leonard, Street. “She’s got great judgment and she’s very detail-oriented and careful, but also very good at thinking on her feet. She has opinions and she is not afraid to express herself. She’s set up to be a leader in this firm … and at almost anything she would choose to do.”

And the lawyer has a heart.

Momoh was the 2012 recipient of the firm’s 2012 Pro Bono Service to the Indigent Award, in part for her three-year assistance to a deeply indebted immigrant who has mental and physical disabilities.

Moreover, Momoh records about 240 hours annually of volunteer legal services, about five times that recommended by most law firms.

Momoh does the pro bono work on her own time, on top of her billable hours, and regards the work not as a sacrifice but as an opportunity and something of an obligation.

“Often a pro bono case involves someone’s last chance to be heard,” Momoh said. “I like underdogs. And I have a duty to help and provide representation.”

Luke Grundman, an attorney at the Minneapolis office of Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, says: “Adine is a rock-star lawyer. She would be able to work in whatever practice she liked. That she chooses to put in so many pro bono hours is a testament to her as an officer of the court and as the best example of our profession. When I ask friends and acquaintances from law school to help Legal Aid’s clients by taking pro bono cases, they are interested — but too often only in the sexy cases, the ones that may boost their résumés. Adine did exactly the opposite.”

Grundman described a case in which Momoh and Leonard, Street are helping a low-income widow whose late husband handled all the bills, keep her home through a loan modification that required a proceeding in probate court to remove her deceased husband’s ownership interest.

“This is a case about paperwork and forms, not high-level litigation,” Grundman said. “Adine immediately volunteered.”

Momoh inherited her work ethic from her parents, immigrants from Sierra Leone who arrived in the United States in the 1970s. They worked their way through college and graduate school. Kofi Momoh is a chemical engineer who now works as a financial adviser. Mabel Momoh is a clinical therapist with Ramsey County.

Adine Momoh, who has two older brothers, grew up in St. Paul’s Midway District in a “middle-class” home. Her parents stressed good attitude, education and effort as keys to success.

Momoh worked for several school years at the former Mervyn’s department store in the Midway. At one point, she was reassigned to store logistics for her analytical skills, interpreting inventory reports and ordering goods. Regardless, she still enjoyed going down on the sales floor to pull retail shifts, chat with customers, fold clothing and towels.

“My parents instilled a strong work ethic in me,” Momoh said. “There’s a value to hard work. Not just money. And being a good lawyer also is about customer service.”

Momoh decided on law while still in grade school. At the University of St. Thomas, Momoh majored in business, pre-law and psychology and posted a 4.0 GPA. And she received a full scholarship to William Mitchell, where she graduated 14th out of 269 students. She was a law clerk to U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeanne Graham, whom Momoh considers a mentor.

Momoh said her zeal for education and learning from others are part of the process her father said is needed to “develop wisdom. Examine more. Assume less.”

Momoh aspires to be a shareholder and partner in Leonard, Street. Associates start out at more than $100,000 and partners can make several hundred thousand bucks a year at big local law firms.

Momoh said a ­successful life is about using her gifts and sharing her gifts. And she talks of mentors in and outside Leonard, Street as much as her own accomplishments.

Humility and an inquisitive mind are other assets, colleagues say.

“I try to learn how to avoid making mistakes by learning from those who have been there before me,” she said last week.

Momoh, who lives in St. Paul, also finds time to participate in two book clubs. And the one-time high school track hurdler also relaxes with Zumba dance workouts and painting oil portraits.

“You have a nice profile,” she offered as I put my finger to chin and struck a pose.

I’ll take that any day from a generous overachiever.

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