When she was just 9 years old, Soha Saiyed was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up. Her answer: President. The questioner suggested she find a job first, something she could do until she was old enough to be elected Commander in Chief. Soha did her research and discovered that many Presidents were attorneys before taking office, so she decided to follow that path. She attended law school at the University of Louisville and upon graduation, she began working for the Legal Aid Society. Two years ago, she ventured into private practice and now works for Abney Law Office downtown. Besides her law practice, Soha has a multitude of projects she focuses on. She’s a racial justice advocate, she educates people about movement lawyering, and she’s quite passionate about working on behalf of victims of labor and sex trafficking. Meet Soha Saiyed, this week’s FACE of Louisville.
Tell us about working at Abney Law Office.
We focus on employment law. We do a lot of civil rights litigation for people who have been fired because of discrimination, retaliation, race, religion, sex, being over 40 [years old] or disabilities. It’s really kind of a fun and energizing place because when you work with people who have the same values you do and you work for many hours each day, you really need to be around people whose company you enjoy.
What do you enjoy most about practicing employment law?
After law school, I was at the Legal Aid Society for eight years, where I did representation of indigent people in and around Louisville, focusing on issues like eviction, foreclosure defense, domestic violence, divorces, consumer law and disability benefits. When I decided to transition into private practice, I wanted to keep up with my advocacy work. Working at this office gives me an opportunity to do that all over the state for people who are in service and professional industries who just want to make a living without being treated unfairly.
Explain movement lawyering.
It’s kind of advocacy beyond ‘this is my job’ and ‘I’ve been hired to represent my clients.’ It’s about looking at issues and looking for issues that I want to help move forward, like civil rights, racial justice and women’s rights. Those issues are important to me and people like me, and I want to find those issues and move them forward.
Tell us about your project to take Kentucky lawyers and judges to the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama.
I went to the opening of The Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace & Justice last year with the ACLU of Kentucky. We attended a two-day conference and toured the museum. This museum is so important, and the history there is relevant to our lives today. I began thinking about how important it is for people to see the museum and memorial and to understand how our legal practice is affected by the Jim Crow era and notions about black people. We’re gathering people throughout the state who can help me contact lawyers and judges to take a bus trip there. It’s my goal to go later this year and have a one-day conference on racial justice.
What are you doing to address the issues of labor and sex trafficking in Kentucky?
I’ve been working in the anti-trafficking movement for quite some time. I’m co-chair for two anti-trafficking task forces, and I do education and training throughout the state about human trafficking. One of the issues I’ve noticed is organizations in our state that prove direct services are not often well-funded. There’s a lack of resources despite people doing excellent work in the area of anti-trafficking. I wanted to help raise money for them through my organization called Stop Traffic Kentucky.
What are you doing to raise money?
I decided to throw the Stop Traffic Gala last year on Derby eve. My friends helped me plan this, and after all the expenses were paid, we were able to donate $4,000 to the Bakhita Empowerment Initiative of Catholic Charities in Louisville. They provide direct services to human trafficking survivors throughout the state. We’re holding the gala again this year.
What message do you want to share about human trafficking?
Trafficking involves the trade of people through the use of force, fraud or coercion. We’ve learned there’s a significant amount of minor trafficking linked with drugs. Either the child is being given drugs to keep him or her in the traffic situation, or there’s a parent or guardian trading the child for drugs or to pay off a drug debt.
We’ve also seen kids being brought into Kentucky for the purpose of going door to door to sell magazines or candy. These kids will come to your door, say they’re from down the street, but they were brought in to make sales, and they can’t keep any of it. They have to keep working until they’ve made their quota for the day. If they complain about it, they’re sent back to where they came from. Parents are told this is a scholarship competition, this will keep their kids off the street during the summer months, and the parents agree to let them work for this seemingly legitimate organization.
Shifting gears, what do you like to do in your spare time?
I’m part of a podcast called “The Queencast.” A year ago, a friend decided he wanted to put together a podcast of women he knew or thought were interesting who could talk about a variety of topics like politics, culture and life that people would find entertaining. I also record YouTube videos that focus on travel and beauty.
What are your hobbies or how do you relax?
I like to exercise or go hiking with my friends. I also enjoy taking pictures.
What places in Louisville do you like to visit?
I like going to the 21C Museum Hotel. It’s a nice place to walk around and a place where I can clear my head.
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Tell us something people would be surprised to learn about you.
I cannot cook.
What is your best piece of advice?
There’s no such thing as a work-life balance. Once you recognize that you don’t have to be perfect at everything, you can just accept it. There’s no way to give 100 percent of yourself to everything.
Besides faith, family and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
The Internet, sustainable fashion and exercise
Thank you, Soha, for chatting with us, and thank you to Gretchen Bell for the beautiful photos!
Get to know some other amazing FACES of Louisville here!