Using Comedy to Win Court Cases with Mitra Shahri

8 October, 2020

Katie Wolf

Katie Wolf


When you're one lawyer up against a powerful and sometimes ruthless industry, it can help to have a sense of humor. At least, that's what comedian and attorney Mitra Shahri has found in her years of representing whistleblowers and workers with sexual harassment and discrimination claims against their employers. And these aren't just any employers; while fighting for her clients, Mitra has gone up against powerful Hollywood celebrities and major motion picture studios.

Mitra has litigated over a thousand employment cases in Oregon and California, earning national and even worldwide attention. She has won countless accolades for her work—but the first that might catch your eye is her title of "Funniest Lawyer in Portland," which she earned for the standup routine she does to raise money for the Campaign for Equal Justice.

Mitra shows how lawyers can benefit from the flexibility, creativity, wit, and sense of timing that comes with comedy. And she's here today to share her story and give us some tips for developing and keeping a sense of humor, even as we come up against life's major obstacles.


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Full Transcript


Katie Wolf:

Welcome to the Filevine Fireside, I'm Katie Wolf. When you're one lawyer up against a powerful and sometimes ruthless industry, it can help to have a sense of humor. At least that's what comedian and attorney Mitra Shahri has found in her years of representing whistleblowers and workers with sexual harassment and discrimination claims against their employers. And these aren't just any employers, while fighting for her clients, Mitra has gone up against powerful Hollywood celebrities and major motion picture studios.


Mitra has litigated over a thousand employment cases in Oregon and California earning national and even worldwide attention. She has won countless accolades for her work, but the one that first caught my attention is her title of funniest lawyer in Portland, which she earned for the standup routine she does to raise money for the campaign for equal justice. Mitra shows how lawyers can benefit from the flexibility, creativity, wit and sense of timing that comes with comedy. And she's here today to share her story and give us some tips for developing and keeping a sense of humor even as we come up against life's major obstacles. Mitra, it's such a joy to be talking to you today.

Mitra Shahri:

Thank you. Thank you for having me, but I can't tell if you really like me? Is it quarantine? We're not meeting in person or?

Katie Wolf:

Yeah. You just have to guess what my facial expressions are doing right now. Wow! So I first want to hear how you became a lawyer. I've heard before that when you were a kid, you never dreamed that this would be your life path.

Mitra Shahri:

I actually didn't even dream it as an adult. There were several reasons why I never even considered a career in law because one is, I didn't like reading. I hate paperwork. And I can't honestly sit in the same spot for five minutes, and I hate working long hours, and being stuffy and is a total turnoff. But the main reason could have been because I didn't speak English very well. Because I came to this country when I was 18. So the idea of becoming a lawyer, having to use big words and being a real furious, and stuffy, and all you do is paperwork for God knows how many hours a day was not something I would even think I could do let alone want to do.

Katie Wolf:

And so what changed your mind?

Mitra Shahri:

Well, I was there to do it. I was a medical technologist and my boyfriend at the time had taken the LSAT and had gotten into Pepperdine Law School. And he couldn't shut up about how hard it is to get to law school. And then he was about taking a speed reading class to help him when school starts. And I thought that was a good idea because at the time all my friends and I used to go karaoke. I could never do it because I could not keep up with the words [inaudible] at me. And I thought that would help me do karaoke. But when we showed up in class, I was so impressed that people who showed up were really important people. There were some lawyers, there was a broadcaster, there was actually a TV commentator that I knew, and lawyers as I said, some writers.


So when the professor asked everybody why they were in the speed reading class, I was the last one, and was right after my boyfriend. He said he was going to law school. I really couldn't bring myself to say, I'm doing that so I can do karaoke. So I kind of fibbed and said, I want to go to law school. After the class, my boyfriend was so pissed that he thought I was trying to upstage him. And he was so angry with me that he literally went, became abusive and told me that, "You can't even freaking speak English. You can never go to law school. You can never be a lawyer. You have an accent, I can't even understand what you say most of the time." He's just going to went off the deep end and left me there stranded. Needless to say, you know what they say, never underestimate the power of a extremely pissed off woman. No one tells me I can't do something.


And having had raised with two brothers in Iran, I had a special relationship with theirs. I always took him. The next day I called around, and found out he had to take a test, ELSA before you know it, I was registered. And I had a really poor, low score in ELSA, but I got into it. I credited with a Mickey Mouse school in the summer performance. And there were like 90 people and they were going to take one-third of people who actually passed. And needless to say, that's when I discovered that my God, I speak law. And I felt like I was a kid in a candy store, I just couldn't get enough. Just law made sense to me, all the concepts, everything made sense to me. And I love to argue, so it just was perfect for my personality. I transferred that to University of Utah, graduated top of my class, was on law review, moot court and everything.


But my boyfriend did say one thing that was true, because he told me that even if you went to law school, no one would hire you with that accent. So when I graduated from University of Utah, most of everyone in my class had a job. And before their third year ended, except for me. I moved to California and I send out hundreds of resumes and I've never even got one interview. I was shocked and surprised why, because I had all the recommended, I was Order of Coif, [inaudible], moot court, everything you could possibly get, but I wasn't able to secure even one interview. And this UCLA law professor, that was my mentor at the time was assigned with the State Bar, told me it's probably the way I'm either interviewing, or handling my applications.


To prove them wrong, I sent two sets of 250 resumes. They were identical in every aspect you can imagine. From font to content, paper, color, everything. The only difference was on top I put Jacqueline Smith as one, which was my favorite Charlie's Angels [inaudible]. And then I put Mitra Shahri on the other, even had the same address, all the unique background, like Wichita State University, medical technologies. I was an athlete, was scholarship on basketball, everything. I mean, unique enough that people would remember it.


And in return, I got a handful of rejections for Mitra, and I can't even tell you, there were so many return responses for Jacqueline that they had to put one of those big bins by my postbox, all chomping at the bits to have Jacqueline to come for an interview.

Katie Wolf:

Wow!

Mitra Shahri:

Same firms that said either the position was filled, or that there were better candidates, had given offers or offers for interviews to meet, to Jacquelyn, but not Mitra. I remember being really depressed for a week and I was like, really it's the first time I felt defeated. But then all of a sudden at the end of the week, I remember thinking, I don't know why all of a sudden I got excited because they did want me, they just didn't want my name.

Katie Wolf:

So what did you do?

Mitra Shahri:

Well, I started calling the top 20 choices I had, and I started making interviews for Jacqueline. And then I showed up as Mitra Shahri. And I actually literally, they we're all confused, but I just told them that, Jacqueline Smith is my legal name and Mitra Shahri, no is my lawyer name, and Mitra Shahri is my legal name.

Katie Wolf:

And then you already had your foot in the door, did they-

Mitra Shahri:

But you know what happened is of course they meet with you and it's just all BS till they get you out the door. But something amazing happened in those interviews. There I was in the top firms in LA and sometimes in a partner's office sitting there and watching them score, you could tell they were just like trying to come up with questions and act interested when you knew they just wanted you out. It was such a sense of power I got. Really it's the first time I can tell you, I got the sense that I was more powerful than they were using that situation.


And I just like, I wanted more of that. I wanted more feelings like that. And it's just sometime down the line, I think it was like 18th interview where I actually wasn't emanate talking about anything having to do with getting a job, I was just having a good time. And then I connected with one of the partners because his neighbor was Persian. We started talking about Persian stuff, I started teaching them some words to say, and he's the one who actually hired me.

Katie Wolf:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mitra Shahri:

Yeah.

Katie Wolf:

Did that experience shape your interest into going into representing workers who had faced discrimination?

Mitra Shahri:

I think that obviously had to do with it. But I think a lot had to do with having come to this country. We went to Wichita, Kansas during the height of the Iranian American hostage crisis. And I think having lived in Wichita during those times kind of was interesting and of itself. I was lucky not to speak English initially because a lot of the cruel comments and stuff, I really didn't understand. And a lot of gestures, I didn't understand what middle finger was, so I just thought they were waving at me, so I waved back. I honestly thought that we had chickens living on top of our, the front of our roof of our door because sometimes I wake up and there'll be eggs. And I literally, I remember looking up trying to figure out how do you get chickens up there?


I didn't know people throw eggs, you don't do that in Iran. And then flags, I remember within a week of moving to our neighborhood, everybody had their flags. And I remember thinking this is so amazing. Because they're honoring us. I didn't know that was like a protest of some sort. So it just, it worked out. But then down the line, there were a lot of hostile things that happened. My brothers got beaten up. Yeah. I was accosted by a police officer who was demanding for me to translate some Arabic thing. I kept crying and saying, "I don't speak Arabic." "I'm going to get you deported, you go ahead and translate this." And I'm like, "I don't speak Arabic."

Katie Wolf:

Oh my goodness. Oh my goodness.

Mitra Shahri:

So it was a combination of everything. And of course McDonald's had a lot to do with it, because honestly they taught me how to turn the cheek. And I mean that literally.

Katie Wolf:

The McDonald's, how?

Mitra Shahri:

Because I don't think I worked at a McDonald's that their manager didn't grab my butt. So I just, I honestly thought sexual harassment was part of what you had to go through to get a paycheck.

Katie Wolf:

Oh my God.

Mitra Shahri:

So all of those.

Katie Wolf:

As I hear you talk and explain some of your life stories and not just that, but hear the note of triumph moments, adventure in your voice, I feel like that is a huge piece of what you've brought to your life and what you bring to your clients is this sense that these tremendous obstacles, tremendous limitations and challenges are sort of a jumping point. Can you talk more about that philosophy you bring to your life?

Mitra Shahri:

Yeah. And I think one of the ideas is that women in law, at least when I first started practicing that we couldn't, or the companies, or the firms couldn't afford to put women in the front because clients didn't want that. And I remember after, I was there for a year and I was asked to second chair a trial, and I was shocked, and I really thought it was because I was good, because I was doing a great job. And it wasn't until the night before, when we were prepping the client that I found that the client had asked for me to be there. And then the client asked me to wear red panties for good luck. And needless to say, during trial I was just doing my best to fend him off. And there he's accused of all sorts of stuff, and he's just more concerned about touching my thighs, and doing other things.


And when I told the partner, "He's a client, what do you want me to do?" That was the kind of response. So I think when you see all of those things, and then there were women in our, partners, in our firm that were being discriminated, they worked so hard and there were good lawyers, but the weren't put on cases to try cases, because the perception was, men clients don't want women.


And then of course, all the other sexual harassment that you either know about it through your friends or you hear about it, or you've experienced. And most importantly, honestly, I think I just had this hatred toward defense lawyers because they wouldn't hire me. So when I knew I was on the wrong side, I started my own firm. I just, honestly, I remember having this passion to make them look bad. And you don't make defense look bad by forcing them to build because that's what they want.


So you had to get really creative and with strategy, try to kind of take the client down and make them look bad in the process. It's a lot of creativity that goes there. And also as a new lawyer, you don't really have the funds. So how do you fight a giant corporation with a bunch of lawyers? You just have to be really smart, and you have to be strategic, and you have to do everything ahead of time, cross all your T's and dot your I's before you get them. It's almost like going against the venomous snake. You better have your boots. Yeah.

Katie Wolf:

You're sort of famous for "Making causes out of cases." Can you explain what that means in your work?

Mitra Shahri:

Well, very early on when the cases would settle, everyone had people sign these non-disclosures and confidentiality, so then the same behavior would continue. And it's like we were caught in this world of we've got to do what's right for our clients. And a lot of times litigation's not the right choice. I had a client who committed suicide after that position, because these are the things can get really ugly and personal.


So sometimes the best outcome for a client is to resolve a case and move on. And also, initially clients come to you and they're all like passionate, and hot, and they just want justice. They want their wrongdoer fired. They want to go back to their job and they just want to be told, you were right. Then with enough time, a passion wanes and what remains is this disdain for the company, and they just want to move on with their life. They want to put this behind them. And that really just translates to a confidential settlement. But then the behavior doesn't change because nothing changes.


So after a while you learn, okay, this can't happen. So what I started doing, initially when the clients were hot and heavy, I would file a complaint either with the Bureau of Labor, or with courts, but it would be nauseatingly detailed. And in fact, I think Daily Journal or the article about the way I write complaints, because like I had a complaint against 20th Century Fox that was 40 pages and he had like 32 exhibits. It had all my documents, everything. Because I knew once we settle, all of those are going to get destroyed. And it was such a major, was a blind case. I didn't want that to be destroyed.


So I mean, I even quote decorations, I put the name of the witnesses, everything. So if a lawyer does their due diligence, in the next case, they can go after the person. Also individually named the defendants, every wrong doer, because once they're individually named, it's almost like having a target on their backs. If they do this again, they're going to be screwed.


I think companies are going to be motivated to get rid of those and not hide them. And often I see that during litigation, they remain employed, but sure enough, soon after settlement, the person quits. And as I say, quits, I'm air quoting things forced out, which is good. And I also think hopefully other corporations, if they do any kind of background check, they realize this person was named even if that's illegal. So there are various things you can do to preserve the evidence.


One of the things I used to do in major whistleblowing cases against major organizations for really bad conduct is before we even contacted the opposing side or file a complaint, we would send, I would put everything together and send it to the attorney general, any different governmental agencies. Of course they wouldn't do anything with it. But what my purpose was to preserve the evidence because I've had cases where right after settlement, they walked with us into my office because as part of the settlement, they wanted all my files. So they picked up all the files, they didn't even give an opportunity for us to make copies or do something. They just literally walked us.

Katie Wolf:

Wow. Wow. So you find ways right at the beginning to make something more public?

Mitra Shahri:

Yeah.

Katie Wolf:

And then from there on you can, whatever your client needs as they go through the process, you can attend to their needs, but you make sure that people are made aware of bad behavior.

Mitra Shahri:

Yes.

Katie Wolf:

That way.

Mitra Shahri:

And my personal claim to fame is there was a CFO of a really big major corporation, that wanted to blow the whistle, but didn't really want to blow a whistle. Just wanted to know how he would exit without it coming back at him. So what I helped them do is draft this internal memo and also send several copies to different people, and then send it from his personal private emails, so they can't destroy it on a server. And then I know that that paid up in space for me later on, because I got a call from the same CFO six, seven years later, because that memo was somehow discovered by a big major bank, as part of it was fraud on the bank and other people, but a major bank that wanted to depose them. And I was happy to fly back to LA. I was in Portland by then and do that for free for my client, defend them. But he wasn't being sued, he was just as a witness and they asked him if he had a copy, of course he did.

Katie Wolf:

Yeah. Nice. Lawyers in courtrooms and lawsuits, they can all feel very formal and self serious. And Mitra, I know that you bring a different vibe to your work. Can you tell us a little about the attitude you bring to the practice of law?

Mitra Shahri:

Well, I think early on I was, I went against the two or actually three different firms in the same case. And these people tack teamed and make my life a living hell. So my very first case for nine months, I often found myself under my desk, sucking my thumb and crying, and waking up in the morning and going, but that was the best training I could have possibly gotten because I became obsessed in learning everything. First of all, I was specialized. Second of all, learning everything. So I know all the parameters, I'm never going to make a mistake. And because of that, I felt a sense of security that I knew everything I needed to know. And then with having passion for my profession, I found it really easy not to have to act like I know everything. It was weird, the more I learn, the more confident I feel, I refused to talk about the facts or the law.


My complaints were detailed enough, documents were self-explanatory and I didn't need to convince the other side because you can never do that. And I don't need to teach them the law I'm assuming they know. So the rest was just trying to... Because I got insulted so many times, by, "Oh, you're a new lawyer. You're my own daughter, you just don't know better. Your client's lying to you." So-and-so and then they would try to conspire with me to screw my client. So you learn that and you put up with that to a point, but then you realize, okay, you think I don't know what I'm doing? Let me play this. Perfect example is one, this one lawyer just really demeaned me for five minutes, basically saying how he was going to end my budding career. Then he went, how I'm like his wife, I probably like shoes.


He's going to throw $5,000, so I get me plenty of shoes. And went on and on and on. And I started thinking, okay, I want to meet him where he is, why try to... I can't talk to him. So let me teach him a lesson. So I remember asking him, "5,000? You guys are willing to pay $5,000? Are you're willing to put that in writing?" He goes, "Yeah, we'll do that. You think you're cli...?" "I think I can talk my client into it." And then I said, "Well, let me talk to my client." And then I went literally silent on him. I filed the lawsuit, but what I had done is I'd determined that I was going to go to a trial. And my client was really pissed and wanted to go to trial. Throughout the whole litigation, every time I kept asking is that 5,000 on the table? And what it did do it diffused his... He really didn't want litigate.


He didn't take any deppos. He didn't send me documents, I didn't send him anything. Everybody had basically a standoff, because he was so sure that I would take some mentally five, $10,000. What happened is I waited and waited until the discovery was cut off. Nobody did deposition. No one produced anything. And then that's when I told them that we were going to trial. So I asked him for a hundred thousand, he laughed, like few couple months later I asked for 150, went up to 300, a trial we got close to $800,000. I guarantee you that little man learned his lesson.

Katie Wolf:

Oh goodness. I want to ask you, how did you get into stand up comedy?

Mitra Shahri:

Well, I became a lawyer. You have to have a good sense of humor to want to do this as a living.

Katie Wolf:

Yeah. Yeah.

Mitra Shahri:

Honestly, I think it's, I learned English from television. So when I first came, all I did is watch three's company will come back harder, Laverne and Shirley. And after a year and two years of watching soaps, I mean, comedies, I just did not know how else to speak. I was so sarcastic. That's why I was single for 50 years. I was so sarcastic. I literally could not let the line go. And you always be back and forth, and back and forth. And everything had a spectual over time. I don't know why, but that's what it is on TV. I just literally learned to speak that way. I didn't realize that was the wrong way of doing things, but then that caused, that worked for me because in a weird way, it made me less dangerous and more like a lady bug they play with you, but the ladybug's eating the bugs.


So I just, I don't know. It just seemed like it just, the more I joked, the less I had to know about the case, the less I had to pretend I was the big guy. And actually people started wondering, is she crazy? Or is she crazy like Fox? And I remember thinking you're a loose cannon. I can't figure you out. And I would just joke. I mean, got to a point, even to today, I never talk long. It's like every time the lawyer start talking, blah, blah, blah. I'm like, "Oh, stop that guy talk." It's my way of I don't want you to know how much I know. I don't want to give you information because this is not a right. If you want to get this resolved, we go to mediation. Otherwise I don't need to tell you that I'm smarter than you are or no more, or... So it just really seems like it worked.


And also I noticed the judges at trial, the funnier you are, the jurors like you and also the judges let you get away with so much, because they like you. I'm telling you, it's just... But then again, it has to be, it's not like in court I just crack jokes all the time, but it has to be in the right timing. And I think you learned the timing by maybe watching soaps, some comedy, sitcoms that really, I would say if I had to teach someone to know timing, just watch sitcoms at the perfect timing. I said, sometimes it backfires, but then you learn and move on, but it can be very helpful in my profession. My clients, they come so stressed out, but most of the time they actually miss litigation because I make them laugh so much.


During mediation, often mediators tell us to keep it down because you were cracking up. We're just having a great time dancing, doing whatever. One time the mediator came, we're doing conga. And we said, we only accept if the mediator does conga. And was a retired judge. So all three of us doing conga. But stuff like that, it's just the clients get closure and they feel good about themselves. And with opposing counsel, a lot of times, ego is the reason cases don't get resolved early, because nobody wants to reach out. This way I can send a Bitmoji or I can send poetry. I can't tell you how many times I've sent poetry to opposing counsel. And it really works. I actually, few years back, I settled the case where my client was about to get evicted out of his house. They were going to bank foreclose on the house and he desperately needed money.


He was a small wage claim, less than $50,000. But the opposing counsel initially talked, sent me an email, he was interested in settlement, but then he ghosted me, I couldn't... I tried him for weeks and my client was in a horrible situation. So I got this idea to send them the lyrics to, You Don't Bring Me Flowers by Barbra Streisand. And then I get up in the morning, the next day at 4:00 AM, he had sent me a lyrics to some, I didn't know the song. I think it was some Jimmy Hendrix song or similar that basically had the answer, what do you want? Because I'd called them and send them emails before and no response. And then I wrote in Spice Girls. I'll tell you what I want, what I really, really want. And then I would change the lyrics to match what I wanted.


And then he responded with a different song. We went back and forth five, four, five, about six songs, and we settled the case. I never spoke to the guy, and it was awesome. And my client was so excited, because it could save his house. With opposing counsel I've done that with, there was one general counsel of a huge telecommunication company that there was a big article about him, how he's about corporate change, culture, how it's going to bring more women to, and there was a sex discrimination I had against his company. So I actually literally wrote a poem using that ABA Journal and few other website on his awards. And I actually wrote a kind of a story about how this general counsel was going to come and do things right for my client. And then I thanked them at the thing, needless to say, I got a call from them directly and we went to mediation.

Katie Wolf:

Oh, I feel like people in the industry have this framework for how this is all supposed to go. And inside that there's a ladder and they're trying to be on higher rounds than other people, and you just come in and just toss the ladder on its side and start doing the conga or something. And it's that sense of something unexpected jostle's them out of their regular way of doing business and actually allows for a lot more possibilities to take place.

Mitra Shahri:

It does. It does. A perfect example is opposing counsel here in Portland that my God, we a few times it was really hostile. I'm not sure why he was, it just kept getting more hostile. In one case, he sends such an angry and personal letter email to me and then I responded and then he sent an angry letter. And then I'm like, I was going to almost say like, I can report you to the bar with what you've written. And all of a sudden I started thinking, my God, I'm like one of these lawyers that you read in articles, you go back and forth. And I'm like, I am not one of those, so I just waited. And then I responded your poopy head. And I swear to God within a minute, he wrote, I stipulate to that.


And then we just picked up the phone and talked and ever since then, he just literally, he tells that story to everyone. And he's one of the ones that you send them really like weird Bitmojis, just out of the blue. And it's just kind of, sometimes once you crack their shell down, they become normal.

Katie Wolf:

And it's fascinating.

Mitra Shahri:

And I think more and more people are becoming like that because our culture is changing. I mean, even just looking at the comment, was it New Morning News used to be so stuffy, now it's just like everyone's comfortable, people dress more comfortably, people speak more freely. I think things are changing. Once people see other people are doing it, they'll just start thinking that maybe that's not so bad to do. And I think it's just we take ourselves way too serious.

Katie Wolf:

And I'm fascinated by what you're saying about how once you really knew the law and you knew it inside and out, and you knew the facts, and then you had the confidence to let that go, and be a real person in relationship with other people, instead of trying to build up this persona where you're intimidating others.

Mitra Shahri:

Well, I think in my opinion, only people who are angry and they're just trying to act tough, they're the ones who were insecure. And in the old times, that's what we learned. And where do we learn to practice law? We watch people who have been practicing forever. And that's how you used to be. So you used to be that if you acted like an asshole, you were a good lawyer. Now if you act like an asshole you're just an asshole.

Katie Wolf:

You're just an asshole. Yeah. It's a good title for this podcast. Sometimes if you act like an asshole, you might just be an asshole. Zen Koans from Mitra Shahri. So my final question for you Mitra is what you've seen since you began your career to where you are now, you've seen some major social movements, some big changes, do you have more hope?

Mitra Shahri:

I do. But I also want to make sure. I mean, I think there's three types of ways of dealing with discrimination. And all three are practiced all the time. One is that at least in my experience of seeing it is, there are people who just like to bitch about it and do nothing. They take no responsibility for their contribution to it. And they just keep complaining about it until they implode or explode. Neither one looks good. There are the group that stand up against it. They force others to make a change. They file a lawsuit, they protest or activists, and that's equally it, that takes a long time, but it's very effective. Or there's like people, I feel like my categories, you stand up against it by using it to your advantage. And I've done that, instead of sitting there and saying, oh, no one hired me. Why discrimination? I just thought, okay, this is a situation, how do I deal with it? Or in litigation, the same thing, you just kind of...


And again, all three are ways of dealing with it because of your psych, your what do you believe? What I don't want is sometimes in my life, I've thought people discriminate against me. And I was so sure of it, and they were actually trying to help me. But once you wear that chip on your shoulder and you're going to see everything from that prison. So you'll look for signs and evidence that people are discriminating against you. And I know I see that with my clients so many of them, they think the whole world is discriminating against them. And honestly, some of them they're just, they just bring it on themselves. They just make it worse. And there's so many ways to diffuse it.


I understand it exists, but not everyone's racist. People making sensitive comments, they're not even thinking. And so you have to kind of be able to separate those because the whole world can't be your enemy, because then you become enemy of everyone. There has to be recognition of both sides. There was a recognition from people say, well, I didn't mean it that way. It doesn't matter. You have to understand the significance of that to other people. And same thing of you can look at everything and think that's discrimination. Sometimes they just don't like you, or the way you are always complaining. And it's true. Sometimes I swear to God, I guess some potential clients that I wish I could hire, and just so I could fire them. Not everything's discrimination. Sometimes things are just misunderstanding or a pain in the butt. Some issues, some things happen, but you can make it worse or better.

Katie Wolf:

Well, like so much else of what's your talking about, we can get stuck inside a framework. Sounds like what you're saying. And if you can just be creative, and flexible, and a little bit weird, sometimes you don't have to live inside that framework for the rest of your life. You can maybe escape here and there.

Mitra Shahri:

Honesty, I remember there was a mediator here I heard horrible things about him, but he was very popular. And I heard he was very sexist to female attorneys. So mine, they kept this one company wanted only to use him. So I decided to meet with him ahead of time. I asked if I could go to lunch with him, I was kind of new to town. And I said, I heard a lot about that. I talked to him a little while. I said, "Yeah, I'm really surprised because you sound really nice and fair. I heard some chatter that you may be sexist. And I was really concerned about using you, but I've also heard amazing things about you. So I feel confident now going forward."


And he was shocked that anyone perceived him as a sexist, but you know, between you and I, he's a sexist as it gets, now that I know him. But guess what? He would never dare to fall off pedestal in front of me. I called him. I think he cleaned up his act a bit. The fact is you can call people on their stuff. I'm not saying just shy away from it, but there's a way to deal with things that is not going to come back on you. And it's not going to make things antagonistic. You can't point a finger at someone and say, "You're a racist." Because that doesn't get you anywhere.

Katie Wolf:

But approaching it with some humor, some savviness allows for a little bit of change among both of you.

Mitra Shahri:

Yeah. And also honestly, sitting people down say, I want to tell you something, you said this to me and I don't know if you meant that or not, but it really hurt my feeling. It felt like it was coming from a wrong place. This is how you make me feel. You'll be shocked how people will change the way they're already, because they didn't mean it or if they defend it then you know where they stand. But to go and take it in. And I've seen so many of my clients, they just take it, and take it and then make it bigger, and then make themselves sick. And then they're stuck in this and they don't get anywhere. They don't get promoted and they just wonder why. And then 10 years later, there isn't anything they can really act on, they're just stayed behind.


Whereas the same person, same race, same education is for [inaudible] past in the same company. So a lot of times it's how you deal with things. But again, it's hard to teach people that it comes a lot with, how do you feel about yourself? And how you were trained to see yourself. A lot of times, if you see yourself as less, then you're just off that people do the same. If you respect yourself and you allow the people to see who you are, they're going to get used to it. And I think I remember one of the things in Kansas is after three, four years, people used to say, "Gosh Mitra, I can't even tell you Iranian anymore." As if that was a compliment. But if all of us can do that to that they get to know you as a person, then they come across enough of us that they can not realize that maybe their stereotype and perceptions are wrong and things will change.

Katie Wolf:

Well, I hope you are right Mitra. And I'm so happy about the work that you're doing and the comedy you are creating. And I'm just so grateful that you took the time to talk with us as well.

Mitra Shahri:

It was my pleasure.

Katie Wolf:

This has been the Filevine Fireside, I'm Katie Wolf. Thank you so much for joining us.