College of Law


shifting from regional cases to national stages

by Heather Karns | August 1, 2022

Reem Subei

Reem Subei ’14 is a Senior Staff Attorney with Muslim Advocates- a national legal advocacy and educational organization that works on the front lines of civil rights to guarantee freedom and justice for Americans of all faiths. Reem lived in the Toledo area until 2021 but the birth of her niece in Raleigh and the ability to work remotely led her to relocating to North Carolina. 

Reem’s parents are from Damascus, Syria. Her father attended Wayne State University in Michigan. For Reem, Toledo is home. As a child, Reem thought that being a lawyer was a tough dream to accomplish. She was drawn to the idea of building a career around advocacy and social change but had doubts she could ever get into the legal field and accomplish her goals within it as a woman. As a teenager, she started to grasp the injustices people face and how often those injustices go unaddressed when victims do not have the same access to power than the person inflicting injustice – whether they be powerful corporations, government agencies, or abusive partners.  

Reem’s undergraduate experience at the University of Toledo led her to look at Toledo for law school as well. Reem appreciated the diversity of the undergraduate student body and the approachability of the professors and staff. While she realized that the undergrad student body was not identical to the law school student body, Reem found that attending the University of Toledo’s law school provided her with the tools she needed. Reem credits Toledo Law with helping her understand the vitality of connecting with people, a simple thing that she feels makes all the difference. “My legal career is largely based on building power for people and communities, so connecting with my clients has been at the center of my work.” 

Following law school, Reem began working as a legal fellow at the American Arab Anti Discrimination Committee (ADC) in Michigan. Her job was to respond to hate crimes and discrimination cases, as well as manage office staff. Reem’s daily activities involved negotiating with offending parties, writing demand letters, holding Know Your Rights seminars, and using the law to enforce justice. Following ADC, Reem spent a number of years at Advocates for Basic Legal Equality in Toledo which was focused on state and local issues. She remained there until she was recruited for the position of senior attorney at Muslim Advocates, which gave her an opportunity to work at the national level on complex cases and policy matters.  

Reem recognizes Toledo area attorney Linda Mansour (’79) who has been a friend and mentor throughout the years. Reem worked in Linda’s office for about a year saying Linda taught her that it’s always okay to ask questions and always okay to ask for help, but never okay to speak without having reviewed the law and researched your analysis. Linda also advised Reem to be 100% real with clients telling them the weaknesses and strengths of their cases upfront. 

Reem received her B.A. in Sociology and Communication from the University of Toledo in December 2010 and her J.D. from Toledo Law in 2014. 

Q&A with Reem Subei

Do you have a favorite memory from attending Toledo Law? A favorite professor?
I enjoyed most of my classes, well to the extent that anyone can enjoy law school classes, and most of my professors have and continue to be fabulous mentors. Even some of my mentors have recently become professors at Toledo Law, such as Eugenio Mollo. But my favorite memories from law school are associated with classmates. I always give my younger brother the advice of, “Talk to anyone and everyone you can in college,” and I’m grateful for the time I spent talking to classmates in law school. One of my best friends from law school is Sarah Cunningham, with whom I still talk every couple of weeks. She was and continues to be brilliant, and more importantly, kind. A wise person once told me, there are many smart people in the world, but it's kindness that matters. 

What has been a career highlight?
I’ll provide one from my job at ABLE and one from my current job. Right before leaving ABLE, I filed a complaint on behalf of a tenant union- it took months, or maybe even a year to build up the case and provide the tenants with the tools to unionize. Sean Nestor stepped in as an organizer and has been doing an excellent job at it. The case continues and was picked up by ABLE’s David Manor. This case was a highlight because we were able to assist in the formation of the first private housing tenant union in Toledo that we know of. A highlight from my new job was just a few months ago when my coworker Christopher Godshall and I filed a complaint and a TRO against a detention facility that was depriving our client of Ramadan meals - the facility settled two days after we filed.

What were some career pivot-points/decisions that led you to where you are now?
There have been a few times when I received very attractive offers to practice areas of law that I was not passionate about. And I’ve considered them, but then decided to stick with what I loved. But going back, and more relevant to the law students reading through, I had to go through law school. I distinctly remember being so done with it one day that I sat in torts class, selected all my classes to drop them and leave law school, and hovered my mouse cursor to the drop all icon, and clicked it - but the mouse glitched and my click did not go through. I was ecstatic and relieved to find out that my click did not go through. Needless to say, I did not try to drop my classes again.

What has been the most challenging aspect of your position/s?
To sue or not to sue. Most legal practice exists in the world of gray, not black and white. As a lawyer, I’m responsible for giving my clients the pros and cons of any decision, but the clients almost always want a conclusion, should we sue or not. And, especially working for civil rights organizations, I have to be prepared to make a recommendation that centers the client’s best interest while also informing the client about the risks of creating bad precedent. It’s a huge responsibility that I don’t take lightly. 

Do you have any suggestions for law students/new lawyers interested in a similar path?
Join the communities that you want to support. If your goal is to help balance the playing field for people and create equity, you have to be prepared to build a durable long term political infrastructure composed of network organizations and groups that are aligned around shared goals and who can shape political agendas. That does not mean you need to do all of that yourself, you can find organizers to do that and support community members in doing this.  

What should new attorneys keep in mind and be thinking about?
I invite all attorneys, new and experienced, to keep in mind the critical opportunity they have to influence and shape the law. And to remember that a legal victory for our clients is only lasting if it results in a shift in power dynamics. Without that, classical law reform is not effective. On the more professional level, my advice is to enjoy the work and respect your work product. Always make sure that whatever leaves your desk or email is in the best format it can be. It’s our job to synthesize complex information and articulate it effectively.

What was the best advice you ever received?
“You win through relationships.” It came from my friend Rachel Rine when I was running for the Ohio State Senate. And while I lost by a small margin, I build great relationships through the campaign for which I am forever grateful. And I’ve kept this lesson with me for my legal career. Sustainable victories for clients and client communities are best realized through coalitions and relationships. 

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I have to admit that spending time with my niece is the highlight of my day. The highlight of my week is volunteering at the local mosque with the youth programs. And every once in a while I enjoy rollerblading, or some series ab workout videos that give me short-lived hope for the abs my brother seems to be able to maintain with zero effort.

Is there anything else you would like alumni (or current students) to know about you?
When I was in undergrad at UT, I took a public speaking class, and when it was my turn to present, I trembled so much, I thought my heart would jump out of my chest. My heart was pacing so fast, I could barely catch my breath. Now, I can present to hundreds of people with no prep- and I find myself excited to do it, less stressed about it than about cooking shrimp. I say this to tell students that what might seem impossible today can become second nature to you in a couple of years. So if you want something badly enough, just keep working for it.

Last Updated: 7/31/22