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Leena Yousefi

Lawyer Leena Yousefi leaning against a brick wall.
  • Category: Presidents’ Alumni Award
  • UVic degree: Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, 2006; Law Juris Doctor, 2010
  • Current hometown: Vancouver, BC      
  • Birthplace: Tehran, Iran

About Leena

Leena Yousefi is a lawyer, accredited mediator and the founder of YLaw, the largest female-led law firm in Canada. Born in Iran, she and her family immigrated to Canada when she was 13. After graduating with her second UVic degree, she set about re-imagining the practice and business of law.

The mother of a toddler and infant twins opened YLaw in 2013 and structured the firm to support women lawyers with children, people of colour and to advance inclusion in the workplace.

Leena's efforts have landed her on numerous lists, including Top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada and Business in Vancouver’s Top 40 under 40. Her law firm, which has 5 offices in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, was also ranked in the Top 400 Fastest Growing Companies in Canada by the Globe and Mail 3 years in a row. 

A sought-after guest speaker and mentor, Leena often shares her insights and experiences to change the workplace and inspire the next generation of legal professionals. In 2017, she established the YLaw Best Lawyering Award for UVic Law students.

What's your favourite memory of being a UVic student?

I was kicked out of UVic—I couldn't even get student loans because I had failed all my grades. So on the first day of getting back into UVic, I went to the student union building and applied for a dishwashing job and got it. That was my favourite—that first day on the job with my hairnet on, looking at the dishes. I was washing the dishes and I had such a big smile on my face. That job made my dreams come true because by making money and being able to pay my way, I could become somebody. It gave me another opportunity when everybody else had given up. And for that reason, I am always indebted to this university.

How did your experiences at UVic shape who you are or contribute to future successes?

I remember my sociology professor got us to meditate every class for the first 10 minutes. He would bring raisins and say, “Eat them very slowly and feel the taste instead of just eating them.” I had come back to UVic in a state of anxiety and depression, and it was the little things that these professors did outside of the teaching a course that really built me into a better person.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

The one thing that I learned is how powerful and resilient women are, and how much we're punished for being women in the workplace because we’re looked at as liabilities, especially when we want to have a family. So I actively started hiring pregnant women, women who were on maternity leave, part-time women, women who didn’t want to bill 2,000 hours a year, women who just wanted to be women.

We started creating all these workplace policies that took into consideration who a woman is. A lot of mothers are multi-taskers because having children makes you very efficient, very productive. So instead of asking them to work 5 days a week and not see their kids 10 hours a day, we said work 4 days a week, but be productive and efficient. I could go on about it, but my biggest weapon to success has been to acknowledge who a woman is and utilize their powers instead of trying to curtail them.

What’s your advice to someone uncertain about their future?

Praise and worship failure, because that's what really got me to where I am. I am forever indebted to all my failures. They made me grow way faster than any successes and as profound as some of the pains were, they made me grow and transform and evolve.

What is something, small or large, that you do for others?

I have never said no to anybody who has reached out to me for mentorship or guidance. As you can imagine, that's a lot of people.

What is something that you do for yourself?

I thrive when I'm alone and when I'm in nature. Despite having 3 kids, the biggest thing that I do is to go somewhere alone and sit in nature and meditate. That's how I come up with visions and policies. That's the biggest gift that I can give to myself.

What would you do with an extra hour of free time every day?

Drink wine... and dream.

Is there a food you can't resist?

I love poutine. Just the taste of it. You can never go wrong!

What are you grateful for?

Some of the most intelligent, incredible, exciting and diverse people I've met were when I was attending UVic. This award is the most valuable and biggest award that I could have imagined receiving because I went from being expelled from UVic to winning its highest award. I have to pinch myself like I'm living in a dream. But that's what UVic has done by giving people like me second chances.

About the Distinguished Alumni Awards

Nominations for the 2024 awards are open now through Oct. 13, 2023.