Leah Leyendecker

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In 2008, Leah Leyendecker, then an undergraduate student at the University of St. Thomas, boarded a plane with her father and jetted off for Cameroon. It was her first visit to the country, a West African nation some 6,600 miles away, and her first chance to see her father’s homeland.

“It was a bit of a culture shock,” said Leyendecker, today an associate in Gray Plant Mooty’s Intellectual Property, Technology & Privacy practice group, “and a life-changing experience.”

The two-week sojourn offered her a new lens through which to view the world, fueling her interest in law and shaping her career in ways she did not fully understand at the time. Two years later, after graduating from St. Thomas, she joined Wilson Law Group, a Minneapolis-based firm focused on immigration matters.

Her experience at Wilson Law Group solidified her interest in law, and by 2012 Leah was enrolled at the University of Minnesota Law School.

Path to Minnesota and Law School

Leah was born in Ohio. Her father, Charles Agbor, had emigrated in the early ‘70s from Cameroon to the United States to attend Bethany College in West Virginia on a student visa. While at Bethany, he met a young music education major named Marcia Elrod. Several years later, they moved to Yellow Springs, Ohio, and married. Leah and her younger sister, Grace, were born in Yellow Springs. Not long after, Charles, who was employed in the research and development arm of the Antioch Company in Yellow Springs, was offered an opportunity in St. Cloud, Minnesota, prompting the family to relocate.

Leah grew up playing soccer and performing ballet, pursuits she continued while attending Apollo High School in Saint Cloud. After graduating from high school, she enrolled at St. Thomas, where she studied business, communication and journalism, and Spanish. While there, she also grew her relationship with a young man she’d known since her days at Apollo High: Andy Leyendecker.

Leah and Andy’s relationship continued after Leah graduated college and began working at Wilson Law Group. While working there as a legal assistant on matters ranging from asylum to employment-based immigration, two key things happened: the couple got engaged and Leah became determined to become an attorney.

Law School and GPM

Leah’s tenure in law school began at a pivotal point in her life. She and Andy had just gotten married. They had bought a home together in South Minneapolis. She had left her job and was committing herself to a great deal of financial uncertainty.

But the prospect of failure never entered her mind. “I have always believed that anything is possible with hard work and determination,” she said. “Law school was no different.”

Financially, she was aided by several scholarships, among them, the John Mooty Scholarship. Still, Leah didn’t quite know what to expect when she arrived at Mondale Hall that fall. There is a stereotype of law school as a three-year battle among hyper-competitive overachievers jostling for class position.

That caricature, says Leah, is not exactly right, but it’s not exactly wrong either. There were endless hours of study. There were the hyper-competitive “gunners” hotly pursuing the top grades. There was stress. But there were also wonderful classmates who provided genuine friendship, support, and comradery as well as brilliant professors committed to her legal education.

“I did not expect it to be easy, and it was not,” she said. “But I knew I could get through it.”

Looking back on her experience, Leah said she was thankful for the support she had from her family and friends, particularly her husband. “Andy was my rock. He was there for me in whatever ways I needed,” she said. “He really carried us through those three years.”

Her hard work helped Leah become a standout in her class, which caught the eye of Gray Plant Mooty. After her first year of law school, she became a summer associate at the firm. The experience was profound, she said.

“I had amazing mentors (attorneys Anne Paape and Catie Bitzan Amundsen) who provided invaluable support and guidance,” Leah said. “Attorneys at all levels showed a genuine interest in mentoring me in my professional development.”

Leah returned to Gray Plant Mooty after her second year of law school, during which she was mentored by firm partners Inchan Hwang and Monica Kelly. After that summer, there was little doubt about where she wished to practice.

“It was evident from day one that GPM is a unique place with an incredible sense of community and a culture that is unparalleled, and I wanted to be a part of that,” she said.

Leah joined the firm as a full-time associate in September 2015. It seemed that everything had gone precisely as she planned. But one thing, at least, had evolved: She decided to focus her practice on intellectual property, technology, and privacy law. The work suits her well, she says, and keeps her very engaged and very busy.

But no matter where her practice leads her in the long run, she plans to remain connected to the world of immigration law. “I will always have a passion for that work,” she said. “I feel a personal connection to people coming from other countries, partly because of my father, and am naturally drawn to working with people with a diverse array of religious and ethnic backgrounds. There is a real need for attorneys in this area, and if I am able to help, I feel I should.”

Today, a steady amount of work flows to Leah from senior colleagues who have built up larger books of business. The work is challenging, interesting, and continually evolving, she says. But despite her busy schedule, Leah still makes time to pursue her passions, including world travel.

Recent trips have included Peru, Thailand, Vietnam, and Puerto Rico. And one of the most recent?

“Cameroon,” she said with a smile. “It was time to go back.”