I originally planned on following my parents’ footsteps and becoming a teacher. While at university I was inspired by a female law professor who stood out in a profession that was predominantly male. I realized that I could use the law to fight for the rights of girls and to fight poverty.
I have always had a certain level of familiarity with the legal profession as one of my parents is a law professor. From a very young age, I was fortunate enough to have a front row seat to observing how individuals in the legal profession were using their expertise to influence and effect change within their professions and their communities as well as at a national or global level. Consequently, to me, the law seemed to be one of the most effective paths to becoming involved in and having an impact on some of the issues and causes that I am most passionate about, whilst pursuing a career in which I would remain intellectually engaged and challenged through exposure to the intellectually and conceptually challenging issues presented by the demands of the legal profession.
I started my career in the finance industry, and continued as a capital markets lawyer, which has empowered me, through the advice I provide on securities transactions, to become directly involved in the mobilization of significant amounts of resources raised in the international and domestic capital markets for sovereigns and public or private entities and institutions, enabling me to contribute to the flow of investments into and within various countries, and to indirectly have an impact on local economies, industries and communities within those markets. This has always been in alignment with my interest in seeing increased flows of investments into countries and regions in need of capital to address the development-related challenges faced by populations in those countries.
I remember my grade 6 teacher asked us what we wanted to be when we grow up and I said I wanted to be an advocate so that I can help my people. My teacher was not very encouraging as he reminded us that we might not become what we wanted to be. He was cautious because this was during the height of apartheid in South Africa. Indeed, I was admitted as an Advocate of the High Court of South Africa years later, though I have never practised law because I chose the route of legal academia.
I do not recall there being a particular moment when I decided that I wanted to be a lawyer. For as long as I can remember, I was drawn to the idea of being an advocate, promoting justice and being able to use my oral and written words to persuade. In addition, growing up a mere twenty minutes from the South African border, during that country’s transition from Apartheid to a multi-racial democracy, had a deep impact on my worldview and I was intrigued by the role that lawyers could play to right those wrongs.
Growing up in rural areas the societal hierarchy was clear. Even as a young girl I knew that I did not like my place in that hierarchy. No one said anything about the position of woman but I could see it in my home, in my community, in family gatherings or school meetings. I did not like my place in that hierarchy. It was important for me to find a way to challenge that hierarchy. I always thought of education as an instrument for empowerment. I did not know any lawyer growing up nor did I know what work lawyers do. However, people spoke highly of lawyers. I thought that if I was to be respected like that I would not be subjected to the treatment endured by woman in my village. I would be allowed to have an opinion and a voice in my community. If I had a voice I could use it not just for me but for all woman to challenge our place in society.
My secondary school teacher told me, after reading my essays, that I had what it took to become a lawyer so when I was faced with the choice between reading law or business administration at the University, I chose law.
I had exposure to the law growing up with family members in the profession. During my undergraduate studies, I found myself interested in the legal issues in my social sciences coursework. I recall in my law school application, I mentioned that I wanted to be able to help others build capacity and advise them on how to better negotiate and advocate for their positions, especially in the international development space. I came pretty close to that in practice. Now, as a lawyer, I like the intellectual challenge posed by the law, the range of issues and the different sides and arguments to different issues. But overall, I like the tool that the law presents for people, by knowing its limitations and the possibilities it presents, to help put themselves in a better position, whether through negotiating a fairer contract, litigating a claim, or advocating for change.
Equal doses of nurture and nature, I believe. I was raised to be confident in who I am, to love hard work and be helpful to others. I was also the child with a relentless curiosity, a love for debate, a rebellious streak and a deep sense of fairness. I would stand up to bullies and bring home “a stray cat” now and again. Everyone who knew me well said I would be a lawyer and I agreed. However, the actual decision was made in 1995 as I watched Hilary Clinton in her pink power suit on TV delivering her thundering defense of women’s rights as pivotal to human rights in Beijing.
One day, my mother bemoaned the fact that she did not study law as her father used to say 'all lawyers are liars". I was a bold, daring, and determined child and upon hearing that 'lamentation', I impulsively took a self-oath to be the lawyer 'that does not lie' and ran with that determination, against all odds.
After my mother talked me out of my dream to be a nun, I wanted to be a medical doctor. Unfortunately, I lost interest in physics and I knew my dream of having a stethoscope around my neck and attending to patients would not materialize. It was then that the idea of becoming a lawyer crept in. I vividly remember my dad’s wig in a black tin box with his name inscribed in gold on it and I longed to get one when I became a lawyer! Honestly, I cannot say at the time that I wanted to champion the cause of the under privileged in society or to right some wrongs. I just thought then that it would be “cool” to be a lawyer and have my name inscribed in gold on a black tin box!!
I was very outspoken as a child, and considered studying law later on in my teenage years as an outlet for my personality. I had the privilege of attending a premier All Girl’s boarding school in Ghana, where the focus was to empower young women; teach them to excel and to lead positive change for the benefit of the community at large. This training served me well and shaped up my view of the law profession as a calling; a useful tool to represent the vulnerable in society; to serve as a mouthpiece for those who needed one.
My decision to study law was made a day before my course registration at the University. I had gone to university with the goal of studying economics but I talked myself out of it after hearing about so many of my seniors in high school who had not made the grade in math in the first year to qualify to the school of economics. Studying law amplified the sense of justice that I believe I have always had. Being the oldest child in my family, I always had the responsibility to guide and direct my siblings and my opinion mattered a lot to them. I had to be careful that I was fair and impartial in my dealings with them to earn their respect.