AMANDLA! WOMEN TO WATCH EDITION

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Chinyere Okorocha

Partner, Jackson, Etti & Edu

Why did you decide to study law?

Funnily enough, studying law wasn't born out of a deep desire to be a lawyer, or for the love of the profession. It was merely because I knew that I wanted to study a professional course and with math as one of my least favourite subjects, it had to be something in the Arts arena. That, coupled with the fact that my father was a Public Defender at the time, law seemed like the perfect fit and ticked off most, if not all the boxes.

What is your proudest professional moment thus far?

In 2021, I was recognised as the only Nigerian Female Lawyer to be listed in the Top 250 Women in Intellectual Property (IP) Law, by Managing IP, UK, the definitive guide that recognises female practitioners in private practice who have achieved exceptional performance for their clients and firms in the year.

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Looking back, what is one decision/action you would have done differently?

I always wished I had sought out a mentor earlier on in my career. I truly believe that the experience and guidance of someone who has walked the path that you want to walk is invaluable to one’s career growth as well as one’s ability to thrive as a female professional in today's world.

Share some major professional challenges you have faced, or continue to face as a woman in law.

Unfortunately, gender bias abounds in most professions the world over and the legal profession is no exception. This is deeply rooted in culture and although there has been some improvement over the years, progress is slow and women continue to be marginalised, victimised, and passed over – even when they are more qualified for the job.

As a young female lawyer and new mother, I recall a specific case where I had to take very drastic measures to ensure I wasn’t passed over for a professional opportunity abroad. With a 4-month-old baby, I ended up expressing milk in bottles for a month for my baby to take when I travelled. I then travelled with my breast pump and continued to express the milk whilst on the trip to maintain the flow. Luckily, I returned after 10 days and continued breastfeeding. Yes it is hard to be a woman in law, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.

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What are some practical strategies for survival in the legal profession?

The path up the career ladder for a female professional is not an easy one as it is strewn with challenges and negative stereotypes & mindsets about women. It is however not impossible to survive and here are my top tips for survival:

– Be intentional about creating a personal brand that stands out and gets you noticed. This will include your expertise, appearance, your niche area, and your digital & traditional footprint.

– Learn to network & connect with people both internally (within your organisation) as well as externally, and be sure to work across teams or departments so as to not restrict yourself to only your own department.

– Create a niche & become an expert in your industry or the go-to person on something specific.

– Sometimes you have to just leave gender out of it and do your job so well that they become gender blind. Know your stuff.

– Be flexible & mobile. This will enable you to take on roles that may take you out of jurisdiction, but provide a stepping stone for you to head up a unit of your own.

– Strengthen your relationship with your boss & make them look good. Never let your boss feel that you are after their job.

– If the opportunity doesn’t come on its own, then be bold and ask for opportunities, especially more high-profile work.

– Always volunteer to represent your team and also commend other team members when the situation calls for it.

– Asking for help is not a crime. Whom do you have as a support system? No man is an island. Utilise the power of delegation, both at work and in your personal life. Automate, Outsource & Delegate (AOD).

– It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be done. I am yet to find a successful woman who has achieved 100% in all areas of their lives