AMANDLA! WOMEN TO WATCH EDITION

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Emilia Onyema

Professor of International Commercial Law at SOAS University of London

Why did you decide to study law?

As a child, I talked and argued a lot with my siblings and other people, and my dad basically said I will study law and I did. Growing up, parents had a lot of influence on the career choices of their children and in most cases they got it right and that is my experience. I am therefore thankful to my parents for guiding me towards legal study and practice.

What is your proudest professional moment thus far?

The day I was called to the Nigerian Bar as a qualified attorney at law.

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

Cannot think of one at this time.

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

Legal practice in Nigeria remains a male dominated profession. There is evident disrespect for women who lead law firms as being weaker leaders which makes it very daunting for women to contemplate and then set up law firms. This attitude is gradually changing and rightfully so. This attitude helped me study more and prepare better which led to the development of greater confidence and strong managerial skills - the poor attitude ended up leading to me to desire excellence in all I do.

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

Expertise in your field; Continuous professional development and learning; having a voice and speaking when necessary; ensuring that you identify and not tolerate bullying; be kind and humane to all (very important); and be your true version (which means you may be in the minority of a debate and still be comfortable).