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Isobel Acquah

Director - Center for Law and Innovation,
Certa Foundation

Why did you decide to study law?

I was inspired by my great-grandfather to study law. I never met him, but his daughter (my grandmother) shared his passion for the law and encouraged me to follow in his footsteps. He, John Mensah Sarbah, was one of Ghana's most prominent lawyers. Seeing his signature at Lincoln's Inn Book of Records and witnessing the enduring legacy of his work in Ghana, for example, the Fante Constitution, were great sources of inspiration when I made the decision to pursue law.

What is your proudest professional moment thus far?

I have many proud moments. I am especially proud to have taken risks and navigated so much change during the span of my career.

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

I wish I had networked better with senior team members as a young lawyer. I did not fully appreciate the access I had to people and did not take advantage to build relationships outside of my core team.

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

I recall walking into a meeting as a young lawyer in the UK for a large military client. The conference room was full of older white men. I stood up to grab some coffee, and one of them asked whether I could make him a cup, assuming I was a staff member. I experienced shock, anger and embarrassment at the question, and an awkward silence ensued. Fortunately, a colleague corrected him, but it changed the energy in the room as the others realized the mistake. I felt completely exposed by a combination of my ethnicity and gender, and it made me very conscious of myself as a young lawyer. I had an incredible male mentor who would expose me to very high-level meetings, and I was grateful for that. I was also happy to meet my first female mentor, who is still a mentor and close friend today. The experience taught me that success is the best response to critique. It also instilled in me the importance of being the mentor I wish I had during that season to other young women.

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

Firstly, self-confidence is key. Our self-talk is often very critical. It is important that our thoughts and speech about ourselves are aligned. People will respond to what you say about yourself.

Secondly, it is okay if you are not liked. In the workplace, focus on being respected, not liked.

Thirdly, women do not brag enough - we work hard but tend to be shy about communicating that appropriately. It is important to get comfortable about saying what we have done so we are not overlooked (when it comes to promotions or opportunities) but also to serve as a signpost for younger women coming up in their careers.

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