AMANDLA! WOMEN TO WATCH EDITION
Michaela Eddinia Swallow
President, Sierra Leone Bar Association and Senior Legal Counsel, Petroleum Directorate, Office of the President, Sierra Leone.
Why did you decide to study law?
As a mixed-raced child, I grew up wanting to break free from a certain stereotype associated with mixed-race children. I never wanted to be part of that labeling: beauty without brains. At a tender age, I fantasized of being a children’s doctor, caring for babies. However, an encounter with injustice taught me how seriously the law and access to justice can change lives. Consequently, studying law became that golden key to open the door of the legal profession for me, break the labeling, fight injustice and serve as an inspiration to many young mixed-raced women and children trapped in poverty.
What is your proudest professional moment thus far?
The Monrovia, Liberia, 2019 AFBA Conference, my first international appearance acting as President of the Sierra Leone Bar Association. I delivered a speech on our responsibilities as lawyers in nation building. The speech enthralled the audience and triggered a moment of introspection for legal practitioners and judges from around the world.
Looking back, what is one decision/action you would have done differently?
So far, I have no regrets. Every professional decision/action I have taken has been intentional and purposeful. My sincerity and abiding faith in God will continue to guide every professional decision/action I take.
Share some major professional challenges you have faced, or continue to face as a woman in law.
Being the only woman in the room in a male dominated profession has never been an issue for me because I learnt early on that my voice is as strong as I want it to be. However, raising children and building my career have been really challenging.
The legal profession demands both hard work and time; hence the art of balancing this with raising kids is no mean feat. How do you stay focused when your child is ill or needs homework done, but you need to review a contract or write an opinion? As women, our role as primary caregivers is a disincentive to our career growth.
For me, it has been a daily struggle. But, I have made a conscious decision to stay focused and endeavor to make pertinent choices that will complement what is important to me at every given stage in my life.
What are some practical strategies for survival in the legal profession?
I live in a society where family is as important as a successful career in law. Therefore, there is a risk of losing yourself whilst trying to strike the right balance. As a woman, I have had to work twice as hard to achieve anything but in doing so, I always try to remember what is most important to me.
Another strategy for survival is not to compete with others, just try to be the best version of yourself. Also, engage in lots of research, there is no harm in being overprepared but being superficial is news that travels faster than light in this profession.
Similarly, don’t be shy to ask for help when you need it and always maintain good relationships. Always separate the issues from colleagues representing the issues. My personal mantra in litigation is to always fight the case and not the lawyer on the other side.