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London-based senior associate Chinwe Odimba-Chapman talks about the benefits of taking initiative – both for herself and for the next generation of lawyers.

A D V I C E   T O   M Y   Y O U N G E R   S E L F

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photo of Chinwe Odimba Chapman

I always loved the thought of becoming a technical expert in whatever choice of career I made – although I wasn’t sure what form that would take. It sounds a bit cliché, but I enjoyed debating, discussion and problem solving, so a career in law seemed a natural fit for me. I viewed it as a career track with prestige and an opportunity to achieve at the highest levels.

My first exposure to employment law was at university. It was a subject area I enjoyed, though I had always wanted to be a corporate lawyer. When I was on my training contract, I started in the finance practice before looking for my next step – something less transactional and more advisory-based. That led me into employment law, which was not at all what I expected. Because I work at a global firm, employment law affords me the opportunity to work very holistically – one moment it’s deals, the next litigation, the next advisory.

Coming out of law school, I would never have expected there to be such diversity of work and opportunity in employment law. That was a learning point for me: you need to really research what law firms do and understand that there are a lot of different roles. You aren’t limited to doing corporate or finance work – you can be specialist at the same time.

Confidence is something I had to work on in my career as a junior lawyer. I was confident socially, but it didn’t show at work, and the partners were worried that I was too shy. Somebody mentioned it to me, and I thought, “I need to do something about this.” I was very proactive, and at every opportunity for public speaking or presentations, I was the first to raise my hand. I did this for several years, and now it’s easier.

Another theme that stands out for me is the value of building relationships. Empathy is one of the most important strengths you can bring to relationships with clients and colleagues. As an employment lawyer, I deal with sensitive and personal issues, such as compensation and benefits, for some of our most strategically important clients. They want someone who can empathize with their needs and understand what’s keeping them awake at night. It’s also important to try to empathize with your junior colleagues and appreciate the pressures on partners.

My advice is to find something you are passionate about, and use that to inspire your career.

I am passionate about diversity. It’s important to all law firms and their clients, so it also just makes business sense. I joined the steering committee of our London Women’s Network, which has given me internal and external networking opportunities, developed my leadership skills and enabled me to influence firm policy. Last year, I co-founded our London BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) network. It’s been a great way of building my professional network while doing something really important.