Onyema studied LLB Law at SOAS University of London and is now a corporate finance lawyer and associate at Latham & Watkins LLP
How did you get started in law?
I'm originally from Nigeria and was about 15 when I moved to the UK. My parents, myself and my siblings all came over together, mainly for a better life and the educational opportunities. I did all my tertiary education in the UK.
But Nigeria is still a very important part of me. I go back whenever I have the time and opportunity to. In my current practice, I’m heavily involved in African work and markets, which is one aspect of working at Latham & Watkins that I really love - it's so international.
Studying at SOAS has been instrumental to my career. The knowledge I have acquired has given me the opportunity to approach transactions from a broader perspective. A lot of the deals we work on are very international, and a lot of the clients we work with are multicultural, so there are different cultural expectations. Coming from an institution like SOAS, where you are always learning about different cultures and legal systems and seeing how they are able to interact, has been very useful to me.
What's a typical day like for you?
To be honest, there is no such thing. There are periods of stability, but every day is different really. Different challenges, different demands, because you're working with so many different people - your colleagues, fellow lawyers. And then on the external side of things, you're also constantly liaising with clients, perhaps trying to structure a deal, and they have high expectations and demands of you. Any day can present something new and exciting.
There are days when I've received emails in the hundreds. But equally I may only get 20 or so. It depends on the size of the transaction you're working on and the number of people involved. But it's not uncommon for lawyers to receive between 100 and 200 emails in a single day.
As a lawyer, you have a very central role to play with any transaction. You're managing that process for your client, so the expectation is you always know what's going on and are on top of it. If you're not checking all your emails you might miss out on something important.
What do you enjoy the most about your job?
The intellectual challenge and intellectual stimulation that comes with it. You're constantly challenged to think outside the box. People see you as a resource of information and ideas. Your client will be on the phone to you and, as their lawyer, you need to be able to provide answers quickly.
So, you're constantly learning, constantly pushing yourself, which for me is very exciting. My part of the industry, finance, is very regulation heavy - especially since the recession. So, as a lawyer, you need to be on top of the regulations, and you need to understand how the regulations impact on clients' business activities. It's just a very intellectually stimulating career and I really enjoy that aspect of it.
What do you find most challenging?
I'd probably say it is the long hours, even though it sounds a cliché. On a good day, I probably leave the office between 6pm and 8pm. On a bad day, it could be as late as midnight, or even the next day - I've done a number of all-nighters. It's not just a TV myth.
What are your ambitions?
I'm a very positive and optimistic person. My name 'Onyemaechi' means 'who knows tomorrow' in English, so I try to live by that name, and we'll just have to wait and see.
What advice would you give to someone who is interested in working in law?
You have to be very proactive. A legal career is very, very competitive. I looked at a survey a while ago and it basically talked about how the number of graduates coming out of law school has more than quadrupled in the past ten years. As a result there is a massive demand for corporate law jobs.
There are so many highly-talented law graduates out there - and non-law graduates too - who are looking for a corporate job in the City. Because of that mismatch between supply and demand, you have to be among the very best. Make sure you know how the market works, speak to the right people, know when you need to be making your applications, what are the requirements and eligibility criteria. Success is all about information, so be informed.
Find out more
- Explore SOAS University of London.
- Discover what you can do with a law degree.
- Consider what area of law you want to work in.