Scholar: Chukwudi Ofili
Undergraduate Course - Law
Undergraduate University - Babcock University, Nigeria
Graduate Course and University: Law, University of Georgia School of Law
I started my legal career with the law firm, Aluko & Oyebode, Nigeria. At Aluko & Oyebode, I was first assigned to the regional office in Port Harcourt, Nigeria where I worked as a member of the dispute resolution practice group. About a year after joining the regional office of Aluko & Oyebode, I transferred to the corporate and transactional practice group of Aluko & Oyebode in Lagos, Nigeria. I had always wanted to be a transactional lawyer, so I joined the Banking & Finance Practice group where I learnt the trade in finance, taxation and foreign investment advisory.
I had always wanted to get an LL.M. degree, but I struggled to come up with a way to fund an LL.M in a foreign institution. Getting admitted into the top schools was never an issue, the challenge was getting the funds to pay for tuition and afford the living expenses. I believe the challenges I faced were largely due to lack of information and strategy on how to apply for scholarships and get full funding. I always got partial funding but still faced the challenge of coming up with 60% of tuition and living expenses.
After about 2-3 years of trying in different schools, I found out that a couple of schools in the U.S actually give Assistantship awards in the form of full scholarship and a position as a graduate assistant, and you get paid which helps with living expenses. Amazing right? It was not that easy though. At the time, I had admissions into NYU and University of California, Berkley. I had to choose between the top-ranked schools and a school that was ranked 28th in the U.S. at the time. However, I knew that I could not afford tuition in the other schools and I did not want to take student loans, for personal reasons. After consultations with mentors and a critical analysis of my financial condition at the time, I made the "unpopular" decision to accept the University of Georgia School of Law. It was sort of a gamble.
However, it turned out to be a good decision as I was able to afford a comfortable life in school. I did not have to worry about tuition and I got to work with Professor Mehrsa Baradaran, a nationally-acclaimed leading scholar in banking law in the United States, in conducting research on areas of corporate finance and failed banks. I dare say that I would not have had this opportunity if I chose other schools.
The highlight of my time at the school was even more remarkable, I was one of a few students and first ever LL.M. candidate selected nation-wide by The Coca-Cola Company as an extern in its legal department at its headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, United States. At The Coca-Cola Company, I work for the international trade team and have gathered experience on export, import and sanctions as they relate to the company’s global operations in over 250 countries.
The externship provided an opportunity to compare life as an in-house counsel with practising as a lawyer in a law firm. With this experience, I am able to identify areas in which law firms add value to corporations.
In addition, I was able to appreciate the multi-faceted role of in-house counsel as legal advisor, risk manager and business partner. Finally, the networking opportunities provided during the externship remain invaluable for my long-term career goals.
Every individual's journey is different and our paths are different. Your career goals might just be better served in the "unpopular places". Do not be afraid to make tough decisions after critically analyzing your individual circumstance. However, make sure you seek advice from mentors.
Information is key. Speak with people who have access to information.
Strive to be the best in whatever environment you find yourself, no matter how "small" the place seems.
Networking is key to be a successful lawyer.