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‘Taking on the torch’: Osuji builds on legal career, family legacy amid pandemic

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Chinonso Osuji

Chinonso Osuji

Despite a year full of unexpected and difficult events, Attorney Chinonso Osuji has been building a legal career and a legacy for herself and her family.

Osuji is an associate at Reinhart’s Milwaukee office. She joined the firm full time in November — a natural transition after spending two summers with the firm. The real estate department’s expertise and its people impressed her.

“What led me to the firm was the energy of the people when I first interviewed with them,” Osuji said. “The real estate department is nationally renowned, so it just made sense for me to push hard to join the real estate department.”

Long before deciding on a practice specialty, a firm or even a law school, Osuji knew she wanted to be a lawyer. Growing up, she watched her father give up his ambitions of attending law school to support the family when they moved from Nigeria to the U.S.

“Ever since I was a kid, I said I wanted to be a lawyer,” Osuji said. “This is kind of like me taking on the torch and trying to continue what my dad started.”

Osuji talked to the Wisconsin Law Journal about starting a legal career amid a pandemic and what it means to carry on her family legacy.

Wisconsin Law Journal: How did your father inspire you and impact your decision to make law your career?
Chinonso Osuji: I was born in Nigeria, and my whole family’s from Nigeria. While we were living there, my dad was pursuing a legal career, (but) my family ended up having to relocate to the United States. (Law school) credit will not transfer, so he put it on the back burner in an effort to provide for our family. Ever since I was a kid, I said I wanted to be a lawyer, so this is kind of like me taking on the torch and trying to continue what my dad started.

WLJ: What was his reaction and your family’s reaction when you graduated from law school?
Osuji: I graduated (from Marquette University Law School) in May 2020, so it was probably the most anti-climactic graduation that anybody could have. Nothing happened. There were no ceremonies. I got my diploma in the mail, but that was about it. I was in Milwaukee, and my family was in Texas, and the whole country was shut down at the time, so I didn’t see my family.

Once I returned to Texas, everybody was super happy and proud, and my family surprised me with cake and balloons. I think everybody is super proud of me and the legacy that I am now building up for myself and my family as well. I’m the first generation to graduate from college and a professional school as well. It’s definitely an amazing thing for my family. I’m grateful to be able to accomplish this because it was not easy.

WLJ: Why did you choose real estate as the focus of your practice?
Osuji: In law school, I knew I wanted to do a transactional practice, despite the fact that law school inherently has a litigation focus. After summering at Reinhart for two years, we started to hear a lot about different departments in the firm. The real estate department is nationally renowned, so it just made sense for me to push hard to join the real estate department. It was also more tangible to me than a corporate practice. With real estate, you can actually physically see your work product when you go outside. You can see a building that you worked on the development contract for or helped them purchase the building, stuff like that.

WLJ: What has it been like to start a full-time legal career during a pandemic?
Osuji: It’s been extremely challenging. I think COVID has robbed a lot of us who graduated within COVID and are starting a new chapter within COVID. It takes away from being able to get that face-to-face time when you’re first starting to get to know the people that you’re going to be working with.

I will say, though, that Reinhart has made it bearable. They are trying to integrate us and let us know that we’re not forgotten, that we are all still a team, even though we can’t physically see each other and talk to each other and stop by each other’s offices. It’s not just virtual work meetings, but also social virtual meetings to try to keep us connected and trying to keep us getting to know each other and socializing however best we can. I think it’s important that the firm recognizes that people still need that camaraderie and that team feeling, even though we can’t get it in person.

WLJ: What are your career goals?
Osuji: One, working at a firm, is obviously partner track, so I’m making sure that I’m achieving different milestones within the firm to be able to get to partner status. I also want to figure out new and emerging markets that I can plug into and help expand and grow the real estate department and the firm as well.

WLJ: What has been the best advice that you’ve received about working in the legal profession so far?
Osuji: The best advice I’ve received is to take things one day at a time because in this profession no two days are the same. Just making sure to take things one day at a time and looking at the bigger picture instead of getting bogged down in how different things can be from day to day.

About Michaela Paukner, mpaukner@wislawjournal.com

Michaela Paukner is the legal reporter for the Wisconsin Law Journal. She can be reached at (414) 225-1825 or by email at mpaukner@wislawjournal.com.

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