Umu Wurie

My journey I’ve always found the human body intriguing, and, after my A levels, studied Biomedical Sciences at University of Sussex. In my final year, I undertook a module about the links between science and the law, where I discovered the significant impact legal concepts like intellectual property rights and contracts had on the development of biotechnologies and healthcare systems. I quickly realised a legal career would be interesting and would also allow me to use my biomedical knowledge and background.

​​​​​​​I first heard about Herbert Smith Freehills during an internship in Sierra Leone and was impressed by the extensive influence the firm had, both in terms of pro bono and corporate work. I was thrilled to join HSF in September 2020 as a trainee.

My future focus

I’m exposed to topical and complex matters daily. I especially enjoyed working on transactions relating to oil and gas and renewable energy projects in the Lusophone and Anglophone regions of Africa during my Trainee Programme where I spent time in the Natural Resources, Energy and Infrastructure Finance group. I want to be involved in similar matters going forward, particularly given what’s happening around the world with energy transitioning and the incredible impact this has on emerging markets.
My difference I’m driven by a desire to empower others – this is the basis of my interest in the legal profession. Having originated from and lived in a developing country, I’m conscious of the social injustices and lack of legal protection for people of a certain socio-economic status.

​​​​​​​During my internship at the Society for Women and Aids in Africa, my sense of responsibility to help people deprived of rights protection grew. I met women who had been victims of domestic abuse and poverty, their situations compounded by a lack of access to legal services. I’m now passionate about using my legal skills to help individuals and entities without direct access to specialised legal services that they desperately need. I’m proud of the fact that the pro bono initiatives at Herbert Smith Freehills align with my own desires to help others, including the Fair Deal Sierra Leone project, which sees the firm give free legal advice to the government. This is an incredible opportunity for me to help my own country.

My view

Advancing racial equality through pro bono work and firm initiatives.

In December 2019, I took part in the Herbert Smith Freehills vacation scheme. During the scheme there were several talks regarding the various practice groups at the firm, and one group that stood out to me was the HSF Impact group, which provides pro bono advice to social enterprises and impact investors on global issues like climate change, homelessness and poverty. Expressing my interest in this group and the firm’s wider pro bono work meant I was able to participate in client calls during my vacation scheme; one of which involved giving advice to a leading global investment business on how to establish and grow an in-house pro bono programme. It was amazing to see pro bono work being regarded as a key part of our role as lawyers.

As a Black woman in the legal profession, I want to tackle racial and gender-based inequities that create barriers for entry into work. My interest in pro bono work in this area has been consistently encouraged by the firm. I was able to participate in the incorporation of an anti-racism charity, which focuses on engendering Black equity in the UK, and, given the opportunity to attend calls with the client, assist with drafting the charity's constitution and write client-facing notes on various procedural steps. The charity has recently been successfully registered, which has been a highlight of my career so far and being part of the team that worked on this gives me such joy.

During my second seat, I facilitated a group discussion on race, diversity and inclusivity, creating a safe space for open dialogue between various members of the team, from partners to support staff. Together we dissected complex topics like microaggressions and discrimination. It was great to share and hear personal experiences, while also encouraging each other to challenge the inherent racism and unconscious biases embedded in our minds. There’s no doubt that the first step to tackling these social issues is by talking about them – and at HSF, I feel empowered to do so. Ultimately, my aim is to create a more diverse legal profession, no matter how small an impact I make. I also want to open the door to law for underrepresented people. I hope to continue working with the Graduate Recruitment team to reach out to students, particularly  Black students who aspire to be lawyers at a top tier firm such as HSF.

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