Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 41

THE PRO BONO EFFECT

'I'VE BEEN IN THEIR SHOES'
A YOUNG ASSOCIATE GIVES BACK

Interview by Kathy Lugo

F

eola Odeyemi is an associate in Sidley Austin
LLP's corporate group, where he focuses on
technology and intellectual property transactions. He is a dedicated volunteer with the
D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center's Immigration Legal Advice
& Referral Clinic and its Landlord Tenant Resource
Center. Additionally, he is involved with Sidley's
Emerging Enterprises Pro Bono Program. Here,
Odeyemi shares more about his passion for social
justice and immigrants' rights.

Tell us about your background.
I grew up in Lagos, Nigeria, but I immigrated to Atlanta as a teenager. Family
life was colorful; I had two siblings, but an entire army of cousins, aunts, and
uncles lived with us, so I was constantly surrounded by people.
I started out at a small community college in Atlanta and eventually graduated from Clark Atlanta University. Initially, I wanted to be a physician, and I
started down the path of pre-med classes. My sister suffered from sickle cell
anemia, and watching her suffer was a constant struggle throughout my
childhood. I had this noble intention that I would someday become a great
physician and find a cure for her illness; unfortunately, she passed away before
that could ever happen. Additionally, since I had moved to the United States
as an international student, I quickly discovered that I didn't have access to
financial aid and could not afford the cost of medical school.
Ultimately, I decided to take both engineering and pre-med classes in college,
rather than following a pure pre-med curriculum, primarily because scholarships and research assistantships from my college's engineering department
helped pay my tuition. After graduation, I was hired by an engineering consulting firm in Atlanta, and I worked on environmental and business consulting projects all over the Southeast for several years.
Why did you decide to transition from being an engineer to a lawyer?
I began my engineering career knowing I would eventually become a lawyer.
For any given problem, whether a social or a technical problem, the solution is
usually designed by the policymakers - frequently the attorneys and
business teams - while engineers focus on implementing the selected
solution. When inefficient or inappropriate solutions are chosen, engineers
rarely have enough input at the policymaking level to correct the problems or

Patrice Gilbert Photography

change the outcome. I wanted experience with both policymaking and implementation, so I decided to pursue a legal career after a few years in engineering.
I attended Harvard Law School initially intending to focus on environmental
law, but my studies very quickly led me to technology, data privacy, and entrepreneurship. I spent a few months as a summer associate at Sidley, where I got
to work with some of the best technology lawyers in the nation, and my time
there cemented my decision to focus on a technology transactions practice.
You're now a full-time associate at Sidley. What do you most enjoy about
working at the firm?
The people and the culture at Sidley are great. As a technology transactions
attorney, I attend to any number of technology-related legal matters affecting
my clients, and I have been fortunate to have as colleagues some of the best
and brightest people in the business.
Additionally, over the years Sidley has cultivated a culture of inclusiveness and
social responsibility, and the firm's commitment to pro bono work is genuine
and inspiring. It is quite easy to get carried away with the law firm lifestyle, solely
focusing on finding solutions to corporate legal challenges, but that lifestyle
simply cannot provide the social and personal rewards that pro bono work
offers. Sidley provides the necessary resources for attorneys to be successful at
pro bono work, including a full-time staff of pro bono coordinators and pro
bono directors, as well as a network of relationships with several legal aid organizations in the District and across the country. The firm also supports pro bono
work by allowing associates to count some pro bono hours toward their annual
bonus-eligible billable hour totals.
Has giving back to the community always been important to you?
Yes. When I was on the path to medical school, I volunteered for several years in
the emergency room in Atlanta's largest hospital, as well as at a children's
hospital and with a medical program dedicated to patients suffering from sickle
cell anemia. While in law school, I volunteered at a tenants' rights clinic and
spent weekends canvassing low-income, immigrant-dominated neighborhoods in Boston, advising tenants of their rights and connecting them to pro
bono legal services. As an engineer, I volunteered for Water for People, an organization dedicated to providing access to water and sanitation services to
underserved communities worldwide.
Now that I'm an attorney, I feel a calling and professional responsibility to do pro
bono work. I volunteer with Sidley's Emerging Enterprises Pro Bono Program,
which provides free legal support to small for-profit enterprises and nonprofits
that are actively involved in efforts to improve the lives of underprivileged
people in communities all over the world. I have helped nonprofits in the
United States and small companies in developing economies with a wide array
of legal matters, including negotiating and navigating regulatory challenges
and drafting related documents. A little over a year ago, for example, I worked
with an organization that helps farmers in sub-Saharan Africa get their goods to
market without losing most of their profits to unscrupulous middlemen.

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MAY 2019

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WASHINGTON LAWYER 41


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Washington Lawyer - May 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Washington Lawyer - May 2019

Digital Extras
Your Voice
From Our President
Practice Management
Calendar Of Events
Cybersecurity Rules & Risks For The International Lawyer
Borders, Refugees & A Global Crisis
Climate Change: Turning To Law In Race Against Time
Member Spotlight
Global & Domestic Outlook
Worth Reading
Media Bytes
Attorney Briefs
Ask The Ethics Experts
Disciplinary Summaries
The Pro Bono Effect
Community & Connections
Special Coverage: Youth Law Fair @ 20
Last Word
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Cover1
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Cover2
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 1
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 2
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 3
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Digital Extras
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Your Voice
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - From Our President
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 7
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Practice Management
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 9
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Calendar Of Events
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 11
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Cybersecurity Rules & Risks For The International Lawyer
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 13
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 14
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 15
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 16
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 17
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Borders, Refugees & A Global Crisis
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 19
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 20
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 21
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Climate Change: Turning To Law In Race Against Time
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 23
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 24
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 25
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 26
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 27
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Member Spotlight
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 29
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Global & Domestic Outlook
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 31
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Worth Reading
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Media Bytes
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Attorney Briefs
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 35
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Ask The Ethics Experts
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 37
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Disciplinary Summaries
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 39
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - The Pro Bono Effect
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 41
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 42
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 43
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Community & Connections
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 45
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Special Coverage: Youth Law Fair @ 20
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 47
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Last Word
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Cover3
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Cover4
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