From banking lawyer to eco and radio journalist
Ikenna Azuike was a finance lawyer in London, Amsterdam and New York, before leaving the legal profession in 2008 at about 4yrs PQE. He has since set up and now runs an online magazine about the environment called Strawberry Earth. He also works part-time for a Dutch radio station (though he works in English!) and is really enjoying a new career in journalism. We spoke to him about his moves and why he made them.
mtl: Hi Ikenna, please can you start with your legal background?
Ikenna: I studied Law and French law at UCL, which included an Erasmus year in Aix-en-Provence. After my LPC in Nottingham, I joined Shearman & Sterling for my training contract, and spent one of my seats in Singapore. I enjoyed my training contract, learnt a lot, liked the firm and was offered a job in project finance in London on qualification. However, my girlfriend was living in the Netherlands and so I decided to look for a role in Amsterdam instead. I joined the general banking department of Clifford Chance there in 2004.
I had a fantastic time living in Amsterdam. It’s a cosmopolitan city and near enough to the UK to stay in touch with friends and family fairly easily. I hadn’t had much banking experience so was thrown in at the deep end with a term sheet on my desk on the first day – it was a very steep learning curve. I stayed at Clifford Chance for three years and again felt like I learnt a lot.
However, two years into qualification, I started to think about the different career options available. For example I considered doing a Masters in international development or children’s rights and I liked the idea of working for an NGO.
At around this time, I also began to explore the possibility of living and working in New York. I thought the change of scene might be what I needed to continue my legal career. After contacting Shearman & Sterling I was asked to re-join them in New York. My girlfriend and I decided to move there for a while as we thought it was a fantastic opportunity.
1997 – 2001
Law with French Law, UCL
2001 – 2002
2002 – 2004
Training Contract, Shearman & Sterling, London
2004 – 2007
Banking assistant, Clifford Chance, Amsterdam
2007 – 2008
Banking assistant, Shearman & Sterling, New York
Set up Strawberry Earth and working as a radio journalist in Amsterdam
Within the first couple of months though, I realised that I definitely did want to do something else away from law and also that I really enjoyed and missed Amsterdam. It was a great process to go through as it made me realise what I wanted to be doing and where I wanted to live. I stayed nine months in New York. If I had been doing a job that excited me more then I could have stayed longer though because I loved the “doing” culture that exists there.
mtl: What did you decide to do next?
Ikenna: Basically I wanted to do something a bit more altruistic. At the time my girlfriend was writing about how green New York is compared to many cities in Europe. I had met quite a few inspirational people in the USA and I found that there was a general feeling out there that our generation can do something a lot more positive for the environment. So, rather than me going back to law in Europe, we decided that we would try to do something of our own and that was the beginning of the Strawberry Earth website. I therefore came back to the Netherlands without formal employment arranged.
Strawberry Earth started out as us trying to fill a gap by putting together a site that hadn’t previously existed. We wanted a creative, humourous, dynamic and informative online magazine (that is also critical) about the environment rather than something dry and boring and governmental and rather than a very commercial and superficial site that is just trying to sell goods.
We have tried to create an on-line forum that will appeal to creative people and through that we are running events under the name of “Strawberries & Cream”. The site took about three months to develop. We have a lot of opportunities in the pipeline in terms of sponsorship and running events and we’d like to spread to the UK and the USA, both in terms of having a network of writers and readers and also by running events in those countries.
Obviously our bills still have to be paid and the website is not a project which is going to generate much money. I thought about doing some freelance legal work in Amsterdam but then seeing as the site involved journalism and event management in the form of an online magazine, I decided to look at part-time journalistic opportunities myself. I now work for Radio Netherlands, which is the Dutch equivalent of the BBC World Service.
mtl: How are you finding radio journalism?
Ikenna: I have only been working for the station for four weeks but it has been incredible so far. It’s a role that I could never have got in London and I heard of it through a contact – they were looking for English-speaking professionals. I had an interview with the Chief Editor who said he would try me on a features programme until the end of 2008. To be useful in this industry without a jounralist’s background I have to produce, present and write for the web. I’ve already learnt to edit sound clips and I’ve been doing three minute live broadcasts, which were terrifying to begin with!
I now help prepare a daily news programme that goes out every day at 3pm. I have to find someone to speak about the angle we have decided on, interview them and edit it for the show. It is going really well and I’ve been asked to stay on, so it looks sustainable for next year.
mtl: Do you have any tips for our readers given your own career change?
Ikenna: I personally find my day to day working life more exciting now as I am using my own creativity more e.g. coming up with marketing ideas, writing press briefs and writing copy for the site. I am meeting a wide range of people from film makers, video artists and graphic designers to marketing heads and eco consultants.
I miss the pay in law (of course) and I have a great amount of respect for law firms as professional machines that deal with complex legal problems, manage transactions, store know how and run impressive billing and filing systems. I am trying to bring that level of professionalism to what we do at Strawberry Earth by taking an organised and professional approach. I am juggling lots of balls at the moment with a part-time job and organising events, so I find that there are a lot of moving parts to deal with.
In terms of leaving law, I think a leap of faith is sometimes necessary. If you think you have a good idea and you have the experience behind you and you trust your capability, then go for it! I had some savings as a safety net and I knew I could support myself with temporary work if I needed to. Remember also that if what you try doesn’t work out, you should be able to go back to what you were doing before.
Law prepares you for working long hours but I’ve found that working them is very different when you are doing your own thing. I didn’t want to be a partner and I needed to do something else. However I have no regrets about doing law first, as it has provided me with a lot of opportunities and has also taught me a lot along the way.
mtl: Thank you for your time and good luck with your site.
Click here to see Ikenna’s events video…
If you know any other ex-lawyers who have gone and done something interesting or unusual with their lives then please get in touch.
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