Iruka Ndubuizu is a negotiation expert, speaker, and trainer whose experience spans law firms, corporations, and academia.
She is proficient at translating business terms into the legal concept and believes in using the law proactively to achieve better business results, balance risks with rewards, and prevent problems. This mindset fueled her passion for sharing her extensive knowledge via training in both traditional and non-traditional classroom settings.
A Managing Partner at Delphi Law Advisory in Lagos and the Founder of Eureka Consulting, LLC with offices in Atlanta, Georgia, and Lagos, Nigeria, she graduated from the University of Benin with a law degree over 30 years ago, and subsequently earned a Master’s of Laws (LL.M) degree from Emory School of Law in Atlanta, Georgia.
In this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, the trained mediator who is experienced in conflict resolution and a savvy contract negotiator proficient in drafting, reviewing, negotiating, and administering various types of contracts and agreements shares her career journey.
Take us through your career journey?
My career journey is a true case of God writing straight with crooked lines. I studied Law at the University of Benin, was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1990 and relocated to the United States shortly after my NYSC. I could not afford to go back to law school when I immigrated to the US and there was a lot of pressure to study nursing, because some hospitals were paying for the program due to the scarcity of nurses at the time.
Knowing I did not have the temperament to be a nurse, I decided to research on ways to work in the legal field without a US law degree. This was before the computer and Internet age, so research meant trips to the library to read newspapers, books, and professional magazines. I discovered I could be a Paralegal and started my job search; it took me almost a year to get my first role. Thankfully, the role was at one of the largest law firms in the country, which opened the door to many more roles in the field.
Having a law degree gave me an advantage since my knowledge base was more than that of the average paralegal. In six years, I worked at four of the top litigation law firms in Georgia on tobacco, intellectual property, environmental, product liability, insurance, and healthcare cases. Law firm hours are brutal, and my kids were very young. It was time to find a job with family-friendly hours, so I can be home in the evenings for my family.
I was hired at Emory University in Atlanta and spent about 15 years there working in four different positions before resigning as the Asst. Director of Contracts Administration. I also earned my LLM from Emory University School of Law. In the past 18 years, my career has pivoted from purely legal to negotiating and drafting contracts, advising businesses on how to mitigate risks, and providing capacity-building training to organizations.
You are a negotiation expert, what does this entail?
As a negotiation expert, I have the expertise to effectively navigate individuals or businesses through the decision-making process of resolving issues and conflicts so they both ‘win’. This requires superior communication and leadership skills. I also facilitate training programs on negotiation, productivity, and customer service skills.
Your experience spans law firms, academia, and corporations, how has it shaped you?
Each business sector tends to have its unique attributes. The opportunity to work in these different sectors provided me with a front-row seat on the different cultures prevalent in these environments, which in turn gave me a diverse professional background. I can adapt to any style of leadership and I am able to work well with any kind of personality.
You are passionate about maintaining effective business relationships and building efficient teams, how are you achieving this?
I believe in the power of relationships, and I go out of my way to create and maintain meaningful relationships, both professionally and personally. Relationships are essential currency in business and leadership. It creates trust, which in turn speeds up everything – conversations, transactions, commitments and more.
Good relationship is the cornerstone of successful businesses because human beings run businesses, and we function in society via relationships. Therefore, it is essential that we try as much as possible to invest in relationships.
How have you been able to blend your expertise in law practice into academia and training?
One of the most important skills you learn as a lawyer is the ability to analyse and spot issues. It is more difficult to solve a problem you have not identified or anticipated. My legal background helps me to look through a scenario and provide proactive solutions that prevent problems and achieve better business results.
I also have a passion for learning and sharing knowledge so training is a great avenue for knowledge sharing.
What key lessons have you learned in your years of practice and impact?
I have learned that things do not always go as planned; consequently, we need to be ready to adapt to any changes. I have learned to see failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. I have learned not to take things personally. I have learned that it is okay to be vulnerable.
How do you get inspired and stay motivated?
As someone with a lot of positive energy, I am an optimist who is self-motivated. I have a clear vision of the kind of career and life I want. My major source of inspiration is my faith in God and my belief that I was created for a higher purpose. That belief drives me to do more, see more, and be more.
What tips do you have for younger women struggling to get a hold of their career?
It helps if one is intentional and, to the extent possible, has a goal. With the tough job market, you see people applying and working at jobs they do not care to be in. Figure out what you want to do, learn the appropriate skills, and find mentors in that field.
A mentor will not necessarily help you get your next role, but they can advise you and highlight where your focus should be.
How can more women rise to the top and live their dreams?
Sometimes, we get too comfortable and complacent in a particular role. To rise to the top, you need to continue to grow your skills, and offer to handle that difficult project nobody wants to touch. Get visibility, be confident, challenge yourself, and never settle. Never use age as an excuse to limit yourself. If you are alive and healthy, it is never too late to start, just do it.
How have you been able to combine family life and work and still be at your best?
It wasn’t easy, particularly when my children were young and I did not have a nanny. Most working women can speak to the difficulty of successfully juggling home and work demands. Sometimes, you may even be asked to choose one over the other. Thankfully, I had a strong support system that made it bearable.
What do you hope to see Nigerian women do differently?
We need to get more involved wherever we are – at work, at home, in church, in our community, everywhere! We need more women in leadership roles. We need to amplify our voice, which means we need more women on the decision-making side of the table.