Salem Afandigeh

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Bar Alpha is very excited to introduce our first female YBA – Salem Afangideh!

Salem is full of optimism and resilience and after reading her interview you will come to admire her.

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“I think in an effort to figure out what you want your law practice to look like, getting a lot of experience is so important and I would not trade any of the job experiences I have had for anything.”

Salem grew up in Nigeria, Calabar where she went to primary and secondary school. Her very particular story sees her having to move from the University of Calabar to being on the Deans list after obtaining two degrees in the United States.

She is a distinguished public interest fellow who embraces life and is passionate in everything she does. She started an organisation in Law School with her best friend called THRIVE African Girl (TAG), an online community that provides guidance for African women with regards to the law, career building, etc.

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With her heart set on Human Rights Law Salem is indeed a Young Bar Alpha! Young Bar Alpha (YBA) showcases a vast array of prodigious young lawyers, both home and abroad desirous to create a niche for themselves in the legal career through their unique success stories and perseverance that exudes diligence, competence and experience.

It was fun speaking to Salem. In this interview we look at how her role models and the fight in her became the driving force towards her success and excellence.


BA: Hi There!

Salem: Well, hello!! Hope you and the Bar Alpha team are doing well.

BA: Very well thank you, and thank you very much for agreeing to do this interview with us.

Salem: Of course. The pleasure is all mine.

BA: Let us get started, have you always had a passion for Law? Did you always want to study it?

Salem: I will say that I typically grew up in court and fell in love with it and have never gone back! My dad is actually a Nigerian lawyer so I did grow up in his chambers and the court, and at the time I had such a huge admiration for the law – the books, the eloquent style of speech lawyers had, the ability to fight for people, I LOVED all of it.

As I grew older and met other lawyers who did not represent the profession honorably, I began to question that passion a bit but felt like that was what I was called to do, so I went through with it. Initially, not as passionate about the law itself but the more I studied the law, the more I fell in love with it.

Now as a law graduate, I love and adore the law and take very seriously the privilege to practice it. I guess career wise, I am re-discovering my first love.

BA: Can you tell us your educational and work background

Salem: Educational – I grew up in Nigeria and did my Primary and Secondary school in Calabar, Nigeria. My secondary school education at the Christian Science College prepared me to pass WAEC and JAMB with stellar scores and I got admitted into the University of Calabar at the first try to study Law.

In a God-ordained set of events my family moved to the U.S right before it was time to start school at Unical and I got my first degree in Business Administration with a minor focus in Girls Ministry. After getting my first degree, I moved onto Law where I received an amazing legal education at the Thomas Goode Jones School of Law and recently graduated in May 2015.

Work Background: During law school, I was privileged to work with survivors of domestic abuse who needed legal assistance and with survivors of human trafficking and other types of sexual assault. I also have some experience working with U.S Immigration, small businesses and non-profit organisations.

BA: So what brought about THRIVE African Girl?

Salem: So, for those who may not know, I started a organization while in Law School (with my best friend) called THRIVE African Girl (TAG) – NO, I am not superwoman Lol!

A little over a year ago my best friend (who is Malawian) and I noticed a few things about the African culture and realized that no one was doing anything about it, we then decided to do something about it. Our organisation was born out of 4 big issues we saw:

  • At the time, there was no positive online community for women of African descent and no, as much as I love Bella Naija, it does not count as an ‘online community.’
  • A lot of young African girls in our immediate community that relocated for school in the U.S did not have any kind of guidance with regards to immigration issues, classes to take, career building skills etc. There were no tailor made resources just for us African girls. Every time we brought it up, someone would feel the need to point out that African girls did not need any specialized resources. We felt like African girls mattered enough to have something created for THEM.
  • The ‘sympathy’ in foreign cultures towards Africa: Both of us disliked the fact that the mention of Africa conjured up images of huts and starving children for a lot of people, we both grew up in Africa in regular houses and did not starve a day in our lives. We wanted to show people, through our online store that Africa has a beautiful rich culture with products that the first world would love.
  • African jokes and movies: We just really wanted to be able to see something funny about Africa on the internet and have a space where we could share this with other people that would get it!

AND that’s how/why THRIVE was born!! [oh and if you are an African female reading this and would like to be involved, shoot Salem an email – salem@thriveafricangirl.com]

BA: Amazing! So what area of Law do you take particular interest in?

Salem: Human Rights Law is my passion. I think vulnerable people or groups need the protection that the law can offer and I don’t want people to be stuck in awful situations because they cannot afford a lawyer.

Immigration is another area I am interested in. I have lived as an immigrant in a foreign land and have a lot of experience to help others and empathy to send their way.

Interestingly, I also like to dabble in a bit of corporate law. Maybe it’s because I have started my own business, but I love to help people with the passion and the dedication to start something to learn how to protect themselves and their businesses. I am not the biggest fan of litigation for corporations, so I prefer to help organisations on the front end of their business put things in order to prevent having to go to court later down the road.

I also like a little bit of Intellectual property, and Fashion law.

BA: How were you able to build your passion for Human Rights Law? Were you inspired by any one in particular or did you do the research?

Salem: I think I went to law school with my heart pierced by human rights law. I heard about the atrocity of human trafficking and it was the one thing I could not get out of my mind, I knew that being a lawyer was the best way to fight against it. Serving survivors of human trafficking has been my motivation to study law.

As far as my other areas of interest, getting internships in things I thought were interesting and taking a lot of random classes helped me decide on what areas I wanted to practice in and what I did not really care about.

BA: Who is your role model in the legal profession?

Salem: That’s a hard question. I have quite a few, but my 3 three are:

  • My Dad: He is the greatest lawyer I know. He is retired from practice right now, but he loved the law so passionately and served his clients well. He actually never advertised for clients but was so good that people he had not even met referred clients to him. He practiced with humility and even though he fought ferociously for others, he never fought for himself.
  • Amal Clooney: I mean, as far as human rights go, she is it. Smart, beautiful, has the best sense of style and has actually made the world a better place.
  • Michelle Obama: Regardless of what people think about the Obama’s and their political decisions, I think we can all agree that Michelle is the epitome of a lawyer that lives by her own rule book. She has proven herself as very intelligent, very capable, a world changer and a woman who can integrate her value system into her career. She inspires me as a lawyer to make bold decisions and tailor my training as a lawyer into changing the world and be fashionable doing it. I’ll just leave here with one of my favorite Mrs. Obama quotes:

“First and foremost, I wear what I love. 

That’s what women have to focus on: what makes them happy and what makes them feel comfortable and beautiful. 

If I can have any impact, I want women to feel good about themselves and have fun with fashion”

BA: I’m sure you have long term goals, where do you hopefully see yourself in 10 years?

Salem: I do have a few long-term goals. One of the biggest ones is to be the first female president of Nigeria. I don’t know if that is in the cards for me, but I think I would make a good president in a few decades 🙂

I think by the next 10 years:

-I want to have established a good rhythm in my practice of law.

-I also want to have found a good work/life balance.

-I hope that THRIVE African Girl will be established and able to support itself.

-I want to have made a dent in the legal field.

-I want to be positive and still as full of integrity as I am today.

BA: So how are you working towards achieving your goals?

Salem: Well, I think that right now I am just putting in all the work on the front end to achieve those goals and spending a lot of time with God. He is my true North and keeps me centered, grounded and uncynical.

BA: That’s really good to hear. If you don’t mind can you give me a brief profile on where you work?

Salem: I currently work as an off-counsel for The Relf Law Firm. It is basically like an Independent Contractor position that gives you the experience of starting your own law firm without the risk. I really enjoy it here.

BA: Are you a member of any society or group in furtherance of your career?

Salem: YES. The American Bar Association (ABA) has been so awesome in helping with career building. I joined as a law school student and joined in as many free events as they had to offer, which was a lot. They have lots of seminars online about different practice areas that have helped me meet some really great lawyers all around the world.

I am also a member of some local Bar Associations in my area, which has opened up great networking opportunities with lawyers in my community.

BA: What are your hobbies?

Salem: I like to dance, when no one is watching lol. I sing and listen to a substantial amount of music. I read a lot of books. I like a good movie and yoga is one of the greatest joys of my life – I am actually a certified yoga instructor.

BA: Your Favourite book and movie?

Salem: Favorite movie: Legally blonde. Favorite book: (as cliche as this sounds, it really is the one book I read every day and never find boring) The Bible.

BA: Finally, your favourite quote?

Salem:

“It’s in the reach of my arms,

The span of my hips,  

The stride of my step,  

The curl of my lips.  

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,  

That’s me.”

I love this poem by Maya Angelou. It’s so calming to me when people say negative things about my ability to be a female leader because I care too deeply or feel too passionately. I am so glad that we have several generations of really amazing people that trail blazed the path before us and leave for us their wisdom.

BA: Thank you so much Salem!

Salem: THANK YOU for having me and considering me.


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“On a personal note I think some of my achievements include: staying true to God and myself, not neglecting my family while pursuing my professional dreams, being flexible with my plans, being a person worth knowing, taking risks, embracing life, being passionate in everything I do and being the best me everyday.”

Find out more about the YBA Segment Here

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