Legal Director, Fleet & Asset Financing- CHC Helicopter
Podcast Creator & Host - The Happy Lawyer Project
This featured interview was conducted by Elena Deutsch*
Describe your legal background and your current role today.
I graduated from law school in New York, and I started practicing. This was right after the recession. I was really lucky to get a BigLaw job at that time. I was there for the first five years of my career. After having my second son, I decided to lateral to another firm down in Texas and then, shortly thereafter, was recruited for my current role in-house at an aviation company based here in Dallas. I am the Director. I do fleet transactions and aviation finance work. I handle capital structure, as well as keeping all of our aircraft properly flying globally.
On the side, I am the host at the Happy Lawyer Project podcast, which is a passion project of mine. It’s an outlet through which I get to continue to be really involved in the legal community. Through the podcast, I like to share inspirational stories of other lawyers who are finding their way through the profession, as well as other experts who work with or serve lawyers in their work.
What inspired you to pursue your side venture of podcasting?
I was ready to tackle new challenges, and I felt like this gave me an opportunity to stretch myself professionally. I knew that this role would give me a huge degree of autonomy and with that, quite a bit of responsibility. I felt like I was really ready to make that leap.
I reached the point in my career where I was undecided about where to go next. I started to do the work of speaking to lawyers, which I probably should've done before I went to law school. In that process, I was inspired by the lawyers who I had the opportunity to speak with-everybody was so generous with their time. I wanted to be able to share that with other lawyers because I felt that even though some of those stories didn't resonate for me, it could help somebody else, so I wanted to have a platform to share that. The podcast was born.
What three words would you use to describe your current role.
For my in-house role, I would say multidisciplinary, strategic, and collaborative; and for my podcast it’s creative, inspiring, and entrepreneurial.
Name one movie, book or song to describe your career.
Jason Mraz song, “I Won't Give Up”. It comes to mind because there's that particular line in it, that he's not going to give up because he's here to make as much of a difference as he can make. That's how I've always felt about the law. Maybe I've over-romanticized the practice of law in some ways, but I still very much believe in the power of a law degree and the impact that I can make as a lawyer.
How has your legal education or background shaped the way in which you perform in your current career?
In my day job, I would say that my training as a BigLaw associate was very focused on the fact that I was in a service business. My mentors trained me to be very results-oriented. It's a lesson that continues to serve me in my current role. Also, as lawyers, especially in BigLaw, you can fall into the trap of over-intellectualizing our work. I was lucky to be trained to not just do the research and understand the issues, but to propose solutions. My business stakeholders really appreciate that.
As lawyers we are expected to not just be good listeners but to also be able to ask pointed questions. These soft skills have served me well as a podcast host. There's also a project management component to being a transactional lawyer that I believe assisted me in putting in place systems and managing the creation and delivery of a weekly podcast.
What lessons learned or unexpected challenges did you face in your current role?
My current role has proven to be a huge stretch for me personally and professionally. I knew that this would be the case, but I was slightly caught off guard by how I responded to the new stress and higher expectations. Since finding my footing, I'm now able to leverage this opportunity rich environment, which is why I made the move in the first instance.
What advice would you give to those career pivoting or pursuing a career beyond the practice of law?
You don't have to know all the answers to start taking action. Moving in the direction of a position that better aligns with your interests, your lifestyle, your values.
Right now, if you know that the way you're practicing law will not make you happy in the long term, then you have to take directional steps towards something that has an inkling of a chance of making you happy. Even if you're not sure how it'll all work out. Most people would be surprised by what is possible when you start to take inspired action towards you're dreams.
What is your personal motto, mantra or a favorite quote?
My mantra, which I have on posted notes in my office, in my car, in my house is, "What are you choosing?" As lawyers, as women, as mothers, as all sorts of labels, we often feel stuck or perceive ourselves as victims of circumstance. For me, that's a very important reminder to just check in with myself and acknowledge that I do have agency in my own life.
*We thank Elena Deutsch for conducting this in-person interview with Okeoma Moronu on behalf of More Than Esquires Network (MTEN).
Okeoma Moronu is the Creator & Host of the Happy Lawyer Project podcast, which she launched in 2016 and was named by the ABA as a top podcast for lawyers in 2017. She's passionate about sharing the stories of happy lawyers and uncovering the secrets to happiness in life with a law degree. Okeoma started her career as a Big Law associate and today you can find her working as in-house counsel at an aviation company in Dallas, Texas. You can learn more at Happy Lawyer Project.
Elena Deutsch is Executive & Career Coach and Founder of Women Interested in Leaving (big) Law (WILL). WILL helps women lawyers who struggle to leave (big) law find clarity about what they want next and take new action. She can be found at her website here.