Charles Osuji, one of Lexpert’s Rising Stars in 2021, embodies the diversity of the legal profession in Canada. The Nigerian-born lawyer joined the firm in 2013 as an articling student, was called to the Alberta bar in 2014, and became a partner in 2016. Osuji took on a lead role at the firm when his former principal James Smith was looking for a successor as he was about to retire. This opened a path for the young lawyer to become the firm’s sole owner in 2017.
Osuji takes inspiration from his parents and siblings who are successful in their careers, and is also motivated by the experience of immigrants and people of colour who encounter “ceilings” in their profession. Osuji believes that his law firm enables him to share the narrative of those “who look and sound” like him, and represents hope for young foreigners who migrate to Canada.
“[The] story of Osuji & Smith is beyond just the practice of law. There’s more to it. We have this old white man who just turned 80 versus this young Black man from Nigeria, from across the world, coming together and putting their heads together to run their practice without focusing on that racial divide,” he says.
He describes the practice as “entrepreneurial, multicultural and holistic”. Deciding to use his last name reflects a more mainstream persona as well as the beauty and power of diversity, he says.
“I focus on getting people from different diverse ethnic backgrounds. […] For the most part, Spanish, Russians, Canadians, Nigerians, South Koreans, Chinese, Indians. […] I also consider the fact that law is more than just practice. There’s also the business side of it, and I didn’t know this until I took over the firm. […] However, I cannot sacrifice my obligations to my clients as a lawyer on the altar of business interests. In as much as law is the business, [my duty to my clients is] to be competent, to have integrity and be honest with them, and ensure that their best interests are upheld.”
Beyond fulfilling his lawyerly duties, Osuji supports his community by volunteering and mentoring. It’s his way of paying forward the beneficial guidance he has received from Bruce Randall, executive director of the Calgary Region Immigrant Employment Council, and later from Jim Smith, his mentor during his student years. Osuji says that giving back ties up with a lesson he has learned: to be a good lawyer, one must be a good person first.
“The legal profession is a profession where many people easily lose their soul and their core values because of how adversarial the business is, how adversarial the practice is. Once in a while, we have to step back and remember that people that come to us are not just fine numbers. These are real people with real challenges, real problems, and they must be looked after from a humanistic perspective. So, I try my best to bring kindness to work every day and also inspire my lawyers in the firm to do well,” he says.
Despite being a recipient of multiple awards, Osuji defines success as the act of helping another person to get ahead through a reference letter from him or work experience at the Calgary law firm. He says that his bold moves in his profession encourage others and create more opportunities for them, which is ultimately not credited to himself but to those who look up to him.