A conversation with Diana Onyonyi on her legal journey and what inspired her to pursue a career in Law

Q- Tell us about yourself, where you studied and what you do.

My name is Diana Onyonyi. I am from Nairobi, Kenya. I have a close knit family and spending time with them is my favourite thing in the world. Aside from my legal career, I enjoy spending time with my partner and our friends, taking walks in nature, photography, and baking.

I pursued my undergraduate studies at the University of Kent (UKC) and my postgraduate studies at the University of Western Australia (UWA).

I currently work as a legal trainee as part of my pathway to being admitted as a lawyer in Western Australia.

Q- What made you want to pursue a legal career?

I know the cliché answer to this question is ‘wanting to change people’s lives’, however this really is the case for me. I have always been frustrated by how much injustice fills our world. I considered careers in international development, diplomacy and eventually settled on the law as my pathway to addressing injustice.

In recent times, being a lawyer has taken on a whole new meaning for me. As a minority in the western world, you quickly realise that there is insufficient minority representation within the legal industry. I have been privileged to work within a very diverse environment, and work on cases that affect minorities.

A few weeks ago, we conducted a meeting with an African female client. At the end of the meeting, she said how proud she was to see lawyers who looked like her and emphasised how much it put her at ease. Representation matters. I was reminded that I also pursued a legal career to advocate for people who look like me.

Q- Do you feel like doing a masters is necessary and what benefits do you feel it has added to your career?

While doing a master’s may be desirable, it is not mandatory. There is no rule which says everyone should have one. I believe opting to pursue one varies according to the individual. While it may help to have one, it is not the sole determinant of one’s career success. I also acknowledge that pursuing a masters is not a privilege that many people have access to.

With that said, in my experience, it has been an incredibly positive experience. I pursued a Master’s in Mining and Energy Law at UWA and a Master of Laws at UWA. I pursued my first master’s to gain in-depth knowledge of a particular subject-area and pursued my second masters to broaden my knowledge of the law. As part of my Master’s in Mining and Energy Law, I studied subjects such as Corporate Governance for Resource Companies, International Oil and Gas Law and Environmental Protection Law. The subjects I studied under my Master of Laws were more diversified and ranged from International Humanitarian Law to Advanced Australian Corporate Taxation.

Pursuing a master’s has benefited both my career and personal life. As it pertains to my career, I feel more confident dealing with matters that I have an in-depth understanding of. I have also observed growth in the way I critically think about the law.

In my personal life, I have felt an increased sense of self-accomplishment and a heightened sense of assurance that I can achieve anything I set my mind to.

I would tell people that if the opportunity presents itself, you feel mentally prepared, and you are open to specialising in a particular subject area – go for it! I would also recommend knowing your ‘why.’ Would you like to pursue a master’s with the goal of working in academia? Or would you like to pursue a master’s with the goal of working in industry? Would you like to pursue a master’s because you like to learn and would like to use it as a means of self-development? Ask yourself these questions and get to the root of why you want to do it. It will come in handy when you face challenging times during the journey and will remind you to focus on the bigger picture.

Q- Did you do any work experience or internships during your studies and how did this prepare you for the working world?

I interned during my studies and gained some work experience. These experiences prepared me for the working world by helping me realise that work and school are completely different. I was able to work on legal documents which I only heard about in lectures and was able to get used to the constantly shifting dynamic of the work environment. In school you know what to expect the following day, while at work you adapt to new scenarios daily which I find exciting.

Q- What advice would you give to your 18 year old self before starting your undergrad studies?

I would say “do your part to the best of your ability, be kind to yourself, persevere and everything will be okay.” I know from firsthand experience that sometimes we are incapable of giving our best for various reasons, and it is okay to be disappointed when that happens. That is why I say do your part to the best of your ability. Instead of beating yourself up when you mess up, be kind to yourself, persevere, and keep striving to do better. Talk to yourself like you would talk to a friend. Do your part to the best of your ability, be kind to yourself, persevere, and know that everything will be okay.

Q- Outside of your degree, what societies and activities were you a part of?

Outside of my degree I was involved in quite a few societies and activities. At UKC, I was involved in the Seventh-Day Adventist Society, Enactus and RaG (Raise and Give). I also volunteered as a Welcome Week Team Leader.

At UWA, I served as public relations executive for the Women in Oil and Gas (WIOG) society.

I would highly recommend getting involved in societies and activities on campus. It gives you the chance to unwind, and the people you interact with essentially become your family away from home.

Q- How do you stay focused?

I stay focused by paying attention to my end goal. I do my best to always focus on the big picture.

My Mum always reminds me to begin with the end in mind. As Dr. Stephen R. Covey aptly put it, “your most important work is always ahead of you, never behind you.”

Q- Who inspires you and why?

My family inspires me.

My Mum balances her personal life and career flawlessly, she is also the kindest person I know. My Dad has an incredible work ethic while still making family his priority, his free-spirit always keeps our lives exciting. My sister is the smartest and most genuine person I know, she makes us all feel valued and deeply cared for.

Q- What is your life motto?

My life motto can be summed up in a quote by Marianne Williamson, “each of us has a unique part to play in the healing of the world.”

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