From Nigeria to Calgary- An internationally trained lawyer’s successful journey

When James Smith recently sold his Calgary law firm that has been in business since 1980 to Charles Osuji, an up-and-coming, young lawyer from Nigeria, he did so with a sense of confidence.

His clients would be in good hands. Of that he had no doubt.

Right from their first meeting in an April 2013 job interview for an articling position, Smith was impressed with Osuji’s depth of knowledge and friendly manner. Most especially, Smith was impressed by Osuji’s obvious business acumen — an area of struggle for Smith throughout his career.

“As the interview went on, I realized that come hell or high water, I wanted Charles,” recalls Smith, who promptly hired Osuji at the end of that first interview.

Osuji, in turn, was struck by the veteran lawyer’s humility. “This is someone who has practiced for over three decades,” says Osuji. “But when we discussed client files, Jim would want to hear my opinion. I found that humility very overwhelming.”

A strong partnership, underpinned by a sense of mutual respect and deep loyalty, was born.

“Jim has shown me that you need to be a good person first before you can be a good lawyer.”
—Charles Osuji

The two grew up a world apart—Smith in small-town Alberta, Osuji in Nigeria, the seventh of eight siblings. Osuji’s next-eldest sibling was eleven years older than him. “I was born into an adult family, so to speak,” he says. “I was a community project, in the sense that I had a lot of big brothers and big sisters that were ready to assist. I’ve always told my parents that their greatest gift to me were my brothers and sisters.”

His siblings are highly educated and successful professionals, and by living with one of his older brothers, Rev. Fr. Dr. Anthony Osuji, Charles was introduced from an early age to a life of study, focus and hard work. “As young as 7 years old, I had only two choices: reading and sleeping. Those were my choices”, he says.

Charles graduated at the top of his class and was called to the Nigerian bar in 2010. A year later, Charles came to Canada in 2011 through sponsorship by his brother, Dr. Joseph Osuji, a nursing professor at Mount Royal University, Calgary, Alberta. “After I landed, all I wanted to be was a lawyer,” says Osuji. “Because that was the culmination of my training in Nigeria.”

But Osuji also had some self-doubts. After all, Canada was new terrain for him, professionally speaking.

Although he had strong family support, he didn’t have a professional network, and he didn’t know the process of requalifying as a lawyer in Canada. So he reached out for help and took steps to build his network, connecting with CRIEC, which links international talent with local mentors.

Three people became key support for Osuji’s career journey: his brother, his CRIEC mentor Bruce Randall, and Smith.

One connection led to another. “It’s an organic system when it comes to getting ahead professionally,” says Osuji. Randall introduced Osuji to other lawyers in Calgary, and laid out possible career routes. Osuji eventually encountered Smith through a series of introductions that began with his brother.

Once Osuji had requalified and was hired by Smith, the firm began to take on a new look. Osuji’s enthusiasm complemented Smith’s humble wisdom. With Smith’s blessing, Osuji spearheaded renovations of their Kensington office. In 2016, Osuji became a named Partner and the firm was renamed Osuji & Smith (originally Smith Law Office).

Osuji & Smith was recently rated one of the best three employment law firms in Calgary. Its areas of practice include real estate, employment, family, personal injury, corporate and commercial, foreclosure, civil litigation, wills & estates and immigration.

In August 2017, Osuji officially bought out Smith, who is heading into retirement feeling content.

“I’ve talked to other lawyers of my ilk and age who haven’t been able to find anyone to take over their practices and know that their clients will be in good hands,” says Smith.

“My clients are in very good hands with Charles. I have always told him that in five years, he will be one of the top lawyers in Calgary”.

Charles, meanwhile, is giving back to his community and supporting other internationally trained professionals by being a CRIEC mentor and serving on the organization’s Board of Directors.

Looking back on his journey so far, Osuji says God, family and focus all played significant roles in his success. He stresses that his is not a journey he could have ever made alone.

“The path to success is not trodden individually,” Osuji says. “You need to be open to help from others. You need to get out there and meet people—and join organizations such as CRIEC that connect people with mentors.”

Watch the video to learn more about  this great partnership!

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