Angeli Arora, MA (Oxon) was one of the youngest lawyers to become partner, and managing partner, at a top tier international law firm. Indeed, she was amongst the first female lawyers to achieve record breaking success, as a solicitor qualified under the laws of England and Wales, in the international legal arena.
In terms of her background, Angeli notes: “I come from a line of strong, intelligent and brave Indian women. However, I was the first female in our family history to be given the chance to have a career or even go to university. Even in my generation, a number of my female peers at school were told by their parents that they must get married (and then have children) as soon as they finished their education.”
Angeli graduated from Oxford University and trained at Linklaters (including a seat in Japan). She then practised corporate law at a top US law firm in London. It became clear very quickly that Angeli was on partnership track, as she was running large cross-border transactions for the office’s most important clients within a couple of years post qualification.
Angeli saw a number of clients becoming particularly active in Asia, with the rapid growth of countries like India and China. Therefore, at age 28, Angeli sat down with her managing partner to discuss how they could set up an office to better service the region. 6 months later, Angeli was sitting in Hong Kong, tasked with bringing in the client work and establishing the firm there.
“Most people thought I was crazy,” recalls Angeli, “a young woman leaving her family and jeopardising a very solid career for an opportunity that could go horribly wrong”.
However, Angeli quickly won herself a loyal client base in Asia and acted on a number of the highest profile investor actions in the region. She advised on high stake corporate transactions in Hong Kong, China, Japan, India, Malaysia, Korea, New Zealand, Australia, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, Taiwan and Thailand (to name a few). The success of the firm in Hong Kong exceeded all expectations and Angeli was promoted to partnership as she turned 30 (just 5 years post qualification) – possibly the youngest partner at a top tier international law firm at that time. Before Angeli’s 31st birthday, she was managing partner of the thriving office – likely the youngest managing partner at a top tier international law firm at that time.
Angeli returned to London for a number of years and, then decided to move to Africa and join the largest law firm in the world as group leader of their private equity (and investment funds) practice in Africa, seeing an exciting opportunity to be part of the world’s next fastest growing economy after South Asia.
Angeli’s international experience has allowed her to get involved in a number of global issues and initiatives, as well as play a part in the shaping of laws/legal market practice relating to investment/business issues around the world. “I have often found myself fighting for better accountability, transparency and corporate governance in jurisdictions where these principles are less developed. I have often found myself driving information and idea sharing between jurisdictions on corporate law matters. Whilst each country has its own laws, there are always lessons to be learnt from other legal systems – indeed this is an important part of globalisation.” remarks Angeli.
However, the challenges faced by female lawyers in law are particularly acute when it comes to cross-border transactions: these transactions tend to involve long, unpredictable hours (dealing with different time zones); frequent travel (and even picking up your family and moving to a new country for secondments) and coping with different attitudes towards the role of women in different jurisdictions.
Angeli notes from her own experience that females face difficult trade-off’s when deciding whether to spend time abroad to advance their career. “I went to Hong Kong when I was single. People told me I would miss the boat in terms of having a family if I went abroad. I went to South Africa when I had two little children. People told me I needed to be around the support structure of my extended family in the UK if I wanted to continue working. Both points are valid to a degree, but it is up to each person to decide if they are deal breakers.”
Angeli notes “English law is still the preferred governing law in cross-border transactions across the world. This gives English qualified lawyers a really interesting opportunity in the international legal forum and English qualified lawyers are continually understanding all the possibilities which flow from this. Women are still poorly represented in leadership roles in the UK (and the rest of the world), which means it is even more important that we do not miss out on the career advancing and learning opportunities for lawyers qualified in England and Wales participating in cross border work, despite the barriers and obstacles.”
As it stands, Angeli has acted on high profile transactions in over 50 countries, in most of the continents in the world.