Bencher Profile Series: Kene Ilochonwu
When Kene Ilochonwu takes his seat at the Bencher table in February 2021, he is not only eager to represent the many lawyers who, like himself, are early in their careers and are internationally trained, but he also represents an important first for the Law Society of Alberta, being elected as the first Black Bencher.
“The victory is not for me, it’s for the Law Society. If I am confirmed to be the first Black Bencher, the victory is for Alberta as well. Black people have gone through a lot with the Black Lives Matter movement,” says Kene. “Every single win is appreciated; every single win is celebrated, just because we don’t seem to win a lot.”
Information on race has not been historically collected by the Law Society. In most cases, it is up to individual lawyers to voluntarily provide this information. Nonetheless, the Law Society believes that Kene is likely the first Black Bencher and celebrates this important milestone as we continue to progress our 2020-2024 Strategic Plan where equity, diversity and inclusion is one of our four strategic goals.
While acknowledging and celebrating his new role, Kene is already looking to the future to pave an easier road for those coming after him.
“Personally, it’s a challenge. I can’t remember who said it but the reward for hard work is more hard work. It’s a challenge for me to do well. If I do well, I will not be the only one. There will be more coming. If I do well, those people who voted for me will know that they made the right choice. If I do well, I’ll be making myself proud, my company proud and my family proud.”
Kene comes to the Law Society as legal counsel with Parkland Corporation where he focuses on strategic business initiatives and commercial agreements relating to the safe transportation and marketing of hydrocarbon commodities.
Born and raised in Nigeria, Kene obtained his law degree from Abia State University in 1997 and licensure from the Nigerian Law School Abuja in 2000, when he started his legal career. He went on to obtain a Master of Laws degree in Information Technology and Telecommunications Law from the University of Strathclyde Glasgow, Scotland in 2004.
Kene relocated to Canada and prior to requalifying as a lawyer in Alberta, he worked as a supply chain professional for oil and gas corporations in Fort McMurray and Calgary. Kene completed his composite articles at DLA Piper Canada and Imperial Oil. He then joined Blake, Cassels and Graydon as an Associate in 2017, before moving on to his current role. He credits a lot of his success to mentorship and the opportunities afforded to him along the way.
“I advise and mentor a lot of internationally trained lawyers. Coming here as a lawyer from another country, you start over again. I went through that myself,” says Kene. “I had a lot of mentors and I still have a few, so the least I can do is send the elevator down to bring people up and pay back the benefits I had as an internationally trained lawyer. Without my mentors, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Kene is deeply involved in volunteering and giving back to his community. He is a member of the Law Society of Alberta’s Bencher Election Task Force, and volunteers at the Civil Claims Duty Counsel Project with Pro Bono Law Alberta. He serves as a mentor to law students through the Canadian Bar Association mentor program, and to internationally trained lawyers in Calgary through Global Lawyers of Canada. Kene believes that his experience, both personally and professionally, will factor into the perspective he provides as Bencher.
“The goals within the strategic plan are all important. Equity, diversity and inclusion is special because I went through some of the issues that happened during my articling that were reflected in the articling survey. Being black, it’s very easy to put me in the hole of ‘he must know about diversity and be willing to work on diversity.’ Which is true. However, I’m also a professional, an early career lawyer and an in-house lawyer. We all have various pinch points.”
Kene is motivated to pursue more innovative ways for the legal profession to facilitate greater access to justice and maintain relevancy for lawyers in ever changing times.
“We cannot stand still, we need to move with the times. At the same time, innovation has to be deliberate. We have to lean on legal innovation ideas and not be afraid of moving forward. COVID has pushed us to innovate, why do we need COVID to push us? We should be able to push ourselves. When we look forward, we see what’s coming and we should be willing to think ahead.”
For now, Kene is savouring this important moment with his family, mentors, and colleagues, both in Alberta and around the world. He is grateful to those lawyers who believed in him and his message.
The Law Society would like to extend our sincere congratulations to Kene on his election as Bencher.