Q&A: Amarachi Ihejirika ’16, Attorney, Blackwell Burke

Amarachi Ihejirika ’16 is a product liability defense lawyer with Blackwell Burke in Minneapolis, where she represents corporate clients of all sizes. She was recently named one of the National Black Lawyers Top 40 under 40, recognizing highly talented young Black attorneys.

Can you describe what you do as an attorney at Blackwell Burke? (E.g., What might a typical day look like?)
At Blackwell Burke, my practice consists of product liability defense litigation. No day is the same, but most days involve some combination of the following—interpreting case law, statutes, and/or procedural rules, analyzing discrete legal issues, discussing case strategy, and otherwise collaborating (virtually) with my colleagues.

You were recently named to the National Black Lawyers Top 40 Under 40 list. How does it feel to be recognized with an award like this just four years out of law school?
I’m honored. And I’m grateful for organizations like the National Black Lawyers that recognize the achievements of young Black lawyers and support their continued development. As a profession, we need to work on ensuring that hiring practices are inclusive and that once in the room, everyone has access to the same network of support and equal opportunity to learn, to contribute, to gain experience, and to shine.

What do you like most about your current job/practice area?
The subject matter of the work I do. I like learning about the science and technology behind the products. I also like learning about the client’s business and the overarching industry. The learning opportunities are endless.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your work and life?
The biggest change has been working from home. It has pushed me to find new and creative ways to work and to live. Socializing is much more limited these days. Usually it takes the form of FaceTime or a socially distanced walk. I’m looking forward to when I can (safely) visit family again.

With the recent tragic killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, many law students and lawyers are looking for ways to increase their involvement in racial justice issues. What has this moment meant to you and what advice would you give law students looking to have an impact for the better in this area?
It has been painful to witness. Events like this, where African Americans are denied basic human rights and liberties, often resulting in the loss of life, remain far too common in America and serve as a reminder that we have a long way to go. A good starting point for being an ally and/or advocate in this space is understanding the [accurate] history of racism and racial injustice in this country, beginning with slavery, and the resulting systemic issues affecting African American communities today. A few books I recommend to facilitate the process of understanding include: The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. Du Bois, Women, Race and Class by Angela Davis, and The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.

Could you discuss a bit your thoughts about the importance of diverse perspectives in the legal profession?
It’s critical. And to clarify diversity of thought is a byproduct of demographic diversity, which is one of the reasons why the state of racial and ethnic diversity in the U.S. legal profession is particularly concerning (around 85% of lawyers are white compared to 65% of doctors in America, for example). Studies have shown that groups made up of diverse individuals are better at problem solving and reaching creative solutions. Also, being exposed to different ideas and experiences builds one’s cultural competency which is a necessary skill in our client-centered profession.

These are stressful times. What do you do to maintain wellness?
I stay active. Typically, that includes jogging outdoors and strength training three times a week. Also, my Christian faith has been a source of comfort and hope in these uncertain times.

What do you like to do with your free time?
When I’m not working, I’m most likely doing one of the following activities—walking, exercising, cooking, brainstorming new design ideas for my living space, watching Netflix, and keeping in touch with family and friends.

What was your favorite experience as a student at Minnesota Law?
Participating in the Maynard Pirsig Moot Court—the first time as a student and the second time as a student director. Briefing a constitutional issue and then delivering an argument while thinking on your feet and being questioned about the merits of your position is quite the experience. It’s simultaneously nerve-wracking and exciting. And practically speaking, these skills are transferable to practice of law—especially litigation.

What advice would you offer a law student starting out today?
Figure out what works best for you. How you process information, how you study, how you network, etc. In the first year of law school, there is an emphasis on the “right” way to be a 1L. While the guidance is helpful, it’s not a one size fits all. Most importantly, be yourself.

Are there any interesting decorations or personal items one might see in your office or on your desk?
My colleagues would describe my office decor as minimalist (read: non-existent). Now that I’m working from home all my design ideas are channeled toward my living space. But I’m looking forward to re-imagining my office space when we go back to the office.