Catching Up With Charlene Theodore, OBA Incoming President

  • August 26, 2020

OBA Incoming President Charlene Theodore is always on the go – speaking out against injustice, advocating for employee rights, fighting today’s most critical fights – and this summer of social distance has not slowed her down. Gearing up to take the wheel as OBA president in September, with a mission to reinvent the legal workplace, she takes time to talk to us about what drives her and where she plans to blaze new trails in the profession in the year ahead.  

What attracted you to the law? Charlene Theodore
I’ve wanted to be a lawyer since high school.  I recognized then, as I do now, that while law has been used as a tool of oppression and exclusion, we can also use the law to right the very wrongs it has inflicted.

Beyond a sharp legal mind, what traits do you think have contributed to your success in law?
I am a very resilient person. Aside from an intellectual love for the law, my resilience has helped me thrive in this demanding and stressful profession.

You’ve been an OBA member for 15+ years – do you remember the first time you felt the value of belonging to this community?
I started my journey in the OBA as a member of the Equality Committee. I sensed right away that the organization was changing and the membership had a bigger vision for the OBA and the profession as a whole.

What surprised you most about your involvement in OBA governance?
I didn’t know that governance could be fun! I’ve made great friends within the membership and staff.

What are your feelings about being elected the first Black president of the OBA?
Since the president’s term is only one year, the fact that I’m the first Black president and only the tenth woman President since 1907 shows the slow pace of change. That being said, my presidency is coming at a time when we are dealing with a reckoning globally. The fight against anti-Black racism has caused us to rethink not only the society we live in, but also our profession and our workplaces.

Your presidential mandate will focus on ‘Work that Works’. What’s the main thing that isn’t working for lawyers in the firms and organizations that employ them today?
Our profession is at the intersection of its historically monolithic boardroom culture and an increasingly diverse workforce. The profession needs to find the balance between an inclusive space that offers equality of opportunity to all and a profitable business that impacts the clients we serve in a positive way.

What was your first law-related job, and what was your main takeaway from that experience?
I did an internship at the International Bar Association in 2005. The work that I did there focused on international commercial law and international human rights law. It was an amazing opportunity that showed me the power that the law can wield beyond the lawyer-client transactional relationship. It changed the course of my career and I will forever be grateful for the time I spent there.

If you were to describe an ideal legal workplace in five words, what would they be?
Work that works for everyone.

Next August, what do you most hope to be able to say about your year as president?
I hope my term as president is a chapter of the OBA’s history that will put the profession forever on the right road on the issues in our workplaces we have been collectively grappling with for far too long. 

Four fun, rapid-fire questions to finish:

Your guilty-pleasure viewing … Tiger King! Completely absurd distraction.

Your best pandemic-prompted habit … Cooking!  Indulgent, healthy meals daily.

Last movie you watched … Hitchcock! To Catch a Thief.

Person you turn to for advice … Dr. Teresa Tam, COVID Heroine.