vo-ca-tion /vo-ke-shun/[voh-kay-shuhn] noun—a particular occupation,business, or profession; calling.
The goal of this column is to enlighten our readers about the private endeavors of attorneys who are part of the MCCA network. By examining lawyers and their work practices by day in contrast to the personal interests that they pursue outside of the office, it is our hope that this series of articles allows our readers to see the other side of lawyers who manage to pursue unique interests despite their demanding careers.
When not concentrating on legal matters at Accenture, a Chicago-based global consulting company, Paul Chadha is usually thinking of distant Ethiopia. As a founding board member of the Awassa Children’s Project, Chadha volunteers hundreds of hours throughout the year working to ensure a better future for some of Africa’s AIDS orphans. For several weeks each year, he travels to work hands-on with the kids. While the former U.S. airman describes his own childhood as “not entirely carefree,” he recognizes that it was a dream compared to youths orphaned by AIDS. Admittedly, balancing work and voluntary pursuits can sometimes be tough for Chadha, but the prospect of improving the life of just one more Ethiopian child keeps him going, and the opportunities to “give back” offered by Accenture’s legal group certainly help.
Most of Chadha’s work for the multibillion- dollar consulting, technology services, and outsourcing company is corporate transactional, equally split between external and internal. Chadha assists clients with a wide assortment of legal matters, ranging from nondisclosure agreements to more complex issues related to consulting and outsourcing agreements, as well as data privacy and export compliance. His work days are varied.
In May, Chadha traveled to Ethiopia, where he taught a two-week international transactions and negotiations course at a law school in the nation’s capital, Addis Ababa. “I was part of a combined program sponsored by Accenture, DLA Piper, and Northwestern University Law School,” he explains. “Accenture believes in corporate citizenship, and is willing to back the sentiment with resources. Down the road, when the economy improves and lawyers are once again recruited, it will be programs like this that will encourage me and others to stay with Accenture.”
After finishing up in Addis Ababa, Chadha then drove seven hours south to Awassa, a journey he has made many times at his own expense. Typically, he spends several weeks each summer on site volunteering with the organization. The project is comprised of two parts: the Awassa Children’s Center, which provides housing, education, career training, healthcare, and support to approximately 75 children, most of whom have been orphaned by the AIDS epidemic; and the Awassa Youth Campus (AY C), a safe multidisciplinary learning environment for Ethiopian youth. AY C activities are designed to compliment the formal education the children receive in schools by providing constructive, creative, and expressive outlets for them. AY C supports youth in developing and implementing youthdriven campaigns raising HIV/ AIDS awareness in the community and throughout Ethiopia.
Chadha’s involvement with the Awassa Children’s Project virtually constitutes a second job. His responsibilities include all legal matters (including negotiating with the Ethiopian government for land, and dealing with the country’s ever-changing legal environment); fundraising; and managing a robust volunteer program that attracts many teachers, social workers, and nurses from throughout the United States.
“In my four years with Accenture, my work has shifted to better reflect my outside interests,” notes Chadha. “Because what I do at the Awassa Children’s Project relates to international development and leads me to work with the United Nations and International Red Cross, the people here at Accenture’s legal department have made me attorney for Accenture Development Partnerships—a group within Accenture that provides strategic advice and technical project management support to nonprofit organizations, NGOs, foundations, and donor organizations operating in the development sector. It’’s nice that Accenture is invested and interested in pairing my interests with my skills.”
av-o-ca-tion /ævo-ke-shun/ [av-uh-key-shuhn] noun—something a person does in addition to a principal occupation, esp. for pleasure; hobby.
Chadha did not come by the social awareness that would provide the foundation of a life of volunteerism in an ivory tower, however. Growing up in Maywood, Ill. (located ten miles west of downtown Chicago), more than once his mother—a nurse who often struggled alone to support the family—got behind on the mortgage and they almost lost their home. As he reached adulthood, Chadha vowed to do something related to homelessness. During college, he volunteered as a political reporter for StreetWise, a weekly publication sold by Chicago’s homeless population. He volunteered again after graduating from law school—this time as a StreetWise board member, and later served as chairman of its board.
Chadha’s first exposure to the legal profession was in the United States Air Force. Chadha joined the Air Force immediately following high school. At the time, he had little interest in attending college. That changed as he began acting on his spirit of volunteerism. “I was part of a small group of airmen who created Airmen Against Drunk Driving on the base in Grand Forks, North Dakota, in the early 1990s,” he recalls. “We sought some help from some local corporate lawyers to get started. Our little nonprofit was intended to take a look at drinking and driving on the base and in the surrounding community, but grew to become Air Force—wide. Those lawyers not only helped me to recognize that a career in law might be a worthwhile pursuit, but they also played a part in shaping my own desire to go on to college.”
Eventually, Chadha decided to take advantage of the G.I Bill, and began taking classes at universities located in the communities in which he was based. In 1998, he graduated from De Paul University with a degree in political science.
Throughout college, Chadha had maintained a frenetic schedule. He was serving in the Air Force (first on active duty and later in the reserves), held down a part—time job as a radio deejay, and for a time taught religious education classes at a local Catholic church. But when he committed to going to law school, Chadha decided to leave the Air Force entirely and eliminate all outside distraction.
Throughout his time at Northwestern University Law School, Chadha cut out all outside activities, concentrating exclusively on his studies and law associations. “During my second year, I was the treasurer for both the black and the South Asian law student groups,” says Chadha. “My mother is white, and my father was from India. They separated when I was very young. My stepfather was African American, and I grew up in an African American neighborhood. So, while I’m not black, I have a strong connection with that community. Both affinity groups made a very positive impact on me.”
After graduating from Northwestern in 2002 and gaining a position as a corporate law associate at Seyfarth Shaw, Chadha quickly re—engaged with his innate volunteerism by offering pro bono legal services to various organizations entirely independent from his job at the firm.
“Just as I had once asked attorneys to help me with the Airmen Against Drinking and Driving’ initiative, I was approached by friends to assist with the legal side of their proposed Ethiopia project,” remembers Chadha. The project began as AIDS education theatre. Chadha accompanied the small theatre company’s travel to Ethiopia in 2002, and its outreach tour was a success. At that time, the Ethiopian government suggested that the company address one of the country’s most devastating problems by taking on the support of six or seven children orphaned by AIDS. From that, the Awassa Children’s Project was born and began to grow rapidly.
Chadha with a young girl from Awassa, Ethiopia.
On any given day, the project provides assistance to 300—350 African children in some capacity. Chadha describes the project as “just a raindrop in the ocean in terms of what needs to get done.” Nevertheless, his voice reverberates with enthusiasm and pride when he talks about the Children’s Project alumnus who once lived under a board and is now a very successful college student in Addis Ababa, or the AY C’s newly founded vocational day school for Ethiopian girls.
Chadha’s return from Awassa to the U.S. is abrupt, and can be emotionally jarring. At the end of one particularly grim and deathfilled visit, he left Ethiopia’s grinding poverty to meet with a client at the Ritz Hotel in Dearborn, Mich. The juxtaposition was startling.
“Sometimes it’s as if I’m traveling from one planet to another,” he observes. “The things that constitute 'life' here and there are so utterly different, and it can be tough to work that out. It is the possibility of helping just one more child that lures me back to Africa.”
In addition to his work at Accenture and the Awassa Children’s Project, Chadha teaches a negotiations course at Northwestern University School of Law. This connection to academia challenges him to stay on top of his material, the vibrancy of campus life, and the exposure to thought leadership. When he eventually retires from the corporate world, Chadha would like to up his teaching ante by pairing a fall course at Northwestern with a spring semester of instruction at a law school in warmer environs—perhaps Austin, Texas.
More than once, Chadha’s mother advised her son to always have a “Plan B.” It seems this industrious lawyer has many plans, some of which he has chosen to share generously with the world. DB
Do you have an interesting pastime that you want to share in this space, or do you know other attorneys whose away-from-work activities might be showcased in this column? Please send your recommendations to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll consider your submissions for upcoming issues. Thanks!
Patrick Folliard is a freelance writer based in Silver Spring, Md.
From the July/August 2009 issue of Diversity & The Bar®