Uchechi Egeonuigwe Speaks With Students from the Harlem Educational Activities Fund
As the daughter of Nigerian immigrants, born in South Central Los Angeles, business restructuring associate Uchechi Egeonuigwe was eager to accept an invitation to speak with a group of New York City high school students from the Harlem Educational Activities Fund (HEAF).
Uchechi, who joined the Business Restructuring group at Ropes & Gray in early November, relishes the chance to help young people from diverse backgrounds feel less intimidated by the notion of entering a profession such as law.
“When you’re at that age, whether in high school or college, it’s so important to see people who look like you or come from backgrounds similar to yours and see that they’ve made it to a certain point that you might think is almost impossible,” Uchechi said. “I just tell them, ‘I am one of you, I’m no different than you. If I could do this, you could definitely do this.”
Students from the Harlem Educational Activities Fund joined the virtual event from schools in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. HEAF administers offers programs for young people beginning in middle school and continuing through college. Programs include year-round academic enrichment, social and cultural exposure and individual mentoring. Joining Uchechi at the event was a bankruptcy judge from the Eastern District of New York, who participated as part of the civic outreach program of U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit.
The purpose of such gatherings, Uchechi said, is breaking down some of the fears that minority students have about entering a profession where they may confront institutional resistance. Uchechi said she makes sure to acknowledge the realities of race and class in the workplace while emphasizing that more programs exist than ever before to help guide students along a career path that few if anyone in their own families have ever traveled.
“It’s essential to let young people know that it’s not all rosy and perfect out there,” she said. “There are great firms like Ropes & Gray but the whole world is not like that.”
A former track & field scholar-athlete specializing in the 400-meter hurdles and relays, Uchechi likes to use analogies from her competitive running days to illustrate what young people might expect as they pursue education beyond high school, and a career.
“There are going to be hurdles along the way, but you can get over them one by one, and then there will be a finish line,” said Uchechi, who holds multiple track records at the University of California-Riverside. “And when you get to that finish line, you will be very happy. So, just power through.”
In her practice, Uchechi represents debtors, creditor groups, distressed borrowers and investors, including private equity sponsors in all aspects of out-of-court restructurings and chapter 11 cases.
In 2021, Uchechi was named “40 Under 40” Emerging Leaders in Insolvency Practice by the American Bankruptcy Institute, a “Rising Star” by the New York Law Journal, a “NextGen Emerging Leader” by the Corporate Counsel Women of Color, an “On the Rise – Top 40 Young Lawyer” by the American Bar Association, and a “One to Watch” for Bankruptcy and Creditor/Debtor Rights/Insolvency and Reorganization Law by The Best Lawyers in America.
Prior to joining Ropes & Gray LLP, Uchechi clerked for Hon. William T. Thurman in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Utah. She is actively involved in community organizations and a regular speaker on insolvency and restructuring topics.