10 Questions: Kenneth Udoibok

HCBA - 10 Questions Udoibok

Kenneth Ubong Udoibok, a solo practitioner, shares what brought him to the U.S., the challenges of being a solo practitioner, and what else he is passionate about.

1. Many professionals have an elevator pitch. What’s yours? 

I don’t really have a pitch because it is hard to create one that encapsulates all areas of my practice. When asked, I used to say, “I sue bad cops and bad insurance companies.” I stopped using that response because I do more than that. Maybe I should just say “I will work very hard for you, if you hire me.” That’s truly how I practice. I believe that I have the energy to outwork my opponents. 

2. You were born and raised in Nigeria. What brought you to the US?
I lived in the U.S. for many years in my mind before I physically moved here!
As a child in Nigeria, I wanted to learn all I could about social and political events outside Nigeria, particularly the US. I read about the American/Vietnam war and the political turmoil in the U.S.. Political events leading to President Richard Nixon’s resignation from office were very intriguing to me. I couldn’t read enough about American presidential political campaigns. 

I remember that I took the bus to school and there was a newsstand by my bus stop at the heart of Lagos, Nigeria. I would read Newsweek magazine and other newspapers while I waited for my bus, but I couldn’t afford to buy them. The newsstand owner did not object to my reading his papers for free. My mother was a teacher and she knew my interest in American politics. It was odd to her, but she made an agreement with me: if I got my grades up, she would buy me Newsweek. I wasn’t a very good student, but sure enough getting a regular supply of Newsweek was motivation enough to improve my grades. As I am talking with you now, I can still smell the sweet fragrance from opening a brand-new Newsweek magazine. I was captivated by politics and world events, and the power of the U.S. media. So, when I graduated from my post high school program, a confluence of events necessitated that I come to the U.S. to attend college at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point where I studied film and television. 

3. Why did you decide to go to law school?
I wanted to produce war documentaries or be a television news correspondent. But the reality of my race and Nigerian accent limited my options. Americans can be unaccommodating and impatient with people with foreign accents. So, I became a television news photographer and video editor. The job was lacking something very important that I needed in my life. Television news did not allow me to develop meaningful relationships with the people we covered. The focus was always about the next news story. Events changed when I worked at the Minnesota State Senate Media Services. There, I met activists and politicians who were attorneys and I saw the relationships they built with people and the difference they made in peoples’ lives. I met my wife there. I knew then that becoming a lawyer would allow me to help people and develop long lasting relationships with people I care about. So, I enrolled at William Mitchell College of Law [now Mitchell Hamline School of Law]. 

4. As a solo practitioner, what is the best part of your job?
I get to help people that are abused by governments, employers, and big insurance companies. I make sure that my clients are heard, no matter their state in life. Also, I don’t have to worry about getting fired by my boss because I haven’t had one during most of my practice.

5. What is the most challenging part of having your own law firm?
Solo practice can be isolating because you are your own boss and you bear all the responsibilities of your law practice. You must be good at every aspect of your practice, including administration. There’s hardly any downtime. Vacationing is very stressful because of the pile of work you will be returning to. It’s better not to vacation for more than three days! 

6. If you were not a lawyer, what would you be?
If I had the skills, I would love to be a carpenter. It would be satisfying to build my ideal retirement home. Realistically, I would love to be a full-time pastor. I currently pastor a small storefront congregation called the Apostolic Church in St Paul.  

7. What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?
A law school professor once told me “Locate your office as close as possible to the courthouse. That way, the courthouse will not be as intimidating as it is to some lawyers.” I took his direction. My office building shares a wall with the US District Court in Minneapolis.

8. What are you reading these days?
I read mostly magazines and national newspapers. However, the best book I’ve ever read is Team of Rivals by Doris Goodwin. When I was reading her book, I felt like I lived during Abraham Lincoln’s political campaign as well as the formation of his government. 

9. How do you like to spend your free time?
I enjoy listening to reggae. If time and money would allow, I would love to go from city to city watching live reggae music. I also love watching my kids play competitive sports. I have attended their games for the last 17 years. I have three more years of watching my younger son play college football. I will soon be transitioning to watching my older son coach high school football.  

10. What are you passionate about?
Racial justice, equity, and fairness. The impact of race in the American life and justice system is disheartening and paralyzing. Few are willing to admit that our decisions are often driven by our perceptive irrational biases. Who subdues the emotional pain when powerful people or institutions impact our lives based on irrational biases? Through my work in employment law, police brutality, and third-party claims litigation, I try to show the barriers people face in our justice system. 

Managing Editor
Elsa Cournoyer

Executive Editor

Joseph Satter