Gifty Edila

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This was a BLD interview with Debo Nwauzu in March 2009. Read more about Gifty Edila in the Directory

Gifty Edila became the Corporate Director for Legal and Democratic Services of the London Borough of Hackney, on 2 February 2009, after spending seven years as the first female and the first ethnic minority Director of Law and Administration at the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, the wealthiest local authority in the country and the home of Europe's biggest carnival – the Notting Hill Gate Carnival. Of her new post she said she was “looking forward to developing the department supporting Hackney's transformation agenda and the regeneration work”.

Gifty was born in Accra and brought up in Camden. She has a bachelor of law and masters in law degrees from the University of London. She was Called to the Bar (Inner Temple) in 1979. She is currently a non-practising barrister and a practising Solicitor-Advocate. She is also an accredited mediator.

She did her pupillage at 4 Brick Court, then the Chambers of Barbara Calvert QC (also known as Lady Lowry QC) who was the first woman to set up her own Chambers. Gifty did not find the Bar stimulating and decided to pursue postgraduate studies for a Masters in Law degree at the University of London between 1980 and 1981.

In 1981 she joined the North Kensington Law Centre, where she found her passion for working in the community and helping the disadvantaged, a period she described as “thoroughly enjoyable”. She remained at the Law Centre until 1982.

Gifty joined Camden Law Centre in 1985 as an in-house barrister, after sending two years in Nigeria where she was also called to the Nigerian Bar. She specialised in family law, crime, immigration, social and general welfare law and she remained at the Law Centre until 1988 when she joined the London Borough of Newham as a senior solicitor. 

Between 1993 and 2001, she was Head of Legal Services at the London Borough of Newham – becoming the first ethnic minority head of Law of a unitary/metropolitan local authority.

At Newham she was involved in major projects such as the Channel Tunnel Rail link, the Excel Exhibition Centre in Docklands, de-designation of Docklands following major development of the area, construction of three schools under private finance initiative and the building of Stratford Station and the Jubilee Line extension.

In 2001 she joined the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea as the Director of Law and Administration and transformed the department.

She has led award-winning teams both at Newham and Kensington and Chelsea.  Her team in Newham was the first London local authority to achieve the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) 9001 quality accreditation and also went on to achieve the Law Society's Lexcel accreditation, one of a few local authorities to have achieved this at the time.  The team also won The Lawyer magazine's Legal team of the year award in 1998.
 
Her team at Kensington and Chelsea won the Local Government Chronicle (LGC) 2004 Legal Department of the Year award, particularly for ground-breaking work relating to crack dealers that led to a change in 1972 legislation by Government and also for overall efficient management of a very high performing department.

Gifty had yet another first in 2004 when she became the first ethnic minority President of the Association of Council Secretaries and Solicitors (ACSeS), a post she held from October 2004 until November 2005. She was named by the LGC as one of five top lawyers in local government in 2005 and the same year was listed in The Lawyer Hot 100.

Gifty is a Trustee of the Bernie Grant Art Centre, a member of BLD’s Council of Advisers, a director of ACSeS and a board member at Loughborough University.

Gifty is married with two adult sons, the elder of whom is a medical doctor.

Below is our interview with Gifty:

BLD: Why did you choose a legal career?
GE:  I actually blame it on the television series Crown Court! I was inspired by watching the programme and thinking that I could do that and help the poor people whom no-one else seems to be able to help. The advocacy attracted me to the Bar - that is speaking up for others. This is the reason I have been in the public sector.

BLD: If you were to choose another role/profession other than law, what would it be and why?
GE: When I was doing my O-levels, Law was at the forefront of my mind as I had decided by the age of 12 that I was going to be a lawyer. However, I think acting would probably be the thing for me because I did drama and acted in a couple of BBC plays televised in schools.

BLD: What was the best career advice you were given?
GE:  My maternal grandmother, being a headteacher, had a motto, which says: “The pen is mightier than the sword.” Her focus was on a good education and a good career.

BLD: What was the worst career advice you were given?
GE: By my housemistress at school, who chuckled in my face when I told her I wanted to be a lawyer. She told me to give up my high hopes of being a lawyer and then started preparing me for secretarial work but I resisted! If only I could find her today!

BLD: What career advice would you give to other lawyers and budding lawyers?
GE: Follow your dreams. Have confidence in yourself. The Law is a great career!  

BLD: Who is the person you most admire (dead or alive) and why?
GE: I am afraid I have to be greedy and choose four people: The first is my maternal grandmother, who was a professional working woman and had 10 children. Nelson Mandela, for what he experienced and yet showed no bitterness. Mahatma Gandhi, for showing tolerance and Barack Obama, who is now the new role model due to his achievements, especially for young men and for bringing hope to young people.

BLD: What are you most passionate/happiest about?
GE: I am a perfectionist and I like to do my best and get things right. For this reason I like supporting others to achieve their goal, especially seeing my staff and my mentees developing and realising their ambition.

BLD: What are your dislikes?
GE: I hate conflict and injustice. I would rather have a nice lively debate but avoid unnecessary fallout. I also like people to be fair. 

BLD: What was your worst moment as a lawyer?
GE: When I was at the Camden Law Centre I had this wardship case running for two years where I represented the mother who in the end, the outside the High Court, chose to stay with her partner, the father of her child, against whom there were serious allegations. The child had to be adopted despite doing everything I could do professionally to keep mother and child together. That case made me move away from family law and enter the public sector in Newham. 

BLD: What was the most famous/interesting case(s) you have handled to date?
GE: I still remember the first case I presented as a newly qualified barrister which I won, especially as no-one in Chambers expected me to win. They said it was difficult to win that type of case!  Also going to the European Court on a licensing matter as at the time it was rare to have cases in the European Court.

BLD: Tell us your professional high point(s).
GE:  Winning The Lawyer award against the best of the private sector, which we won at Newham. Further, the Private Finance Initiative Scheme projects for three schools in Newham. The landmark crack dealers’ case dealt with in my department against five crack dealers to prevent them coming into the borough and for which we won awards. Also winning the Ghana Professional Award in 2002, especially as I didn’t even grow up in Ghana.    

BLD: Any professional regrets?
GE: None whatsoever. I would do it all over again!

BLD: If you could rule the world for a day what would you change/do?
GE:  I would like to remove poverty and stop wars because of the devastating effect they have on people. When we turn on our television we see this misery and we start a collection to help those in need but I would like to prevent it happening in the first place. It really boils down to my dislike of conflict – we should mediate if there is conflict.