From Lagos to Canadian Energy Law, Chidinma Thompson Has Come a Long Way
Meet an energy lawyer with an endless appetite for knowledge – and a talent for putting it to work
Never underestimate television’s ability to inspire people. After all, the decision to watch old episodes of Matlock when she was just eight years old put Chidinma Thompson on the path to becoming a lawyer. “I’ve always wanted to be a lawyer,” she says. “I was that little girl watching TV, looking at lawyers and wanting to be like them.” And while the genteel courtrooms that played host to Andy Griffith’s legal gymnastics were a long way from Aba, the major trading hub in southeast Nigeria where Thompson grew up, they planted a seed that would eventually take root in Canada.
Today, Thompson is a regulatory and litigation lawyer at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP in Calgary, but her legal career began in Lagos, where she spent two and a half years representing various domestic and international energy companies after completing a law degree at the University of Nigeria. She moved to Alberta in 2004 after being accepted into the master of laws program at the University of Calgary, and if moving to a new country and learning the ropes in a new legal system wasn’t challenging enough, she also had to find a way to balance her studies with the arrival of a newborn son named Daniel. That often involved bringing him to the library with her while she studied, which meant bringing along a car seat, diaper bag and a book bag – and fending off some curious looks. “They looked at me like, ‘Something must be wrong with that lady,’ ” she says.
Apparently not, given that Thompson not only finished her LLM but went on to get a PhD, which she completed in 2013. Her thirst for knowledge is not only evident in her academic achievements but also in the way she approaches the job that came later. She’ll often learn technical details about the sector purely out of curiosity, such as how to study the cross-sections of well logs to determine the types of resource and their location in the formation. “I’m a lawyer but I can look at [well] logs now and begin to understand something lawyers usually don’t know.”
For Thompson, the opportunity to work with geologists, engineers and other professionals in the industry is one of her job’s best features. So too is the ability to work on projects with a variety of clients, and she’s handled everything from LNG projects and oil sands developments to disputes between First Nations and stakeholders, pipeline applications and well approvals. Her ability to manage that diversity, and the enjoyment she gets out of doing it, is a big part of why she’s a rising star in the world of regulatory and litigation work. “It’s the multidisciplinary nature of the energy sector,” she says. “There’s something new for me always – I’m the kind of person who likes to be challenged. It is a team sector.”