It was such a delight to receive the “Of course!” email from Aurelia Nxumalo, in response to my request that she feature on The Corporate Canvas. A true careerist and legal professional, Aurelia is quickly making a name for herself as a notable, successful young professional – and getting a glimpse into how she balances her life as a professional and influencer was an absolute necessity…
Interviewer: Zimasa Mabuse
Aurelia, thank you so much for agreeing to feature on TCC! Avidly known as ‘The Professionista’ on Instagram, you are currently a Senior Legal Counsel for an Investment and Consultant company. It’s clear that you take your career seriously and that you excel at it too. Could you take us through the journey to becoming the Legal counsel you are today? Why the decision to study law?
Thank you so much for your interest in me, I am honoured.
I completed my degree at UNISA, although I had already completed 3 years at UKZN’s Howard College, which I was then credited for 2 at UNISA while working full time for my bursary sponsor. I then completed an intense 6 months of night school with the School of Legal Practice towards writing my Attorney Admission exams – and started a new job halfway through night school, in which I was now forced to relax some of the campaigns and community work because it would have been way too much to handle without school and work being compromised.
I’ve always known that my career would be in the Legal Industry. When I was 17 in Matric, I recall writing in my journal that in 5 years I would be a successful Corporate Lawyer. I was not aware of the road ahead. I now find myself 13 years later in the profession I envisioned, having followed other directions in between: I have been an Anti-Money Laundering Officer, in the Corporate Governance, Risk and Compliance space, and as Fraud and Risk Specialist; but the core goal has always been law.
Currently, I am an in-house legal counsel and it’s been a long and curvy road. I am invested now more than ever in developing professionally as well as personally. I am a member of the Corporate Counsel Association of South Africa, which is great for professional development as you are always learning and educating yourself on legal developments. You are constantly learning, whether it be from your mentors or from various workshops or courses you attend in order to always be on top of your game, especially when you are looking to specialize.
You are also known to be highly influential on social media, sporting an enviable following. How do you believe you utilize this following to positively impact young professionals’ lives?
I think it’s easy to lose yourself, if you don’t own who you are. In just looking at my Instagram Bio alone…Grace to evolve | Senior Legal Counsel | Bibliophilia | Mom | Student | Life Enthusiast | Ray of Sunshine | The Professionista and many more.
I am all of this and more. My IG bio is what I want to project to people, it also serves as a constant reminder to myself as to who I am and who I strive to be. It hasn’t been smooth sailing for me to get to a point where I fully embrace who I am, but I have come to understand and believe that nothing anybody does to me should alter who I am fundamentally. Not everybody will like you and they don’t even have to have a reason as to why, but you should never change who you are to fit into another’s picture because that is how you lose yourself. If you acknowledge who you are and know your truth, flaws and all, there is very little that the next person can do to offend you or make you feel bad about who you are.
I believe I utilize the following through The Professionista. I am passionate about helping young women as I believe I wouldn’t be where I am without the help of some key people in my life along the way. Hence, Myself and my co –Founder Buhle Mbele have recently relaunched The Professionista which is a virtual community of like-minded women which aims to connect & impart, teach, inspire and unite professional women – from those entering the corporate world to your seasoned corporate women. The Professionisa is a platform to promote the professional progress of women and in turn inspire individuals to get ahead in their career or in developing their business or to get to the next level.
Something particularly unique about your career journey, is the route you have taken to become a senior legal counsel today. I think when one studies law, they are presented with limited options of what they can do upon graduating. Could you let us in on how you went about crafting your career and the decisions you made along the way?
I have learnt there are more ways than one to skin a cat. A lot of the ideas I had about law when choosing to study it, changed during my studies as well as when I started working. I had only been exposed to the traditional method of completing your 4 year degree then doing your 2 years of Articles then passing your Board Exams and being Admitted as an Attorney.
I didn’t complete my degree in record time as in my 3rd year at UKZN –Howard College, I halted and moved to Johannesburg, and worked then went back to studying about a year later and was only credited for 2 of the 3 years at UNISA. Fortunately, the company I was working for had given me a bursary. This journey of working while studying exposed me to so many aspects of the legal profession and the various ways in which you can use your LLB degree – whether in business or otherwise. A law degree opens so many doors for you, and one is not limited to working in the ‘Big Five’ law firms.
Every single day, I work on my craft and sharpen my skills through keeping abreast with legal developments, through seminars, workshops and specialist courses.
What do you think constitutes the makings of a successful career?
SELF-DISCIPLINE!!! Develop self-discipline and work at it daily. I believe that self-discipline is the major key to unlocking your full potential.
What are some of the feats you wish to accomplish in your career over the next couple of years?
In Law – To be a Head of Legal or Chief Legal Advisor of a large corporate
Side Hustle – the success of The Professionista and it being a global movement
As a budding Social Entrepreneur – the success of my Non-Profit company which is for the benefit of young underprivileged girls in South Africa.
Advice for women in Law?
Study, work on your craft and grab every learning opportunity you are presented with. I have studied an additional 13 years since completing high school…it doesn’t stop – which is something I learnt from my grandparents who are both academics and successful in their chosen careers.
Develop yourself professionally through courses, workshops and seminars related to the field you are in or are interested in.
Invest in yourself, in your career and life goals and do not settle for “this is the only way to do it” or “this is how it’s done.”
Someone I am dying to have in my network is…
Ms Phumzile-Mlambo Ngcuka
If freely given R1 000 000 I would…
I would fund my sanitary towel manufacturing business
My biggest money mistake to date…
Not managing my finances well from when I started working, I definitely feel I would be further in life had I better managed my finances.
A mantra I live by is…
“Immerse yourself in a life that moves you, because what you surround yourself with is what becomes your life” – Topaz