Fatema Orjela is an award-winning partner whose practice focuses on providing strategic counsel to European and U.S. private equity sponsors. Named “Woman Solicitor of the Year” by The Law Society of England and Wales in its Excellence Awards 2021 and a “Next Generation Partner” for Private Equity by The Legal 500 UK 2022, Fatema has pan-European cross-sector experience advising on the full range of corporate matters beyond private equity, including: corporate M&A, sovereign wealth, and distressed investors.
“I tell associates that the legal profession is like Tetris: you build a few blocks, then some more. You unlock a new level, then start building again.”
What attracted you to the practice of law and what aspect of your practice do you enjoy the most?
I have always loved being a trusted adviser to friends and family. Being a lawyer is an extension of this; people look to you for your guidance, judgment, and analytical and problem-solving abilities. Private equity, in particular, relies sharply on this skillset being put to effect at a fast pace, to understand people and their drivers across varied cultural nuances and geographical locations on cross-border deals to help facilitate parties as they agree to terms to keep them aligned until the exit.
Tell us about a professional goal you are proud of achieving, and what (or who) inspired you to go for it.
I haven’t had any set professional goal I can say that I have achieved per se, even with respect to my promotion to partner. Although I feel incredibly proud of my role, the work with my team, and how I expanded the private equity practice at Sidley, partnership was never the goal. I didn’t allow myself to concretely believe it would happen, not even committing to stay in the profession long term stemming from an error in self-confidence. I make sure to set aside time to reassure my mentees not to harbor the same self-doubts.
In some ways, I have had more of an umbrella goal to just take each short-term period as it comes one step at a time and to “steer the course.” I tell associates that the legal profession is like Tetris: you build a few blocks, then some more. You unlock a new level, then start building again. I am inspired daily by my husband and my colleagues (across global offices and a range of seniorities) to “just keep going,” riding the highs and the lows by remaining sturdy and moving forward on my path.
What is the most memorable deal you led, and what made it so memorable?
In 2016, I led H.I.G. Capital’s sale of global market-leading metallized paper manufacturer AR Metallizing. As I was promoted to partner in the midst of the deal, it represented my first direct mandate in that role. I had originally acted as a senior associate on the acquisition for H.I.G. in 2011. Having made excellent connections to the H.I.G. team — especially those at a similar seniority level to mine — I became the main port of call for portfolio work after the deal. By the time of the exit of the portfolio years later, my client peers were running the process, as we had grown together in our respective fields. Their team mandated me to lead the exit as an associate, showing incredible loyalty and faith in my abilities. I was promoted to partner in the midst of the deal. As well as being full cycle, it is the seed for my practice and my closest client relationships.
On a personal note, what has been your go-to self-care activity in this remote work environment?
I love to cook, bake, and practice hot yoga, so I could say that the pandemic period for me has been filled with food and a bit more exercise than before. However, overall my peace and balance reset comes from spending quality time with my family — recently expanded from three to five members with the arrival of my twins! I have been able to really focus these last couple of years on “switching off.” I have loved taking short breaks (and focusing on being present during those breaks) and experiencing these moments of joy with my family that I might not have had before the last couple years when the pace of work (and social) life was much faster and less remote.
Can you share with us a saying or quote that gives you inspiration or helps you stay centered?
“Keep your face always toward the sunshine, and shadows will fall behind you.” — Walt Whitman