Raija Ojanen ’18

Home Country: Finland
University: University of Helsinki
Profession: Legal Advisor for WWF Finland

I graduated from law school in Helsinki, Finland in 1986 and made a long career at one of the top law firms in Finland. My focus area was helping international clients and real estate investors establish business in Finland. Over the course of the years the firm grew from six lawyers when I started to nearly 60 today.

I always wanted to do an LL.M. in America, but I had a young family and the firm kept me busy. I almost gave up hope. But then I turned 50 and my daughter was off at college. When we came to California for a vacation in 2015, I made an appointment with the admissions office at Berkeley Law, just to see if it might still be a possibility.

The opportunity to do it over two summers (Professional Track) is a very good fit for me. It’s an incredible experience to go back to school at this stage of professional life and fun to be around people from 40 different countries. I’m learning so much, not only about U.S. law but also from the cultures and varying legal backgrounds of my classmates.

When I started the LL.M. program last summer I was still a partner at the firm. So, I took securities regulation and other business courses. But for several years I had represented the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) as a pro bono client. I’ve always been interested in environmental issues, but sitting in your office, flipping papers and writing email, you don’t get the full sense of what is happening to the planet and how urgent climate change is.

Because of my work with WWF, I also took environmental law. It was interesting to learn how the environmental matters are regulated in the U.S. That gives perspective on the different ways to approach environmental law issues and the use of natural resources.

Every time I took the BART I saw these huge Earthjustice posters: “The Earth needs a good lawyer.” It was like they were talking to me, and I kept thinking, ‘Hmm… that’s what I want to be when I grow up.’

Just a few weeks after I got home following last summer session I learned that WWF in Finland was hiring their first in-house lawyer. I remembered those signs and thought, ‘is this is it?’ I applied and was happy to find that my business law background worked to my benefit. Promoting environmental matters within an NGO requires cooperation with companies and the government. Being able to speak the language of the corporations and government officials is an asset.

So, I started in January at WWF. The work is very different. As a corporate advisory attorney you are taking the law as it is and applying it to the client’s case. But at an NGO lawyers are more like lobbyists. It’s all about changing the policies, being able to tell the lawmakers that the status quo is not sufficient and laying out a path from the present to the desired situation. It requires a new mindset.

My first summer here at Berkeley was a good exercise for changing my way of thinking. Finland is a civil law country, so learning the common law forced me to turn my head around and think in another way. This summer I’m taking a class on public policy and problem solving. It goes right to the heart of what I’m doing now at WWF and gives me the tools to structure proposals for solving environmental issues.

I feel like I’m living the cliché that “life starts again at 50.” I did one career, the mandatory stuff, now I can choose what I want to do. That includes taking leave for two summers and coming here for the LL.M. program and riding a bike to school every morning.

People keep saying it was courageous to make such a big change after 30 years. To me it feels like I got very lucky. Being in the saving of the world business is so inspiring that it doesn’t even feel like work. It is all about working together for a future where people and nature are in harmony.