April 24, 2024
M’Ballou Sanogho at Rutgers Law School in Newark in 2021.

Serving clients in both the United States and Côte d’Ivoire demands that M’Ballou Sanogho master two distinct legal systems and professional codes of conduct.

It’s an average morning at the courthouse and a local attorney has arrived to file a case. She hands the paperwork to the court employee and, as she shakes their hand goodbye, she discreetly slips them a crisp fifty-dollar bill to ensure her case is processed quickly. While this may be a clear case of corruption in the US, it’s common practice in Côte d’Ivoire and something that M’Ballou Sanogho 20 has had to reconcile as she launches her career in the region.

Laying the Groundwork

Sanogho, a native of Côte d’Ivoire (also known as Ivory Coast), immigrated to New York City with her family at age 11. Inspired by firsthand experiences with civil war and oppressive cultural practices, she was driven to help people in need and developed an early interest in pursuing a legal career. She honed her social justice skills at Rutgers Law School, representing victims of war as an intern with the International Justice Project and, later, sex trafficking survivors through a Proskauer Rose fellowship with Volunteer Lawyers for Justice. With the goal of practicing law in both the US and Côte d’Ivoire, which follows the French legal system, she earned a Fulbright Fellowship to study French and European Union law at CY Cergy Paris University School of Law.

One of her most influential experiences, though, was the year she spent as a Rutgers Law Associates (RLA) fellow. “I wanted general practice experience working directly with clients, and I was glad to get a taste of everything during my year there,” she says, adding that she worked on nearly a dozen cases ranging from domestic violence to contract negotiation. This breadth of experience was crucial for Sanogho, as attorneys in Côte d’Ivoire are typically expected to handle a wide array of issues rather than specializing in one area as they often do in the US.

woman behind desk
M’Ballou Sanogho in her office in Côte d’Ivoire.

A Bicontinental Calling

Since graduation, Sanogho has built a career serving diverse clients in both the US and Côte d’Ivoire. She divides her time between remote and on-site work on both continents, offering comprehensive legal services ranging from corporate to family law.

In the US, her clientele primarily consists of individuals of African descent, as well as those with assets in Africa or those seeking investment opportunities on the continent. These clients also often rely on her for a range of additional legal matters, from divorce and immigration cases to criminal defense. “Clients from Africa appreciate that I understand their life experiences,” she says.

In Côte d’Ivoire, Sanogho specializes in international disputes and compliance. “Rapid development in Côte d’Ivoire and Africa at large has created a thriving legal market,” she explains. “There's a significant presence of international investors seeking assistance from English-speaking professionals familiar with the country’s legal and administrative processes.” It doesn’t hurt, she adds, that her US training, English fluency, and American legal experience carry a certain prestige with international investors and African clients.

As she establishes her career on two different continents, Sanogho finds herself navigating contrasting professional norms. The stringent ethical standards of the US legal system sharply contrast with the blurred boundaries in Côte d’Ivoire, where tipping judges, clerks, and legal professionals is customary and viewed as culturally appropriate rather than corrupt. Balancing this delicate dynamic poses its challenges; those who don’t tip (or don’t tip enough) risk being labeled as stingy, while excessive tipping may be perceived as bribery. “In such situations, I rely on a crucial lesson from my tenure at RLA,” she says, “the paramount importance of upholding ethical integrity.”

As RLA celebrates its tenth anniversary, managing attorney Andy Rothman reflects fondly on past fellows like Sanogho and their post-RLA journeys. “M'Ballou's time with RLA was extraordinary,” he recalls. “With tremendous poise, grace, and quiet resolve, she handled some of the practice's most complicated matters. That she would go on to achieve all that she has accomplished as a lawyer in Paris and West Africa in the very few years since completing the program comes as no surprise to any of us who worked closely with her."

Rutgers Law Media Contact:
Shanida Carter

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