Colleague Interview

Hear from HKA colleague, Sonia Guerra, on her career journey

Sonia Guerra, Managing Consultant, wasn’t sure where to start with her career. After admittance as an attorney, she took on a new challenge in contract law for an EPCM which introduced her to dispute resolution. From there, she found her place at HKA.

Tell me about your background.

Growing up, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do, after leaving school. I performed well enough to be given the freedom to study what I wanted. I considered careers in medicine, engineering, music, fashion and architecture. Feeling quite lost in my decision, I went to a professor for some guidance. At this point, I was most serious about architecture. He told me I didn’t have the right personality, that I was too opiniated and strong-minded and that would limit my career as an architect.  I was quite shocked because I thought my passion for drawing and creativity combined with my precise outlook made me ideal.

He then suggested a career in legal, but combined with business management aspects. A route I then pursued and gained an LLB and B.Com. That’s where my legal career started: I was admitted as an attorney and began practicing law.

While practicing, I heard about an opportunity in contract law for an EPCM company. I didn’t know much about construction law at this point as we didn’t cover this at my university. But I saw it as an exciting and welcome challenge, so I moved to the EPCM company and was introduced to engineering contracts.

I was immediately put on major projects, getting to work on-site, out of the typical office environment getting my “boots dirty” as a legal professional. Today, I am happy that I made the decision to move to construction law, while retaining my alliances in the overall legal world.

After moving to construction law, what drew you into claims and dispute resolution?

When I moved to Hill International (formerly known as Binnington Copeland & Associates), I was involved in arbitrations and adjudication. I enjoyed representing clients in alternative disputes and guiding them in the process. The move to claims and dispute resolution happened when Hill International became HKA where, for the first, time I became directly involved with delay and quantum analysis. It was another challenge I was happy to tackle!

I am still involved in arbitration to this day, having joined as a young member of an international arbitration group.

What inspires you in your role?

My current job inspires me because every day I get to learn something new and improve on my legal knowledge and technical skills. Working with people from different cultures and countries all around the world, is not only exciting but it helps me to grow and understand different methods in conducting business. My involvement in dispute boards and alternative dispute resolution has grown into professional relationships with colleagues from our Dubai, Melbourne and UK offices.

 What has been amazing for me in the past two years is that now I can have conversations with my dad, a well-known engineer within his company, about his work. It’s surprising for him in a great way – he would never have thought his daughter would be a lawyer and now talking about construction and engineering projects!

What’s a typical day in your role?

There never is a typical day! Every day is new. It can all depend on the project – I can be working on claims, disputes, involved in research or a legal-related problem on construction or engineering projects. During the past three and a half years, my involvement has been mainly as Assistant Quantum Expert, which has been quite a change from where I started. Nonetheless, the outcome of the various matters dealt with the dispute boards was a very successful one for HKA and this contributed to growing my interest in quantum expert related work.

What do you think has been the reason for your success?

It’s always been my motivation to be different and prove to myself that I can be successful in whatever challenges I face. Although it can be tough as a female in the construction and engineering industry, I  found the legal profession to be a male-dominant environment too. But, as a strong supporter of  equal opportunities for females whom prove to be experienced, knowledgeable and qualified, this has never put me off or intimidated me. To the contrary, it inspired me to work even harder to succeed in my challenges.

I think I have achieved success so far as I am always open-minded and professional in my approach. I work day-by-day, but I always have a plan in mind for the challenges that lie ahead.

Congratulations on being selected as a judge for The African Legal Awards 2018! How did this come about?

The African Legal Awards is hosted yearly by Legal Week and the Corporate Counsel Association of South Africa (CCASA) to recognise exceptional achievement in Africa’s legal community. They required independent individuals with experience in various fields of law to assist with the judging process and my employment background and experience was beneficial in the various categories which I had to judge.

To be selected amongst such a prestigious panel of judges is a huge privilege and a delightful highlight of my career thus far.

What’s made HKA a stand-out employer for you?

Since my first day at HKA, I had access to unlimited resources and tools to improve my knowledge, skill and qualification. I believe there are few employers that can offer mentorship from across the world and allow employees to have access to such expertise. Being part of a world recognised company and working together with such talented people as I have in the past 5 years has truly been only a blessing and inspiration to my career.


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