Chege Kanyuku is an Advocate at the High Court of Kenya. Having graduated with flying colors from the Kenya School of Law, Chege went on to serve as a legal assistant to Kenya Law, and as a lawyer for Kimathi and Kimani Advocates, finally becoming an Associate at the Taibjee and Bhalla Advocates law firm. Apart from his other interests, Chege maintains an active profile in maritime law, and advises getting a mentor if one wants to do well in that field. We approached him all of this and more.
Q.1) What type of work were you involved in during the time of your education at the University?
This I will answer in two part,
I. Undergraduate level- mostly observatory mooting. I was too shy to actually try it, but I enjoyed listening to various students battle each other. I did some minor charity work also.
II. Kenya School of Law- academic discussion. I had many such discussions every evening after my classes with my peer support group. Ideally building and exchanging different and exchanging different ideas from people in different classes.
Q.2) How did your experiences influence the type of work you wanted to do after you graduate?
They built about 70 % of the interests I practice to date; being property law(Conveyancing), court litigation(and out of court Alternative Dispute Resolution) and Intellectual Property. For example, a friend of mine at the Kenya School of Law introduced me to a free online intellectual property course, igniting a long forgotten love for it too. In fact some of the fastest pay checks I’ve gotten over time stem from these particular areas.
Q.3) What brought you to where you are today in life, what were some of the major highlights, and what has been most rewarding in your career?
God and supportive parents. I’m glad my parents always provided for what I requiredto undertake my studies and be who I am as a person. In addition to this, I had a strong supportive system within my peers. I formed a network of like minded friends at my Undergraduate level whom I moved on with to the Kenya school of law. I’ve gradually broadened this network to other individuals both senior to me and even outside the legal profession. This has broadened the kind of clientele I have access to giving me a different challenge to tackle altogether. The most rewarding thing by the end of the day for me is going to bed knowing I made someone’s life a bit more better if not comfortable. The simple act of service using what i have amassed over my short time is very fulfilling to me. It’s further given me a chance to also prove to myself that I can make a difference in this society.
Q.4) How would you describe the legal profession in Kenya?
Well getting there is a bit, crazy. Tests your determination, spirit etcetera but once you are eventually admitted to the bar, then the games begins. Ideally in Kenya for one to be admitted to the Bar, you have to have undergone your Undergraduate studies (for a period of 4 years) at a recognized university that offers Law, which I did at the University of Nairobi. Once you attain your degree you are considered a Lawyer. You may choose to practice in the capacity of one following which you can perhaps be a legal officer, a paralegal in different legal departments or
even run a legal consultancy.
Other lawyers (about 60% of them) however, enroll at the Kenya School of Law for their Post-Graduate studies for one year. In the following year, you are required to work (as Pupil) under an advocate with at least 5 years Practice Experience (Post Admission to the Bar) for 6 months. He or she is referred to as your “Pupil Master”. Once you pass the rigorous Bar Exam offered by the Institution, and complete your Pupillage, you are admitted to the Bar following a Petition one makes to the Chief Justice of the Republic of Kenya. You are then issued with a license by the Law Society of Kenya to Practice as an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya, renewable annually. This whole process from Undergrad. to Law School takes about 6 -7 years. Hectic right?
Once admitted to the Bar, unlike a lawyer you can represent clients in court and various out-of-court disputes or issues in your own capacity or even with documents as an advocate. Well, following your admission to the bar you either join a running firm or may start yours with no bar inhibiting you from opening one that very same day you are sworn into the bar! Most newly admitted advocates prefer to garner experience under another advocate working in their firm or legal department(s). The profession is evolving and you have to have that extra edge in order to be ahead of the rest. This can perhaps be investing in a unique area that is both lucrative and has fewer legal experts in, or just battle with the rest in the various flooded areas of practice.
Q.5) Is there a preference towards corporate jobs, academia or plain-old advocacy?
I think it is a blend of desired interests dependent on one’s affinity, perhaps how well a particular area pays, but more often than not, greatly influenced by the firm/entity you are attached to at pupillage level, or the firm you join following your admission to the Bar, be it a corporate firm, bank, Government Corporation or law firm. Personally, I was greatly interested in Maritime Law, Employment/Labor Law and ADR ideally out of how well I passed them in school. These were greatly projected following my interactions with the various firms I have worked in. Actually through these interactions I have been able to garner interest in other areas such as Land, Intellectual Property and Securities(Bank) law which I heavily practice to date.
Q.6) How does the Judicial Sector works in Kenya? Would you be able to tell us about the most exciting experience you had working there?
Ideally it is adversarial. With claims being taken to the various courts dependent on the type of claim and pecuniary amount being sought. The courts in ascending order are the Magistrate courts, High Courts, Court of Appeal and the Supreme court. We also have various tribunals dealing in specialized services such as environment, rent disputes, Intellectual The divisions include; Family Law, Commercial and Admiral Law, Anti-corruption division, Family Division encompassing probate, succession and the Children’s courts etc.
I worked with the Thika Law Courts following my 2nd Year at the university. This is a compulsory attachment that is required by the school being graded at completion. At the Court I was attached to a magistrate who funny enough allowed us to sit with him at the Bench. I have never been so tensed in my life probably because you’re required to maintain decorum which unsurprisingly and at such a young age most of us lack. I
remember one time bursting out during a suspect’s examination in a criminal law matter. Even though he had been accused of robbery with violence, the fellow cited kidnap as his defence stating that he had been carried along by his fellow suspected comrades to the scene of the crime only because they didn’t have ropes to properly detain him with in their getaway car when they kidnapped him o their way to rob. It was even funnier when the other suspects ratted him out as the actual troop ring
Q.7) Since you have a specialisation in the Maritime Law, would it be alright for you to tell us the reason which attracted you to this specific field of law?
Well, presently and in practice, I actually have no specialisation despite having specialised in International Law during my 4th year. Maritime Law which was part of this thematic area and as a point of correction is an area of interest. It is not as commercially practised here in Kenya as much as in other jurisdictions such as Malta, the UK, India, Australia etc. It has just been recently introduced here, something I am considering to Master in a year or two once it picks up.
Q.8) Were there any difficulties you faced once you were done with your choice of specialisation?
Yes, as mentioned before, I actually specialised in International Law. But then you get out of law school and find out that the firms offering you work do not engage in your area of expertise or perhaps only practice part of it. Fortunately, the Kenya school of Law at post Graduate level trains you on the practicability of the law and general law in practice within Kenya, thus equipping you with the needed tools to sort of navigating the legal field once admitted to the Bar. Further to this, I actually choose to be a general practitioner so that I am not able to sort of limit my scope of learning as a young advocate. What I mean is that given shifting economic times I did not want to concentrate on just one area which may perhaps end up being obsolete and financially unviable. Yes I look at the money. Chuckles* Plus I figured I am a young mind and can be able to handle several matters without having to refer Clients elsewhere. Property law as an example is an area I had no interest in. I would not have discovered how well I am at it, if I hadn’t made the leap to try it.
Q.9) How is the country battling the spate of colonial-era oppressive laws and how do you see the role of law in the battle against a general criminality that is now prevalent in many parts of the country?
Amendment Laws!! The country actually has worked tirelessly through its parliament to phase out colonially oppressive laws within the state. Issues such as human rights violations in commonly shared legislation such as the Penal code have been removed from the legislations. Another example is recognition of the African Customary Laws which were shunned during the colonial area. These days, land ownership, marriage and succession provisions actually recognise our customary laws. There is however always room for improvement and over time, we shall be able to fully clean up our Justice systems should every Kenyan take their various Parliamentarians to account. I believe accountability starts from an individual level, morally, what’s good and what is wrong. I won’t delve into the various arguments given on the same but I believe
that the law is there to guide us. And even though this is the case, the moment certain individuals whether elected or nonelected cease considering themselves above it, then we will able to move forward as a nation.
Q.10) Finally, we would like to know your suggestions for the people who are studying to pursue their career in Maritime law, in order to achieve good results.
Identify a mentor in that field. I think that is something I failed to do during my university level. This may be an advocate practising in the field, well versant in the field or even a non-legal professional who specialised in the field. The Latter may actually give you exposure to areas in maritime that need precedent you can be a pioneer in.