Africa / A Day with the Young Lawyers of the East African Law Society. By Edwina Mazunda
As a rookie advocate of close to three years at the Bar, there have been moments when I have contemplated my place as a lawyer in the wake of technological advancements and artificial intelligence. I have wondered when the money would start pouring in, that is the expectation, is it not? How do I tackle the issues of being a lawyer not just in my jurisdiction but in an entire region? Is there even room to venture out?
I was ecstatic to hear the East Africa Law Society Young Lawyers Conference was gathering in the heart of Rwanda to discuss these matters and more. In November of 2019 my bag was packed and I was off to Kigali, the land of a thousand hills. The Young Lawyers Conference is an all-day conference that brings together over 300 young practitioners from all over the East African Region to share, learn and interact with fellow young lawyers and more experienced legal practitioners. It is held at the annual East Africa Law Conference.
The morning started off with a keynote address by the Commonwealth Lawyers Association Vice-President for Africa, Ms. Linda Kasonde. She was the Chief Guest at the Young Lawyers Conference and warmly opened the session with a call to young lawyers to revive the spirit of Pan-Africanism and regional integration and to take on leadership roles at whatever level they are presented, stating that nobody is too young to lead. She also encouraged those in attendance to take a keen interest in the trending topics such as the lawyer’s role in the wake of artificial intelligence and the 4th Industrial Revolution.
There followed a presentation by Professor Frederick E. Ssempembwa SC on the Role of Young Lawyers in Advancing Regional Economic Communities, which led into a panel discussion.
“Before colonialism, we had no boundaries. Regional integration is about getting back to our roots. It entails free movement of capital and free movement of services. I hope for free movement of policies as well”. Professor Frederick E. Ssempembwa SC.
Professor Ssempembwa highlighted the salient features of the Common Market Protocol which is aimed at accelerating economic growth and development and means that the East African Communities (EAC) Partner States maintain a liberal stance towards the freedoms provided by the Protocol:
Free Movement of Goods
Free Movement of Persons
Free Movement of Labour / Workers
Right of Residence
Free Movement of Services
Free Movement of Capital
The focus of Professor’s address was the free movement of legal services. This entails that lawyers can practice in jurisdictions other than their own within the region. It was noted, however, that this would not be realised unless lawyers are willing to play their part, and Professor’s final call was for the young lawyers to make use of this protocol and make alive its provisions.
The panellists, who included a young lawyer who was practising in Rwanda, a jurisdiction different from his own, implored young lawyers to take up space in other jurisdictions, and on regional integration, to actively participate by questioning their presidential candidates in their countries, on their views and plans regarding regional integration. That lawyers are representatives by nature, means they should represent the ordinary citizen and not leave regional integration to political leaders alone.
The topic I suspect every young lawyer was looking forward to was, ‘We Have the Skills, Where’s the Money? Exploring Economic Opportunities and Barriers for the Youth in the Legal Profession’. Moderated by Dianna Angwech the Chairperson for the Young Lawyers Committee of the Uganda Law Society, this panel discussion brought to light a number of other qualities a young lawyer should have in order to distinguish oneself in the legal profession. The virtues of patience, financial discipline, the ability to take initiative, a passion and hunger for personal growth and a willingness to constantly learn.
Personal and professional growth was greatly emphasised over money making, with the panellists unanimously agreeing that when they had developed themselves in the profession, found their niche, pursued their passions and worked themselves off, eventually the money came.
A few take-aways from my first ever East Africa Young Lawyers Conference were:
- Learning the law is not enough. Anyone can learn the law. What distinguishes us are the skills we acquire that enable us to analyse and apply the law.
- One must be awfully intentional about improving themselves through learning and a further acquisition of knowledge beyond that which is taught in law school. Emotional intelligence, networking skills, building client relationships, etc all work together to make a great lawyer. One must diversify their skills and not be confined to the “box”.
- Personal branding is important. And this is reflected through one’s communication skills, dressing, office space management and general organisation. We must be intentional about the brand we portray of ourselves. What do you put out there about yourself? Is it helping to build your career?
- You must handle your time well. There is a business side to time. We were asked to do a time audit to see what we do with most of our time. Is it valuable time-spending or can we get better at it? The way you spend your time is how you spend your money.
- And finally, one of my favourites, have personal board meetings where you evaluate the people in your life and in your networks. Instead of asking for specific people into your life, figure out what you need your network to do for you and then invite into your life the people who would be able to provide that for you. Consequently, take out those who are no longer serving your needs as a growing professional.
The author is the Commonwealth Lawyers Association Africa Hub Communications Officer and newsletter editor.
By Edwina Mazunda