Handa: ‘I’m all about reclaiming lost LSK reputation and growing professions’

Law Society Council member Ekaterina Handa speaks about Council’s – and her own – plan to restore credibility, realign public perceptions about Society, and whip Advocates into living up the professional and ethical standards for which LSK has always stood

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By Victor Adar

Bringing services closer to people is a phenomenon currently sweeping across many arms of government. Law Society of Kenya (LSK) too is in the mix, bringing to light the need to accelerate growth of its members if the inauguration of LSK Council positions in March is anything to go by. It established a branch that is intended to become the first point of reference for advocates in Nairobi and Thika, to deal mainly with matters of welfare and practice, litigation, Alternative Dispute Resolution “in-house”, and legal academia.

Aside from seven others, the Nairobi Branch is the 8th to be established thanks to an amendment of LSK Act (Cap.18 of the Laws of Kenya). It will liaise with the LSK’s National Office and simply improve working conditions and the welfare of advocates so they can achieve goals and aspirations in their careers.

The new team of ten elected Council members, headed by an elected chair, brings to eleven the number of LSK chairpersons to have been inaugurated and assumed office. The current chair, Charles Kanjama, is responsible for setting the pace for the overall performance of the branch.

The main task for the team is to set up the new branch, capable of performing its statutory functions as provided for under Section 24 of the LSK Act. So far, two meetings of the branch officials have taken place and office-bearers, who will fill in the positions of the vice chair, secretary, treasurer and organising secretary, to be held on one year’s rotational basis have been elected.

Rotational approach for filling these positions was a decision achieved on consensual basis, made to reflect inclusivity, ensure every council member’s participation and teamwork. Catherine Handa also known as Ekaterina Handa, a Nairobi branch council member, will take the position of the vice in the second year of the rotation cycle. She spoke to The Nairobi Law Monthly.

What is the starting point for the Nairobi Branch?

We began by harmonising our individual and team manifestos and reconciling our goals, given that we belonged to differently affiliated groups of members, ran on different electoral tickets and came from different backgrounds. We plan to set up and operationalise an interactive website, which will permit us to receive feedback from the members on the challenges they face in their daily practice and respond to them. We already began collecting advocates’ views, concerns and recommendations in regard to matters of practice in Nairobi and Thika. Thus far, we have set out our agenda for the first 100 days and began drafting a strategic plan for the branch for 2016-2018.

Your position is Council Member for the Nairobi Branch of LSK, a branch that has been inaugurated just now. As a member – who is a part of the Council, what are you putting on the table?

Diverse professional experience and academic qualifications are my strong points. As a member of the incoming Council, I bring in a blend of the professional diversity in that I do relate to the challenges advocates go through in practice of courtroom law, as well as the challenges career academicians and in-house counsels face.

This is my 9th ‘post-admission to the Bar’ year. As I join a Council of eleven members, whose post admission experience ranges between one and fifteen years, I note with delight that I am able to appreciate the struggles of young advocates and the challenges of older members of the Bar. I believe that my post admission age in the profession as well as diverse professional and academic experience will translate into positive aspects or assets to be utilised as qualities helpful to unify the profession, which suffers division along seniority and career diversion lines.

It is important to know why you became interested in this position…

What motivated me is one major desire: to effect positive change and leave a lasting legacy as a member of the team that rebuilt LSK’s reputation and brought a difference in terms of availing career opportunities and in terms of operations of the Society. Not a simple difference but a meaningful difference; a difference members can notice and value. Not mere availing of career opportunities but opportunities accessible to all LSK members. My belief is that this can be done and should be done.

The reputation of LSK has come into dispute, with most of its last year’s AGMs ending in chaos characterised by shouting matches and near exchange of blows. How should these be dealt with?

In my view there are four ways of dealing with this problem and restoring LSK’s ‘dented’ reputation. First, is to trace the genesis and the reasons that account for ugly eruptions, appreciate the impact they had on the conduct of Kenya Bar and eliminate them. Second is to unify the Society. Third is to formulate and invoke legal provisions that deal with the conduct unbecoming of the profession. Fourth is to quit publicising internal activities of the Society to preserve the posterity of legal profession, which is synonymous to the rule of law, fair hearing, fairness, justice, discipline, decorum, brotherhood and so on.

Reputations are built by the opinion of the public. The public can only formulate its opinions based on its perceptions. Perceptions develop on the basis of information available to the public. The Law Society of Kenya, unlike any other professional body in Kenya, offers its internal activities for wide uncensored media coverage, public scrutiny and comments, hence the reputation you’ve described. The importance of legal profession in every society cannot be overestimated. It is my view that there is need for a certain level of protection.

As I mentioned, there is need to identify, understand and acknowledge the genesis and reasons that provoked such conduct of advocates, who, ordinarily maintain decorum, order and respect to seniority. By eliminating the reasons, we will be able to prevent manifest eruptions of anger.

Is this something you can police?

As an individual council member, I cannot prevent eruptions of ugly incidents; but as a team, if we embrace sovereignty of the AGM, consultation with the members and their participation, inclusivity, feedback and respect to seniority while recognising equality of advocates’ status in the profession then, I think, such incidents can be reduced and eliminated. A lot can be done should we, as the profession, decide.

Lastly, we can actually formulate and promulgate rules on communication between advocates, relating not only to legal practice but social circumstances – an Advocates Code of Communication, something similar to Advocates Dress Code. I think this suggestion might not be received very well but it could be the last resort if the incidents of advocates insulting one another in public spread or become rampant.

You variously stated in your individual manifesto pledges that you will advocate for availing opportunities aimed at advancing members’ careers as well as their professional standing. How will you achieve this?

My individual campaign for a seat of Council Member at the Nairobi Branch of LSK was about advocating for creating and availing to all member’s opportunities that will enhance their professional standing in a manner that they can relate to, understand and appreciate. In other words, creating awareness through providing important information on career possibilities that will bring about not only positive but meaningful change to individual members of the Kenyan Bar, one that they have reason to respect and desire.

There are very many ways in which career opportunities can be provided by a professional body. Huge share of legal practice in Kenya revolves around judiciary, litigation or courtroom practice of law. This can be expanded to practice of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, consultancy, medical litigation, legal integrated journalism, business outsourcing and others.

If mentorship programmes are there, younger advocates will take shorter time to stabilise in their profession and to achieve their goals…

Yes, local mentorship programmes are very important, but so are international exchange and mentorship programmes. Through placements, internships or externships, young advocates at the beginning of their careers will be able to take advantage of the opportunity to interact with and work at international law firms, which can be an invaluable experience in terms of career setting and direction. This can be done through creating an infrastructure where advocates can acquire dual qualifications such that they are not only admitted to the bar in Kenya but also can gain admissions to, say, the bar in UK, US and even within the East African Community (as much as states members of EAC are still resisting the notion).

Okoa LSK caused quite a stir. Are members of that movement going to make things better?

More than three quarters of candidates nominated by, affiliated to and running on Okoa LSK ticket were successful in this election and made it to the Council. The LSK members have made their voices heard and have made their choice of leaders. At this point I wish to express my sincere gratitude to all LSK members who took part and voted in this election, and particularly those who voted for me and honoured me with the opportunity to serve them. They exhibited maturity devoid of usual considerations of ordinary voter and were able to embrace diversity.

When elections occur most of the time, change is expected and we hope that we will be the team that delivers positive, meaningful change to our electorate and makes their professional lives better. But you see, I hold this view – I don’t agree that every change is positive and that every positive change is meaningful to each individual. Change can be positive or negative, and it is important that Okoa LSK had advocated for positive change. But in my individual opinion, for change to be positive and meaningful, it must be felt and appreciated by one in a way applicable to one, otherwise change is valueless.

Catherine’s professional background…

Having graduated from the University of Nairobi and Kenya School of Law, her legal career commenced as an in-house counsel. Within less than a year of first employment, she was offered a scholarship by the University of Nairobi to join its Master of Laws postgraduate programme, which she accepted and completed.

Upon completion of her LL.M Degree, she joined Girona, Kinyanjui and Co. Advocates as an associate and almost at the same time began her teaching career, initially as a part-time lecturer at the University of Nairobi and thereafter at the Kenyatta University School of Law.

Last year she became a partner in the same law firm. She says that her academic qualifications and teaching experience permitted her to join a doctoral programme at the Witwatersrand University, South Africa. Further, she undertook postgraduate professional courses in arbitration at the Swiss Arbitration Academy, Universities of Neuchâtel and Luzern in Switzerland. All are distinguished institutions in the country of civil law jurisdiction. Today, she is a practising advocate, arbitration practitioner and a legal academician.

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