Gad Ouma: championing institutional law practice

Gad Ouma: championing institutional law practice

GAD OUMA is the kind of man the woke would say ‘gets it’. He is also the kind of man who would watch ‘Need for Speed’ – he is a sucker for fast cars, a Formula One buff, and an ardent Arsenal fan. When I remarked that he is an enemy of the people because he told me he represented Kenya Power & Lighting Co. against the People (remember Apollo Mboya’s class action suit?) he pondered reflectively – something he would do a hundred times more during our interview – determined I was joking (I was) and then laughed. He speaks reflectively, weighing each word carefully before letting it out. He wears his demeanour as purposefully as he does his suits. He talks passionately about the youth and opportunities. He gives 10 percent of his earnings to philanthropy because he is a product of benevolence himself – and kindness. He is very particular about the kind of legacy he would like to leave behind, particularly his impact to young lawyers. A year ago, he left a well-paying job at Robson Harris & Co. Advocates where he was Head of Litigation, to create his own firm, G.M. Gamma Advocates, where he is the Managing Partner. He sat down for a chat with KEVIN MOTAROKI

Tell me about yourself. 

I am a first-born in a family of four. I grew up in Homa Bay and schooled at Lenana School. I graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Law degree from Moi University. 

You have recently started your own firm. What drives you? 

I harbour an acute interest to show my peers, the young lawyers, that in an environment where well established law firms have monopolized the legal industry, a young lawyer determined to do things right can ultimately find their way to the top without taking shortcuts.. 

How is it like at the top? 

I am not there yet. I am, however, particularly proud of where I am because I have got here by putting in the hard work, and taking the stairs, not the lift. I make strides without political patronage or needing to be someone’s project. It gladdens me that I’ve stayed true to my values. 

You left a well-established law firm where you were thriving to create another from scratch. Apart from owning it, is it any different? 

It is a well-known fact that there are more advocates than the market can absorb. Many well qualified young advocates are struggling and simply settling for any job. We’d like to offer a blueprint for those willing to put in the work that young lawyers can courageously step out of their comfort zones and establish successful legal practice. We are barely one year old yet the firm of G.M Gamma Advocates is already on its path to attaining ISO certification, an accomplishment very few law firms in the country have achieved. We want our bottom-line to be quality. We are keen to progressively create a brand that people can associate with honesty, professionalism and service – one synonymous with excellence. It will take time, but we want to show that it can be done. Failure is not an option. 

We are barely a year old but G.M Gamma is on its path to attaining ISO certification… We want our bottomline to be quality.

You come across as apolitical. Is that a correct assessment? 

Like any responsible Kenyan citizen, I have my own political views on various governance issues in the country. However, I prefer to keep my inclinations away from my professional life. I undertake my own private interest away from public purview and prefer to steer clear of activism. This is not to mean I am aloof; it simply means I choose to work away from the limelight. 

What does success look like to you? 

Creating a legal practice grounded on professional trust, quality and excellence. I want to create an institutional firm that is highly respected in Kenya and beyond our borders. 

What are your highlight moments in litigation? 

Two cases stand out for me because of their resultant impact: In 2017, I moved to the constitutional court to represent Recce Squad GSU officers who had been summarily dismissed by the Inspector- General. My argument was that the IG had no powers to dismiss police officers, and that letting that decision stand was to meddle in the powers of the National Police Service Commission, and set a precedent where the holder of that office could misuse that power to punish officers for any range of reasons. I have also successfully represented cargo transporters against arbitrary detention at weighbridge points whenever their vehicles exceed set axle limits. My argument was that they, like other motorists, must be subjected to due process, not on-the-spot injustice. 

So, you run a firm now, and conflict is inevitable. How do you manage it? 

Being an effective leader is about making choices – deciding what is worth it and what is not. The uniqueness of human beings is in their diversity. Each day we are confronted with many scenarios out of which we must identify what is worth it and what isn’t. As a leader, I must possess or work on that ability so as to be consistent. Management decisions must always look at the bigger picture. 

Do you worry about your legacy? 

For someone who is a product of human goodness, I think about it often. I am a product of kindness, friendship, and the goodness of strangers. I am a beneficiary of what is good when society judges someone only on the basis of the content of their character and merit. I always try to project the same in my dealings. It gives me satisfaction to be able to do something worthwhile for people who deserve it. So while I may not repay my benefactors directly, I can do for others what they did for me. 

You have mentioned death for the second time now. Do you think a lot about it? 

Actually, I do. I find the whole idea of death philosophical. The loss of my mother five years ago made it clear to me that death comes to all of us and that it’s just a matter of time. As a result, I want my interactions to be impactful. I live with the realisation that I have limited time, so I must give my best in all that I do. The loss of my mother made a profound impact on us and so I illuminate the paths of those I can because it is what I have to give to humanity. 

What enduring piece of counsel would you give the youth? 

To never tire from pursuing excellence, personally and professionally. Mediocrity is everywhere; they must never let it be part of their lives. 

How do you put your feet up? 

I am a Formula One aficionado. I also play chess. Of course watching Arsenal win is always satisfying to my weekends. 

I want my interactions to be impactful. I live with the realisation that I have limited time, so I must give my best in everything I do. 

Do you want to still be litigating at, say 60? 

You have to understand, I have something I love doing and I don’t consider it a job. The practice of law makes me alive – it is my choice, with all its inherent risks. I love what I do and I will do it for as long as I can. 

What price have you had to pay for your success? 

Of course, success has a price; something has to give. Mine has been mostly socially. You will rarely find me at social events unless they are very necessary. But if I had to go back and choose, I would do it all over again, because I prefer to live a life of service. It helps that I am married to someone I have dated for a long time; she understands me and over time she has come to support and accept why it is important for me to be in the space I am. 

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