A conversation with Bernard Mukasa on his legal journey and excelling in the legal industry

Q- Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do

A- I am a Partner at Ortus Advocates, a Commissioner for Oaths and Notary Public and Licenced Insolvency Practitioner. Outside of that, I am an amateur football coach and teaching assistant at King Ceasor University. I also MCee at events and when I am not doing all of this, I am supporting KCCA FC and Arsenal FC.

Q- How did you go about choosing what area of law to specialise in?

A- Well, it wasn’t easy. You come out of university with many preconceived notions based on only your university experience – then a few months into practice, you realise they weren’t everything and you set off finding new notions. The trick is always to have an open mind and decide nothing until you have tested the waters. Deciding specialisation at university is premature in my view. Finish university, the Bar, get a small taste of the field, then decide from that all-round experience.

I finished university wanting to specialise in Human Rights. After my first year of work, I realised I was more of a commercial person and I identified Intellectual Property law and Regulatory Compliance as fields that were not traditional per se and had few practitioners at the time and I thought ‘why not specialise here’. It’s a challenge and that’s how it happened. But, this was after I had worked briefly with a human rights organisation, in a commercial firm where I did litigation, banking & finance and others, all within my first year of work. So I believe you should always keep an open mind.

Q- What qualities make an exceptional lawyer in today’s world?

A- For me an exceptional lawyer is one who can provide their client with a timely solution that works; this must be a quick solution (fast turnaround time) that is cost effective (inexpensive) and ultimately solves the client’s problem. That is all. We leave school and we are all at some basic level of competence for sure, different circumstances can show that; some work well under pressure, some under no supervision etc but everyone given the right conditions can ultimately produce a bare minimum of the law. So then what sets us apart from one another? That is how fast we can arrive at a solution for our client and if it works.

Take for instance you maybe so good at research, but it takes you days and the client needs a solution today but you provide the best solution tomorrow – it is not useful anymore. So in order to provide a timely solution that works, one needs to be excellent in their work, presentation, appearance and delivery. Time is money and first impressions are everything. There are no second chances to make a first impression, so it’s A-game always or no game.

Q- What skills and qualifications should young lawyers today be acquiring to set them apart?

A- Excellence; this is the most important skill for a young lawyer to stand out from the crowd, excellence in all you do; appearance, presentation, research, documents etc. Teamwork is another; the road cannot be walked alone, so it is essential to leverage strengths and weaknesses for each team member to ensure the overall product is top notch. Some maybe good at research, some at presentation, some at organisation, so leverage each one’s key attribute. You must be able to work long hours, with little or no supervision and yet produce top notch work, you must be able to work under pressure and ultimately embrace technology to make your work easier.

Q- What makes Ortus Africa different from the other law firms in Uganda?

A- Well, the way it was set up. We are not your traditional law firm, we offer an array of services outside the traditional legal sphere. We have Ortus advocates to offer the law and tax and then we have Ortus Africa Capital to offer the Business Advisory and Financial Services, that way we are ensuring we are a one stop centre for all our clients’ needs. Our team is dynamic, we have over 12 Partners; some as young as 32 and others older, giving us a combined experience of 100 plus years, we have the highest number of female Partners in Uganda as well, which speaks to our diversity.

Q- What are your top tips for securing clerkships from law firms?

A- Show what value you will bring to the law firm. Let them see that in your interview, that special skill or attribute that will stand out and make you different from the rest or memorable, not your marks or documents, put your best foot forward by leading with something that no one else will probably have or say. The other one is to apply early, reach out to firms at networking events such that they may remember you, be brave and knock on doors and ask because no one ever lost anything from asking.

Q- What should young lawyers look out for in law firms when applying for clerkships?

A- It is important to do some due diligence on the firm’s track record with regard to training. You do not want to end up at a firm where you will not be trained or taught, or given work and just waste your 4 months. So ask around and ask previous placement students about their experiences there. Make sure it is a place that will add value to you.

Q- What advice would you give to your younger self at the start your legal career?

A- Have an open mind. You leave university thinking you have it all figured out but wow, the world quickly shows you otherwise. So yes, have an open mind. The other one is really to be excellent at all you do, in work, presentations, dressing and speech; exude excellence.

Q- What is your best networking tip?

A- Every opportunity is a potential networking opportunity, in a supermarket line, at an actual event, at a family function, at a football match, at the cinema, in a bar, at church, in a taxi with your neighbour. Do not underlook any opportunity, put your best foot forward always. That guy you make small talk with as you wait to pay at the supermarket could later turn out to be the MD of NSSF. So every opportunity counts.

Q- Why did you specialise in commercial law?

A- I specialised in commercial law because it affects almost everything around us, business, commerce, trade, politics and the economy and as a result is ever evolving and challenging. It keeps you on your toes ensuring there is never a dull day and you are always at your best. Afterall, learning never stops.

Q- What role did mentorship play in your career? Did you have any mentors growing up and how did you benefit from that relationship?

A- Mentorship was everything for me. By the time I finished by A-levels, I didn’t even think of law, but meeting people and being inspired by them, seeking them out to ask and listen to them, brought me to where I am today. From my first University Professor who gave me an internship to do research with him, to my first boss who taught me how to write a formal email (imagine no one ever teaches this), mentors make or break you. It is important to be inspired always and my 3 most important mentors taught me this.

Q- Which book would you bring to a deserted island?

A- 48 laws of power by Robert Greene because I anticipate I will need to rule that island, lol!

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