A conversation with Isaac Kyagaba on his legal journey and deciding what area of law to specialise in

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

A- My name is Isaac N. Kyagaba son of Mary Nakyanzi and an advocate of the high court of Uganda and courts subordinate thereto. I am also, most importantly, the father to three of my mother’s grandchildren. An ardent Liverpool FC fan, a realist, an admirer of Robin Sharma’s works and finally grateful and humbled to be given this platform to share with you and your members a few of my thoughts or views on different aspects.

I do what each and every lawyer does. The difference is that I do it with an exceptionally talented team at Dentons. My partners make what I do easy especially where it seems either difficult or challenging. So, what do I do? My answer is this – I work with an amazing group of people to deliver quality services to our clients.

Q- How did you decide on what area of law to specialise in and what advice can you give to our members on making this decision?

A- In law school, I had two exceptionally gifted lecturers – tax law and insurance law lecturers. To this day, I revere both of them and consider them to be living legends. I vowed to pursue a career in tax law with insurance somewhere in the mix. I got an opportunity to join a law firm that had one of the leading tax/revenue law practitioners in Uganda. (Un)fortunately, the said partner was more of an introvert and it was difficult for him to let in people he had not personally hired. It became hard for me to hone my skills in tax. I ended up abandoning that path. It was a dead end.

As fate would have it, one of the first assignments I was given was a construction arbitration. The lead was a Queen’s counsel. He opened my eyes to world of arbitration and construction. It was a two in one for me. A few years later, one of the partners from a leading global firm (name withheld) visited Uganda and I was lucky enough to walk in while he was sharing his experiences.

At this stage, I had developed a liking for Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) due to time spent (or wasted) in litigation. I was so fascinated by the monetary value of disputes that parties had voluntarily agreed to refer to an arbitration. It was then that I realised that ADR was the future of resolving disputes in a timely manner. The partner from the global firm invited questions when he finished his mini-presentation. I asked him what was his best pay day in arbitration. He told me USD $41,000,000. I was sold. That was the day I removed any doubts that were lingering in my mind whether ADR was lucrative enough.

My advice is simply this – consider specialising in an area of law that will make you look forward to each day of your legal career. Something you love and find ease doing. Most importantly, at least to me, it should pay you well.

Q- What three things do you attribute to your sucess thus far, in your legal career?

A- I do not consider myself successful…..yet.  I am still hungry and foolish.

Q- What makes an exceptional lawyer in your view?

A- I have been privileged to work with exceptional lawyers in my brief career. What I noticed about all of them was that they are/were extremely hardworking, humble and are never contented with the little knowledge they had/have. They all have/had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and would leave no stone unturned to resolve a client’s issue or problem. So, in my opinion, what makes an exceptional lawyer is his/her self-drive and passion to push it to the limit. One that goes for the jugular rather than settle for the ordinary (obviously after careful and thorough study).

Q- What key characteristics do you look for when hiring at your firm? what makes a candidate standout to you?

A- I do not think I am at liberty to discuss some of those characteristics. However, in my opinion, some candidates possess the X-factor and that is what makes them standout. It is rather difficult to describe what the X-factor is. However, when I meet a candidate with it, (s)he automatically stands out.

Q- What makes Kyagaba & Otatiina Advocates different from other law firms in Uganda?

A- I do not know what you mean by different. I think all law firms are different based on their partners, business model and areas of practice etc. I am not a big fan of comparing per se.

What I can say about our firm is that we are driven to challenge the status quo, delivering consistent and uncompromising quality and value to our clients in new and innovative ways. We measure our success by the service we provide. Regardless of the scale and scope of our Client’s business needs, we ensure that the client gets the individual attention required. Whether the matter is big or small, if it is important to the client, then it is important to us.

Q- At what point did you feel you were ready to start your own practice?

A- When I felt that I could not be of more value than I was already giving due to various factors.

Q- What are things to consider when thinking of starting your own practice?

A- The mental strength to handle the challenges that lie ahead. The rest relate to things like synergy, putting together the right team with the same philosophy, mission and vision; resources etc.

Q- Who has inspired your journey so far?

A- My mother.

Q- What role did mentorship play in your career?

A- A very big role. I personally followed my mentors. Some don’t even know they are my mentors.

Q- What advice do you have for lawyers considering further education (masters) after having practiced for some years?

A- Pursue an education that can be of benefit to you, your career and your community.

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