A conversation with Francis Njoroge Wanjiku on his legal journey and inspirations

Q- Tell us about yourself, what you do and your educational background.

My name is Francis Njoroge Wanjiku, 25-year-old lawyer and public policy enthusiast based in Nairobi/ London. I am currently a young professional at the Commonwealth Secretariat, an international organization that represents the interest of 54 member states and the well-being of the citizens. I am attached to the office of the Secretary General. The Secretary General, H.E Patricia Janet Scotland, QC is passionate about young people and how we can get young people to actively participate in the family, economy and politics. This passion drives and motivates me to work harder everyday to make life better for young people around the commonwealth. I joined the secretariat in November 2020.

In my previous role (2018-2020), I was working at Dentons Hamilton Harrison and Mathews in Nairobi as a legal assistant in the Dispute Resolution Department. During my pupillage at the firm, I learnt a lot. My skills as a marketer and a lawyer improved immensely. I sometimes think that I am ready to run my own legal department or law firm. Time will tell if this is true.

I started off as a legal assistant at Ngatia & Associates. I assisted Mr. Fred Ngatia SC in various high-profile litigation suits including Presidential Election Petition 2017 at the Supreme Court of Kenya. I studied Bachelor of Laws (LLB) at Strathmore University and graduated in June 2018.

During my time at the law school, my defining moments were:

Volunteering with Refugee Consortium of Kenya in 2015, as part of my community-based attachment course at Dadaab refugee Camp. It was a very eye-opening moment for me to visit a refugee camp for the first time. I worked with other UN accredited organizations at the camp for one month. Our team of volunteers left the camp due to insecurity at the camp. This was after a terrorist attack on a Kenyan university in the county.

In 2015 after I left the refugee camp, my whole body was paralysed due to a virus infection which affected my nervous system. Although doctors did not find out the cause of the sickness, it was suspected that I contracted it in Dadaab refugee camp. It is still a mystery for me too.

In 2016, I launched the Strathmore Law Clinic as a co-founding member and Chairperson. I had a great team of dedicated leaders and law students who went to prisons and visited communities in low income areas who were affected by police brutality and sometimes extra judicial killings. Since I graduated, I have seen the law clinic participate in very powerful campaigns such as campaign against domestic and sexual violence.

I participated in various seminars and moots including World Children’s rights Moot at Leiden University- Netherlands in 2017. This moot competition made me realize that we don’t pay much attention to rights of immigrant children.

Q- What made you chose a career in law?

My mom always says I don’t listen to anyone but myself. Then I thought how studying law was great for my personality. However, it has always been my hope to make a difference in my community. For me to make a difference, I need to know the rules and to know what lines not to cross.

Growing up, my mom was a teacher in a public school, and she was mostly on strike while I was in a private school early on. I did not understand why public-schools’ teachers strike. This made interested in labour issues affected public service workers and inequality in education between private and public school and inequality in public schools in rural and urban areas.

I think understanding studying law enables one to acquire different skills (leadership, communication, logic) which can be transferred to any career one wishes to pursue. For instance, most diplomats around the world, just do your research. You will find out I am right. It is not just diplomats, this applies to Ministers, civil society leaders etc.

Q- How did you find your undergrad studies in comparison to KSL?

Studying for bar exams is extremely challenging all over the world. Ultimately it depends on you as an individual. The time and skills you put into the time you are doing you bar school matters. I am not saying that LLB studies were much easier.

At the time I attended KSL I was also working. Most of the time I would be tired after commuting from Westlands to Karen. But as we speak, KSL is now virtual due to covid, so I guess the current cohort are having it much better.

The mode of delivery is a bit different from undergrad. The lecturers are much older and lesser creative. You are likely to find that the lecturer never updated his/her notes the last 3 years. so probably misquoting a few legislations. But the paramount thing is that you will find very good and caring lecturers who form the majority.

Q- What advice do you have for our members who are about to start KSL?

I am not sure I am the right person to advice on KSL. I failed two papers which I am retaking this April. But let me try:

Put in the time.

Add value to your group members.

Always be available for group reading and revision.

Generally, just work smart.

Q-How did you go about looking for pupilage and internships?

In Kenya we have two systems: Internships and Pupillage. Internships are for undergraduates while Pupillage is for KSL finalists as a mandatory. It is a difficult process but mostly for me, I was guided by my lecturers, professional networks I made when I attended different events, social media also played a big part.

Most of the time, it depends what a student is really interested in. I was interested in litigation but me during my first internship at KN law – a boutique corporate firm, I was much more interested in land transactions. My interest in dispute resolution developed later when I was involved in the Presidential election petition in 2017.

Q- What area of law do you specialize in and how did you make this choice?

If I was in active practice, I would be doing dispute resolution. This involves mainly court related litigation and arbitration. Alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediations are not widespread and sometimes are not lucrative for lawyers, so most lawyers do not get to conduct mediations.

I love going to court. Currently our court sessions are virtually. Limited court sessions are held physically. I hope we transform our judiciary fully virtually. 3 years ago, no lawyer or judge would hold a court session, but look at us now. We are making progress I believe.

What you specialize in is really about interest. I have not really specialized. There are lawyers who are granular and would do criminal or employment related disputes. For me, I am young and would love to learn more, so I am not really specialized. I just prefer to do court work rather than corporate or commercial work.

Q- What advice would you give your 18-year-old self before embarking on your legal journey?

Be more assertive and work harder in school. Maybe I would gotten better grades. Though I am not saying that I am a failure, I say there is always room for improvement.

Q- How do you stay motivated and focused?

I stay up late. I have insomnia so most nights I am up reading interesting articles like Harvard Business Review. Sometimes I take up free courses on MIT or Harvard especially on economics which I love. I run and walk at least 6 km daily since covid started. I like being alone so that motivates me.

Q- Who inspires you?

A lot of people. Firstly, my mother- raising three children as a single mom. I have had two bosses in my previous employment runs. Mr. Fred Ngatia SC and Mr. Kiragu Kimani SC. I can’t forget my pupil master Lorna Mainnah, partner Dentons HH&M too! Globally, innovators really inspire me – for exmaple Richard Branson and Elon Musk. I am also inspired by religious leaders such as Pope Francis, Joyce Meyer and Joel Osteen. Their words really resonate with my everyday life.

Q- What do you like to do outside of law?

The last few years, I paid a lot of focus just to complete my law studies and then when I completed last year, covid struck. So, my current plans are to focus really on youth empowerment projects like agriculture and innovation hubs. Plus, I want to plant a lot of trees, so in a few years, I will invite you to my forest. Basically, I want to focus my time and skills on projects that will empower young people like me. I am still consulting widely but we are going to get a few projects going.

Q- What is your life motto?

if you don’t like someone’s story, write your own. If you don’t like what somebody says, say what it is you don’t like. These words are from Chinua Achebe- probably things fall apart. It always motivates me to write my own story, craft my mistakes, fail on my own but most of all show the world the dangers of single story/narrative which Author Chimamanda Ngozi warns us about.

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