- Hello Linda. Can we get to know more about you, and what endeared you to the legal profession?
I am a lawyer based in Kampala, Uganda. I love the law. I practice it, I teach it, and I innovate it. I knew from as early as grade 5 that I wanted to be a lawyer. I was raised in a family where our Dad and Grand-dad were lawyers and very successful ones at that. I grew up seeing them buried in law books and arguments, and that must have been where I fell in love with the law. But I have also always loved teaching, so I am not surprised that I ended up as a law teacher.
- What areas of law do you practice in, and why specifically to these practice areas?
I specialize in commercial practice. Both advisory and litigation. Supporting businesses to reach their full potential brings me great joy. I pride myself in being an honest and reliable counsellor in transactions and a fierce warrior in the courtroom who leaves no stone unturned. Most of my clients are from the financial sector. But Female Entrepreneurs have a special place in my heart, and I never hesitate to burn myself up fighting their causes. About 25% of the common cases I take to court are to fight for their justice in this male-dominated world.
- Alongside legal practice, you also teach at the Law Development Centre in Uganda. In your opinion, do you think law teachers should have significant practice experience? Will it improve the quality of Africa’s legal education in any way?
I must answer this in the context of the education that LDC offers in Uganda. We skill lawyers for practice. It is a requirement that we have the skills we seek to impart to Bar Course students. I can see how this would benefit the other aspects of legal education, but I am also alive to the impossible balance that being in practice and teaching at the same time is. Because I believe that particularly for professions like the law, the relationship between a teacher and their student enriches the learning experience. William Arthur Ward said, “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” But to inspire, which is my personal goal as a teacher, requires a lot of time if it is to be genuine and authentic. So, yes, for LDC, teachers must have practice experience, but it may not be reasonable to dictate the same requirement for other kinds of legal education.
- You’re an avid tech user, and in fact, you created the Nkola App in 2018. What was the inspiration behind creating this App, and what does it do? Two years after you’ve founded Nkola App, how well will you rate the software’s achievement in light of the founding vision?
Nkola App was born during a time in my life when being a mom physically prevented me from meeting legal needs. It was from the realization that when my body cannot physically deliver the services I am passionate about, technology, which doesn’t have those limitations, can. It is a USSD App, and it is not free to use. But it has been used thousands of times, and there is no way I could have met such need in my physical capacity. The thing I consider most successful has been the inspiration it has been for a shift in the minds of legal practitioners to what the possibility of technology is. The other achievement is what this journey as a legal innovator has taught me. In many ways, how we practice the law is detached from the people it is supposed to help. And we must return to being customer-centred if our profession to survive the digital age. Technology can be the catalyst for that customer-centric approach. We have not yet achieved the founding vision for the App’s reach use and technical aspects, but I have seen an inspiring number of fellow lawyers consider technology in delivering legal services, and that has been a fulfilling and unintended part of my venturing into this field.
- Africa has been at the centre of global media for a few weeks now. Across many African countries like Namibia, Cameroon, Nigeria, and Ivory Coast, there are protests against police brutality, human exploitation, extrajudicial killings, and other human rights violation. Most of these vices seem to have more youths and women at their receiving end. What internal mechanisms do you think African countries can adopt to restore the rule of law and meet the demands of citizens?
One of the things we often forget is how much Rule of Law is directly linked to economic empowerment. Bryan Stevenson said the Opposite of Poverty is not wealth. In many places, the opposite of poverty is justice. And I believe that is most true for Africa. All the things you just listed that plague us as a continent also hold us back from realizing our full potential. And until we as a people realize that direct link, we will keep getting it wrong. So as a legal practitioner, I like to think about my own contribution to the Rule of Law. Because it does not have political, gender, religious, or even professional sides! If you are a lawyer in government service that confuses Rule of Law with political power, you have failed the internal mechanism supposed to protect you at a certain point. Same thing if you are a Company Secretary who uses your legal knowledge and position to trample on the rights of minority shareholders. I remember once being a legal manager in a company that was multi-national and upsetting my Bosses on many occasions when my legal advice meant that someone they wanted to fire immediately had to be given a hearing or that a client’s cargo could not be held arbitrarily. And one time, my Managing Director, after hearing my opinion, asked me in a furious tone, “Linda, who pays you?” My answer was, “Justice pays me and will continue to do so long after you have stopped.” And I think that the realization that our knowledge and skills are part of a wider ecosystem that promotes and sustains the Rule of Law and that this is directly linked to us as individuals and all of us as a collective is empowering. So it is easy to remove the responsibility from ourselves as individuals and speak about “internal mechanisms,” but what that really is, is who we are as professionals and how that feeds into the systems we build to embody Rule of Law. Outside of law, what are your interests?
- As a Partner in a law firm and a major stakeholder in legal education, what do you think employers will be looking for in young professionals applying for legal roles in a pandemic year? Are expectations changing?
“Major stakeholder in legal education” sounds scary! Allow me to speak as an employer and teacher. I don’t think it’s because of the pandemic, but expectations were already changing. And it’s not even really expectations; it’s about needs. The legal consumer’s needs have changed. And not just the legal consumer but every consumer. The same demand expected of bankers, insurers, manufacturers are now being felt by the legal sector. Which is that the customer in the digital age has options. So you can not treat them as if you are a god when they have legal needs. They will go elsewhere. As an employer, the person you need in this consumer-driven world is someone who has found their purpose and demonstrating that in how they meet needs. Young people who are not self-driven, supervised, proactive, “switched on,” adoptive and teachable will fail their employers even if they have the best grades or know most about certain fields. All that knowledge does not count as much as attitude and outlook in life. Simple things like effective communication can strain a relationship with a client, and will it may not have been taught in law school; it is what makes a difference if a client keeps their business with you or not. There is an alarming sense of entitlement and overachievement that young lawyers come out of law school with. And, let’s give it to them, law school can be hard and long and frustrating, but that does not mean the world owes you anything. Degrees and other academic qualifications are the beginning and not the end of professional training. Tomorrow’s lawyer must get a better grasp of their playing field and be prepared to adapt many times because there are wonderful opportunities for those that invest in healthy life outlooks and attitudes, and that is what an employer looks for more than your qualifications and grades.
- Outside of law, what are your interests?
I have four amazing daughters, and raising them has opened my eyes to how important it is to make the world a better place for them and their aspirations. I literally see all of life through those lenses. So my main interest is leadership and making the world more gender-fair. I believe that the world needs more women in positions of influence, service, and leadership. And it is my passion and interest to identify, mentor, support, and inspire more women leaders.
- Donald Trump or Joe Biden? Do you think the aftermath of the US Presidential Election will significantly influence the emergence of the WTO’s first African and first female Director-General?
Trump does not represent who my kind of leader would be at any level. So if it is Trump versus Biden, it will definitely be Biden or probably even anyone other than Trump. I hope Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala gets it because her aspirations are aligned with mine since she wants to figure out how women and youth can benefit more from world trade. If Trump wins, he will most probably not endorse her because he needs someone to continue his US-China Wars (although I wonder who that might be). But regardless of who will be at the head of WTO or the USA, I believe Africa needs to get serious and stop relying on the US. If we are counting on anyone giving us our economic freedom, we shall always be at the risk of them taking it away. And that’s why for me, our economic goals should be aligned with our Rule of Law values.
- Any final words?
Thank you for the great work you are doing. We don’t have enough inspiration to go round! And it is such an honour to grace the pages of your inspiring organization as the lawyer of the month! There is a song I usually sing to young people. They must find their purpose in life. The work we live in now is too demanding and exhausting, and it is almost impossible to give what it demands without tapping into our deeper selves. And one way to do is to develop personal break lines, passions, and interests and then find ways to meet those with what one does as a lawyer.
Thank you very much for your time.