Running a law firm

The subject is law. After eight years of legal practice, one of those as Managing Partner at G.M. Gamma Advocates LLP, Gad Ouma’s litigation presence is lithe and assured. He represents a diverse portfolio of corporate clients, personalities and state corporations, including Kenya Power – he successfully navigated a class-action suit for the latter. Establishing the firm in July 2019 as a limited liability partnership based in Nairobi, he and his partners quickly realized that the Firm had grown exponentially with clients across the various regions in the country and, with just months into their operation, established the Mombasa Branch to cater to their growing client base. Barely a year old in the market, the firm is already on the path towards attaining an ISO 9001:2015 certification on Quality Management Systems, an illustration of its extra focus on offering high quality legal services to its clients. A cum laude graduate of Moi University, Gad sat down with the Nairobi Business Monthly for a chat.

What is the philosophy behind G.M. Gamma Advocates?

Our institutional philosophy can be summed up in the acronym ARCS: Available to our clients, and reliable service delivery; Result-oriented – meaning we first seek to understand a client’s business needs to generate solutions that respond to the unique legal needs of our clients; Confidentiality, which is paramount and non-negotiable; and the Soundness of the legal and advisory services we offer.

What is your niche?

We are a versatile firm that offers legal, advisory and training over a broad spectrum of laws. We, amongst others, have expertise in commercial law, dispute resolution, Arbitration, Aviation, Banking and Financial Services, Succession & Real Estate Management, and labour and employment laws. We straddle a wide range of sectors, from mining, telecommunication, energy, construction, agribusiness, financial services, healthcare, insurance and manufacturing, among others. In the one year we have existed, we have morphed into a cogent team of Advocates and Legal Consultants that prides itself with a bottomline of quality and professionalism. We also practice preventive law.

What does preventive law entail?

It means we anticipate likely legal challenges and proffer legal solutions in a broad scope of areas through legal and corporate governance, training and audits, and compliance legislation. Like preventive medicine, preventive law works to prevent problems before they arise. It entails dealing with ‘hot facts’, which can be altered because they haven’t yet arisen. 

What goes into starting a law firm?

The practice of law is both a business and a profession. To run a successful law firm, one must see it as both. Before you make the commitment, you need to ask yourself: Do I want to be involved in the entire running of the business? Am I committed to being a business owner and leader – not just an attorney? Do I consider the time I spend working on developing and maturing the business as important as my career/work? If the answers here are all affirmative, you must then focus on building a team that you can trust. It helps if you scout for such people early enough so that you also determine if you have a shared passion and culture. Don’t be after hiring employees simply to fill a position; hire smart – people who embody the vision and mission of the firm, who will help you grow the business.

So like any other business then?

You could say so, but it is much more than that, because it is anything but conventional business. To be successful, you will need to invest immense amounts of time so that you over deliver and be consistent at it. Time – for your clients and your firm family – is your most precious commodity. When delivering a draft plaint is expected Wednesday, deliver it on Monday afternoon. Return calls and emails promptly. Create your niche and work outwards as you grow. Break out of your comfort zone and aim to solve problems, then deliver consistent results. Most importantly, build relationships and be grateful – you never understand how important it is to say thank you and appreciate those around you until you begin doing it.

What is your financing model?

Sufficient capital is essential for a successful business, as is having the understanding of how to manage it properly. It is important to put aside adequate funds to begin and subsequently run for months while you give room for stability of the firm. Planning ahead is also crucial. I often ask myself: how will I finance my business growth plans for the next half a decade? It is also prudent to consider options for outside financing. Finally, one has to track the firm’s spending to be able to predict trends and plan ahead. Tracking weekly and monthly expenditure is a key factor for growth and sustainable development.

You left a good job at Robson Harris & Co. Advocates where you were the head of litigation to start your own firm. Why?

The Firm of Robson Harris Advocates, and more so, its Managing Partner Jane Mwangi have been instrumental to my professional growth. Now to answer your question, I started G.M Gamma Advocates, LLP because I felt ready for the challenge, and I believed in myself. I set out to offer a blueprint for those willing to put in the work, to demonstrate 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 reputation to be synonymous with quality. We are keen to progressively create a brand that people associate with honesty, professionalism and service. It will take time and hard work, but we want to show that it can be done-failure is not an option. 

What have been your biggest challenges?

As a business, teething challenges are not uncommon. For example, sometimes we have to deprioritize some projects by diverting funding to more pressing needs. At other times, we have found some of our structures to require reorientation so as to be in tandem with our 2020-2023 Strategic Plan, which means that we lose both time and resources already utilised. In terms of practice, we are still building fluency around emerging and under explored areas of law such as the extractives industry, aviation law, sports law, environmental law, and economic crimes and cyber law. As these gaps become apparent with time, so does our ever-expanding practice portfolio. 

How are you addressing these challenges?

At the start of the year, the Firm contracted a highly qualified Consultant to help it develop its Strategic Plan for the year 2020-2023 Strategic Plan. This was an elaborate process that took 4 months and closely involved its staff and all stakeholders including its clients and relevant professional bodies. The Strategic Plan was eventuality put into motion on 1st July, 2020. The Plan will enable the Firm to take bold initiatives in redefining the business and practise of law, and propel it to greater heights through delivering a unique mix of values. We are constantly developing our human resource capacity, infrastructure, leveraging our partnerships and linkages, and facilitating training to develop our firm professionally, and obtain the knowledge we need to build fluency in new or emerging areas. This way, we hope to be well equipped to deal with any challenges that come our way.

How many people do you employ? 

There are 19 of us, including 10 legal practitioners and an administration docket with a complement of 9. That makes us a medium-sized firm.

What, in your view, is the best way to spur the growth of a law firm?

Growth is a deliberate strategy and planning in advance is paramount. In our case, the blue print for our growth for the next four years is encompassed in our Strategic Plan, 2020-2023.

Conventionally, this requires a sound business strategy, which entails creating efficient systems, retaining and attracting new clients through impeccable service and managing your finances well. It always pays to be client-centred; let the experience for clients be like nothing they will get elsewhere. 

Beyond that, in this age, it also helps to build your brand to make it visible in traditional channels and on professional social media platforms. Besides winning cases and offering first rate services that can be associated with excellence, build and develop the actors in your circles. Creating and maintaining a credible presence on professional networking sites such as LinkedIn and even YouTube one of the best investments you can make. As well, invest in your company website and populate it with compelling internal content; it is the first point of reference for potential clients and your most important resume. Finally, invest in the community around you, whether that is corporate social responsibility or doing some pro bono work. Whereas this might be looked at cynically, service to the local community has got its own reward.

How is practice in Kenya as compared to other jurisdictions in Africa? 

I think what is true for one individual is not necessarily so for the next, no matter how similar their qualifications or circumstances. If you scrutinise the legal space in the country, there are opportunities to be found, particularly because our expanding economy provides opportunities for lawyers in different sectors and industries. The changing nature of legal practice, for example the infusion of technology into law, presents both opportunities and challenges that are not unique to Kenya, but to which different jurisdictions are accommodating differently.

How do you deal with leadership and practice challenges?

As the Managing Partner at the Firm and previously during my leadership position at Robson Harris Advocates, I have learned the value of maintaining my objectivity and looking for opportunities to collaborate. I am not confrontational, but I am also firm and fair.

What advice do you have for young lawyers who want to venture in law, and legal practice in particular?

One, believe in yourself and never allow doubt to seep in. Two, learning is lifelong; you won’t know everything once, but if you commit yourself fully to learning, listening and putting in the time and effort, you will become the best version of yourself. Three, patience is a virtue; be ambitious but temper that with objective fortitude. Four, learn to be a leader by owning up to mistakes and learning from them. Lastly, there is no monopoly of knowledge; learn from others and be generous enough to pass that on by mentoring as much as you can.

Is business ever slow? How do you cope? 

It is easy to settle into the famine-feast cycle – enjoying times of plenty and bearing out the so-called famine months. I have learnt to plan ahead. We work with quarterly work plans, which feed into annual plans and ultimately into the overall Strategic Plan, 2020-2023. COVID has reinforced the idea of saving for rainy days, and this is the principle we live by. We invest in and work towards retaining both staff, who are our human assets, and clients, who keep our bottom-line healthy.

Where do you see the company in the next five years? 

We anchor this in the full implementation and realisation of our strategic priorities as encapsulated in our Strategic Plan, 2020-2023. We want to be the firm of choice for corporate and individual clients. More specifically, our strategic priorities are based on the following broad pillars: client management – through anticipating and catering to their legal needs intuitively and efficiently; business development – through evolving to adapt to emerging trends and setting our brand apart, including by leveraging new practice areas, growing our client base and optimising revenue collection; and institutional capacity development – through strengthening our governance mechanisms and entrenching a performance-based culture.  

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