To My Son on Joining The Bar
July 19, 2022
My dear son, you join the Bar 29 years and 2 days since I, too, took the oath to join this noblest of professions. When I did, we were much fewer but I have been around to see the tremendous changes that have occurred in the profession, the law and our country.
Seeing as I have been a practitioner, a Law Society politician, Prosecutor, teacher of Law and now an appellate judge for 6 months’ shy of a decade, I count myself blessed. I also think that I have been a success in our calling.
Allow me to say, without elaboration, what I think is the Alphabet of Success which I commend to you to consider and hopefully be persuaded to follow.
- Awareness – of who you are (self-awareness) where you are (environmental awareness) and the times in which you live for our days are always fleeting, so be the best version of yourself for this time.
- Boldness - this life needs people who are bold enough to stand for what is right – even if they have to stand alone. Don’t ever be intimidated by the seeming enormity of any task or the force or prestige of the opposition.
- Character – character is the essential you. Choose to be a person who is solid on the inside, who is true and dependable. Someone that people of goodwill and perception can vouch for as a good man.
- Determination – I don’t think I even need to elaborate on this. Your being where you are is testament to the singleness of purpose that refuses to quit no matter how tough things seem. Give your dreams and ambitions all you have, within reason and law, and don’t ever give up no matter how steep the climb.
- Excellence – be committed to doing the best and being the best in all that you do. Don’t give in to the temptations of the age that normalize mediocrity. Don’t be satisfied with average, but seek to go deeper, rise higher, work longer. It’s better to be thoroughgoing than to be easygoing.
- Faith – it may sound really old-fashioned but best believe that faith is a firm foundation upon which you can securely anchor all of your life. No amount of learning or living should seduce you to think that God can be relegated to irrelevance or reduced to insignificance. Rather, let faith give you courage in fear and comfort in grief. Tough times invariably come but by faith we overcome them.
- Gratitude – the power of thank you is often underrated and way too many people attribute all they are and have to the brilliance of their minds or the greatness of their efforts. Think of how small a number of lawyers there are (despite the monumental efforts of so many people) and know that there is a great measure of grace and favour that attends our ways. Learn therefore to thank God, your parents – you may start with me, but I care more that you should let your mothers know how much you treasure their sacrifices, their prayers, their counsel. Be thankful and say it to all who helped you along the way. Thankfulness is the surest way to show you’ve eschewed the curse of entitlement.
- Humility – I know that because we lawyers are generally so intelligent and eloquent and have a way of getting into money, it’s so easy to swell in the head and be filled with hubris. Avoid it like the plague. Remain down-to/earth – in the end we are all earth. Don’t ever look down upon any person or see any task as beneath you. Back at Alliance (which is no exception to the humility rule) we all, without exception “specialized”, that altogether inappropriate euphemism for doing toilet cleaning duties. It never killed us but it taught us to respect all.
- Integrity - you are entering a profession with many a temptation. Resolve and determine to be honest and true in all your dealings. Never offer and never accept a bribe for anything: you’d rather retreat to the quiet of Karaus and take care of the few cows and goats we have there than be in the big city selling your clients’ causes, cutting corners, embezzling clients’ money or being the conduit or recipient of what the Bible quaintly calls filthy lucre. Life is tough enough without having to be someone’s prayer item seeking retribution.
- Justice – should be the aim of all your endeavors. You should fear and tremble at the thought that anything you do using the powerful tool of law will in itself or in its effect work unfairness and injustice. See, instead, that you use the law and the learning you have and you’ll continue to acquire, as a platform for helping people to solve their problems in ways that show that right, not might, carries the day. Remember, that as you wield the law, the Shakespearean caution that it is excellent to have the strength of a giant but tyrannous to use it like a giant.
- Knowledge – the sea of knowledge is infinitely deep and wide. Make it a point to always be reading books on all manner of subjects. Our brains are a sponge that can take all we could ever immerse ourselves in. Don’t spend your days reading law books only. Develop an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and read voraciously. You can only be a better and polished man as a result.
- Love – I saw you pause, startled at the seeming incongruity of this one, but I encourage you to seek, find, cultivate and revel in love. You know I’ve been a man much loved and I have loved prodigiously. I testify that to love and to be loved is the key that releases creative force. It turns a writer into a poet, and adds colour and substance to life. Find love and you’ll see your confidence rise, you’ll become a channel of blessing and you’ll in turn be blessed. Don’t listen to dogmatic prescriptions about Love and take only this: it is the strongest of all things, none of us is too mighty as not to bend before it, and it is stronger than death. Remember the Desiderata: “…Neither be cynical about Love. Amid all the aridity and disenchantment, is as perennial as the grass.” Lawyers in love (which may sound like an oxymoron) are the best of lawyers.
- Money is a good thing to seek and to have, so make an effort to make money. Ensure you work so hard and so well, people will be willing to pay a premium for your services. Don’t sell yourself short but don’t be greedy. You see, it is said that money is never enough so learn to be content with what you have. You needn’t be filthy rich (though it’s not a particularly bad idea) so don’t kill yourself in the search for money. And don’t give in to the temptations and schemes that promise quick bucks. Let money work for you. It is as good only as it is used. Learn to grow it. Make savings for investment and for a rainy day. Join a Sacco (I hope you will find Sheria Sacco, of which I am chairman, worthy of your membership). Take risks, but let them be calculated risks. Once you have enough to meet your basic needs and to support those closest to you, you’ll be quite ok. Don’t be a hoarder because we leave it all here in the end.
- Negotiate. It is so easy to imagine that once you’re called to the bar you’ve been handed a license to go kick ass, which is true, but only to an extent. In all the disputes that feed lawyers and other human interactions, it is always much better to reach negotiated settlements instead of beating the opposition to the ground. To negotiate is not to be weak, it is to be wise. Isn’t it better to win an enemy over into friendship than to win over him and cement the enmity? Encourage your clients to consider negotiation and remember, everything is negotiable. Things that look impossible are actually quite possible if you try with the right and positive attitude of the mind. This applies in law as it does in love and all of life.
- Openness of mind is indispensable to success in law. Things that look open-and-shut may not be so open-and-shut, so have an attitude of the mind that is open to seeing other possibilities and other world views. Don’t be afraid to be persuaded to change your mind if the evidence and the occasion demand it. Don’t be afraid to admit to having been wrong. As the great Winston Churchill is reputed to have said, eating one’s words does not cause constipation. And remember everyone goes through an intensely personal and unique journey of life, so do appreciate that there may be other world views.
- Prayer does open doors for sure. I know that I’ve prayed for myself and for my loved ones on a daily basis and I may never know this side of heaven what traps and tragedies we all may have been spared as a result. I know prayer works because your late grandma, my mother, was a woman of prayer and those prayers availed much. Take time to talk to your God and mine. Seek His guidance in the decisions you make and seek His presence, providence and protection. Don’t be embarrassed to take your girl’s hand in a restaurant and thank God before a meal. It is true that a man of faith on his knees is more powerful than a standing army that may be arrayed against him. Prayer does wonders as Biblical King Hezekiah and many others beside would testify. Pray that you’ll always be a worthy wielder of the law and minister of Justice.
- Questions are the tools by which we seek to discover the truth. Learn to ask the right question and you’ll get the right answer. Master the art of framing the question and you’ll make a great courtroom lawyer. Don’t ever shy away from asking the question that you know must be asked. And don’t ever take anything at face value. Dare to question anything and everything. Copernicus dared to question the whole world’s lazy acceptance that the earth was flat. He was alone, but he was right. You know that as Adventists we question the Sunday sabbath. It took courageous black men to question the sick doctrine of white supremacy. You know that I question the biblical foundation of some of the practices and teachings that are taken to be Christian. You’ve seen my questioning (in my Family Law book) of the church’s anti-polygamy dogma. Question and get your own answers. Don’t accept uncritically human creeds – not even mine.
- Restraint is a thing of great value. In this life you will be greatly provoked by situations and people at the office, in court, at home. It is so easy to hit back and give measure for measure. However, learn to keep your head. Take a deep breath and count to ten (or take ten deep breaths). That silence is the face of great offense may save you much grief. There is no weakness in being calm when you could hit back. It is a sign of maturity and great self-discipline, wherein lies mastery. So when some damsel insults you (as sometimes they will), be calm. When a magistrate acts unfairly and speaks to you disrespectfully, remain respectful and maintain your cool. Be unruffled. It is called equanimity and there are few words more powerful when learned and practiced.
- “Sober as a judge” is not a state to be entered into when you become a judge. It ought to be a lifestyle. You know I’ve never tasted alcohol all my life and I can’t say I’m the poorer for it, or that I have missed out on life. You’ve been called to the Bar, not to the bars across the estates and across town. I told you that Chief Justice Emeritus Willy Mutunga always referred to alcohol as “mkojo wa Shetani” (Satan’s urine or, if you like, the Devil’s pee). I need not remind you of the destruction alcohol has wrought in our extended family and how grateful I am that no one in our immediate family drinks. This life is tough and needs our full faculties to navigate it. Keep as sober as you’ve been and you’ll never regret it. There’s no shame in drinking water even when you come into money.
- Temperance – beyond sobriety, I urge that you exercise self-control in all other spheres of life. Live to the full but learn to impose limits on yourself and have those about you respect them. Learn to say enough and don’t overdo everything, even the good things, as there can be too much of a good thing. That way you will avoid illnesses that are associated with lifestyle choices. It would be a shame for a promising life to be cut short or be burdened with debilitating conditions because one failed to exercise self-control. Say No, and That will be a Yes to the good life.
- Understanding is a place and state we get to eventually, but only if we are willing. I’m not sure at what point one gets to know themselves but I know that I know a lot more about myself, life, love, heartbreak and the inevitability of death than I did when I joined the Bar as you have done today. Some of the things you will learn about yourself and will unsettle you and disturb those around you. This may greatly disturb and perturb you, but I urge you to understand that it is but life’s unfolding. People you love will also change with time and you might be bewildered but I urge you to understand and embrace change in the seasons of life to come. And when I, your father should say adieu to this life, understand that to be the way it should be, and step up and do what you must do. Understand.
- Vanity: The Preacher in Ecclesiastes was right to conclude that in the end everything is vanity. We run our race of life but we are limited to this temporal sphere which we must in time exit. The inevitability of the end should not cause us to sulk or to live in the shadows. Rather, we should live fully, enthusiastically, soaking in the sunshine of existence. But as we do so, we should learn not to take life, our careers or ourselves too seriously because they all pass away, or we go and leave them to be enjoyed or wasted by others. Just do your best. Live in the present moment but remember an accounting shall be had for your sojourn upon this vain plane.
- Wonder. Take time to wonder at the mystery, the simplicity, the complexity and the magic of life. Be curious about what make human beings tick. That wonder will make you a better, more empathetic advocate and human being. Pause and talk to a little child. Take time to enjoy the sunset. Smell a flower along the way. Tell a girl you love her and see her eyes light up. Be unafraid to sing – even off key. Stare at the sky on a cloudless night. Don’t bury the little boy in you under the burden of long judgments by judges long dead. Wonder at the wonder of it all – that Jesus loves you.
- Exercise is good for you. Don’t ever get too busy to move! Once upon a time you loved football and I watched you do your thing at Kesogon. Your brothers, seeing you for the first time, thought you were the most skilled footballer in the world. Law School and its schedules slowed you down. Practice can be worse but don’t allow it. So run, and walk, keep moving. Whatever you do, don’t be a couch potato. Don’t vegetate. Be physically fit – you’ll thank me later.
- Yield when you have to. Yield the point when the case on the other side is unanswerable. Don’t insist on an argument just because it is your argument. You’ll only appear obstinate and obdurate and we judges don’t like such advocates. Be gracious and concede. Withdraw an application or a case that can’t fly. You don’t have to win every argument. Accept that sometimes you may have goofed, and cut your loses. Do so with a smile and good cheer. You will be respected for it.
- Zest – a life this beautiful and a profession so noble and privileged is no place for mere existence. It is not a place for listless feet-dragging. No! Life is to be lived passionately, lustfully, fully! You’ve been placed on this planet for a purpose. Live life enthusiastically. Have some fire in the belly. Stride like a colossus so that when you leave, it shall be with a bang! Be felt and let everyone you touch, every friend you make, every client you represent, every court you address – let life itself – know that you left a memorable impression.
And you, my son, my Young Learned Friend, will have succeeded.
All the best.
9 May 2022.