Anne Mugwere-Agimba specialises in family law ad has served as an advocate of the High Court for more than 15 years. She is also a partner at Agimba and Associates Advocates.
What is family law?
Most people see it in terms of divorce, child maintenance and succession. In actual sense, it is a branch of law that incorporates commercial aspects as well. Notably, property is the main cause of disputes within families as relatives haggle over management and distribution of the family estate. Family lawyers come in to guide parties embroiled in property rows and help resolve them.
Why did you choose to pursue family law?
When I started working, a growing number of indigenous Kenyans had grown from small-scale investors to owners of multi-million-shilling investments. As such, the demand for consultation around governance of family property was on the rise. I saw it as a ripe opportunity. My desire was to work at a boutique law firm with a firm clientele base, which I have since achieved.
How do you navigate disputes without driving a wedge between the conflicting parties?
As a lawyer, you must recognise that the relationship between husband and wife, siblings and relatives are personal. These relationships must be safeguarded. A wife may want to sell her shares in the family business, for instance, which her husband may be opposed to. Even as you guide your client, you must be careful that this doesn’t result in divorce, for example. Other than taking the legal route to resolve a dispute, it’s also important to involve other professionals such as counsellors to advise the parties. An alcoholic relative who is running down the family business may need to see a psychologist before a lawyer comes in.
In what ways has the sphere of family law evolved during your practice?
Clients today are more knowledgeable on various aspects of family law than they were before. Even when they consult lawyers, they already have an understanding of their rights. Secondly, the economy was slow back then but today the complexity of family wealth has expanded and so have disputes. More international law firms have set up base locally to tap into the opportunities.
Research shows that 60 per cent of Kenyans don’t have a will. What are the downsides of this situation?
As a responsible citizen, having a will in place isn’t a choice. The law says that the estate of each person must be administered. When you die without a will, you leave it to the court to make a decision for you in the way it deems fair.
Why would you work so hard for many years only to leave it to other people to decide how your wealth will be distributed? Many families suffer, fight and children end up with the wrong guardians because of such a vacuum. It’s also embarrassing for your family to try to figure you out when you’re long dead. If you wish to give it out to charity do so, it’s you wealth. But write a will.
Does the State have a role in this?
Yes. Ninety-eight per cent of businesses in Kenya are family-owned. When families break apart because of disputes relating to estates, this wealth goes into waste, mostly in legal battles. So yes, it’s upon the government to develop a strong policy that guides family businesses.
To what extent have Kenyans heeded calls to embrace mediation?
Families who resort to go to court will mostly have tried mediation but failed to agree. Fascinatingly, it’s the aggressors (those who sue others) that are usually most inclined to pursue mediation when the court recommends it. A significant proportion of Kenyans prefer mediation to court.
Describe your reading habits.
I read a lot of autobiographies, journals and business magazines. I read to keep abreast of global events and economy. I also read for enjoyment and to widen my scope of interests. Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is a classic. I am a mother so Praying Circles Around Your Children by Mark Batterson has been quite helpful. Lastly, The 80/20 Principle by Richard Koch has influenced my habits.
Any professional missteps?
The legal profession demands decorum and gravitas. There’s no space for recklessness. I wish though I had been more aggressive. Sometimes I have fallen into the trap of believing a client even when they were lying, which has affected the quality of our case.
Advice for young practitioners?
If you are passionate about music, business, marine life, sports, environment or anything else, law gives you room to pursue your interest. Learn as many things as possible because knowledge is never wasted.