London Connection Q&A: Justice James Rika

Justice James Rika talks to Suraya Saleh about his work as a Judge of the Industrial Court of Kenya, studying for the LLM, and taking study advice from a 12-year-old
LLM alumnus Justice James Rika on a trip to London.
LLM alumnus Justice James Rika on a trip to London.
I am motivated in my career by the need to offer better legal services to the public today than I did yesterday. I am driven by the need to develop my understanding of the law, and enhance my capacity to administer it.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am 45 years old, married with three children. I have practised law privately for 12 years and worked in the public sector for five years. I am currently serving as a Judge of the Industrial Court of Kenya.

You graduated with a Master of Laws (LLM) in 2010, how have your studies helped you in your work?
Studying at the University of London has helped me understand international dispute resolution mechanisms better. It has helped me in dealing with employment disputes that have cross-border elements, in an age of high labour migration. I have come to understand the workings of international courts and tribunals at a time when my country is embroiled in issues of international crimes and its leaders have been hauled before the ICC (International Criminal Court). Learning at the University of London has equipped me with an understanding of international commercial arbitration and opened the doors for a career in this growing area of private international law. I have also benefited immensely from the study of international investment law. I am professionally more confident and at a personal level I feel quite fulfilled and thank the University of London for enabling me to achieve my lifetime dream of having a quality Masters degree.

"I thank the University of London for reinforcing in me the belief that the door of knowledge is never closed."

What motivates you in your career?
I am motivated in my career by the need to offer better legal services to the public today than I did yesterday. I am driven by the need to develop my understanding of the law, and enhance my capacity to administer it. I am fascinated by the limitless possibilities of this branch of human knowledge called the law. I aspire to translate its theories into practical benefits for consumers. I thank the University of London for reinforcing in me the belief that the door of knowledge is never closed.

Who has been your biggest inspiration in your career? 
The biggest inspiration in my career is not any one single individual. I have been inspired by the words and works of many. I draw inspiration from Jesus Christ who achieved so much with only 33 years on earth. I am inspired by the lives of Khalil Gibran the Lebanese writer, Ngugi wa Thion'go from my country, Lord Denning, Vaclav Havel, Nelson Mandela and the British Royals in particular the late Princess Diana for her work in Angola and other war zones, the Chancellor of our University Her Majesty Princess Anne who visited my alma mater Starehe Boys' Centre and gave a memorable speech in early 1980s. I have been inspired by a collectivity of good men and women who have served humanity selflessly in one way or the other.

How did you balance your studies with your family and your work as a Judge?
I had a wonderful time learning for my LLM. My family was supportive and did not complain that I had invested our scarce family resources unwisely by enrolling for the studies. I was lucky to find time in the evenings away from my daily Court calendar to apply myself to the studies. My employer fortunately provides for 42 working days annual leave which came in handy at the peak of the studies. My 12-year-old son Gathii was unrelenting in laughing at any poor grades I scored in the studies. He could not understand how Daddy could score 55% in any paper, while he himself was consistently achieving 85-100% in his primary school exam papers. Of course I had no excuse in not aspiring to catch up with this brilliant fellow and I am glad in the end he contributed to my falling in the merit category. All in all I found the course well scheduled by the UoL to meet the demands of old men and women who wish to advance their knowledge.

"I would advise someone considering a legal career in Kenya to go for it with an open mind. In spite of the cut-throat competition, it remains a viable option and with tremendous potential."

How has the legal profession changed in Kenya since you started in practice?
The legal profession has changed profoundly since I started practice in 1994. Many universities, public and private now offer law degrees. At the time it was only the University of Nairobi offering law studies. There are now more than five universities with law faculties. Whether the rise has had effect in the quality of the law degrees is a question that can only be answered by the Council of Legal studies. It is clear however that there are many lawyers in the market. The rise in their numbers has made practice competitive. The coffee and tea sectors have shrunk as have other traditional foreign currency earners. Litigants are opting to represent themselves in law courts and the returns for lawyers have diminished. Lawyers are therefore going back to class to and seeking to improve on their CVs. They are opening up to the possibilities of serving in public service, international dispute resolution and academia. The belief in a first degree and localised private practice has been shaken. There is change among Kenyan lawyers in their perception of what legal practice should entail.

What advice would you give to someone in Kenya considering a legal career?
I would advise someone considering a legal career in Kenya to go for it with an open mind. In spite of the cut-throat competition, it remains a viable option and with tremendous potential. There are new legal challenges every day and lawyers will never arrive at their sell-by date. But one has to keep studying, choose his teachers well and choose their study subjects wisely. There are areas without sufficient number of lawyers in Kenya and other developing nations. The local ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) industry for instance is presently outsourcing legal services from overseas. There are many virgin areas in the local legal market. It is reassuring to note that UoL has a wide array of law subjects that could be useful to any economy wishing to fill such voids.

Is there anything else you would like to accomplish in the future in your career?
I personally would wish to work in an international set up. I have had the benefit of studying International Commercial Arbitration, International Investment Law, the law of International Courts and Tribunals and specialised in International Dispute Resolution. I am hopeful this study, the international reputation and recognition of the University of London shall place me in good stead in the International Legal Job Market.  If God wills it, I hope also to take up study in LL.D at the University of London.

To find out more about studying for an LLM see: www.londoninternational.ac.uk/llm