Few people live to realize their childhood dreams, with a big percentage choking their dreams on the way, while a very small number conquer the world to outlive their dreams.
One of the few who have outlived their dreams is Mugambi Nandi, Kenya’s Leading Corporate M&A Lawyer ranked by Chambers & Partners five years in a row.
Mugambi Nandi recently joined the ranks of dual-qualified advocates of the High Court of Kenya following admission to the Roll of Solicitors of the Senior Courts of England and Wales.
Nandi is a senior founding partner of KN Law LLP both in Kenya and London. In 2021, he was ranked one of only three top Corporate M&A Kenyan lawyers practicing law abroad.
Very few people, like Nandi, have been able to realize or even conquer their dreams in their 40s. However, for Nandi, life began earlier, as he explains in a conversation with The Sharp Daily.
During his childhood, Nandi aspired to be a journalist, a dream that was inspired by their neighbour and longtime columnist Mutegi Njau.
“Long story begins with the back home. When I was growing up and I was in primary school and I used to read the Weekly Review and the Nation as well as Mutegi Njau who the older folk among you might know. I was quite excited to to to to read his name in the papers and it always used to be on the front page. He was my neighbor with whom I spoke, my mother tongue. I wanted to become a journalist because of him,” he says.
But the story changed when he went to high school, after seeing a TV drama series that was staged in the courtrooms
“Well, I think when I was in high school or maybe late in primary school I saw TV drama series with courtrooms and I was excited. Whatever it was that had lawyers in gowns, and I thought, wow, that looks nice. The other people I had seen in gowns before that were Presbyterian pastors because I was brought up in the Presbyterian Church,” he adds.
“And they used to be some Majesty. Obviously being a pastor wasn’t on the cards. I was quite a naughty boy, so I thought, well, this law thing looks good and I think that’s where the interest in law developed. At some point, I learned that there was something else called diplomacy and United Nations and my mind shifted to wanting to become a lawyer. But working within the UN system or in diplomacy.”
After high school, Nandi joined the University of Nairobi Parklands, where he studied law as his first degree, before embarking on a job hunt.
“In the UN system, I never got any luck. The closest I got to getting a job in the UN was being invited for an interview for a short-term contract with the UNHCR. So I took what was available at that time and what was available when I started working was a job as a legal officer in an insurance company,” he says.
“I initially of course was excited because I got it when I was at a School of Law and it was paying well enough for me to buy a car. So I had my first car while I was still at the School of Law, which back then in 1996, was quite an achievement. What else do you do with your money? The first thing you do is buy a car,” he says.
After some time, Nandi looked to advance his education by pursuing a master’s degree in international relations at the Fletcher School of Diplomacy.
“I didn’t get an admission. I later learned that they prefer people who’ve got some experience and that he was fresh from university, so I didn’t manage to secure a place. And just as I was looking, the University of Nairobi advertised that they were launching. The Executive MBA program had the regulars and then they were doing one for people who were working. And I thought, wow, this is an opportunity for me to shift gears and get into an MBA which would enable me to become a commercial lawyer,” Nandi adds.
“I started applying for jobs including teaching positions at the university and of course continued the search for a job with the United Nations. I tried the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but at that time the salary for an entry level person like me was about Ksh16,000 and here I was earning Ksh90,000. There was absolutely no way I was going to leave my Ksh90,000 to go and earn Ksh16,000 even if I wanted to become a diplomat. So the search led me to Hamilton, Harrison and Matthews. And at that time I think it was the biggest law firm in Nairobi or one of the biggest. And that is where I honed my commercial law skills,” says Nandi.
He worked for the company for over two years, one of the companies being Uchumi supermarket, then a blue-chip company. Uchumi later poached him to work in-house.
At that point, Nandi was informed by an insider that the company was crumbling and that he had gotten himself into a sinking ship.
“The IT manager who became a very good friend asked me ‘Do you know what you’ve come into?’ He knew the company was going downhill and the people didn’t know. So he was very surprised that I was leaving HM to join this ship, which he knew as an insider was not quite sailing well as it should,” Nandi reveals.
“So anyway, I did my part initially as manager of legal affairs.”
After the merger, the merged entity began retrenching in departments that had redundancy. The most affected were the older people, even as the younger generation retained their jobs.
Nandi says that he would meet the retrenched staff in social places, and they looked a bit unstable in life, which pushed him into another idea. He felt that his life would be the same, when he was older, after losing employment. He decided to resign and start something of his own, but his first resignation was ‘rejected’.
After a failed partnership, in 2013, Nandi decided to start his own law firm, which many felt was ill-timed since it was an election year.
For a start, the law firm, KN Law, had two lawyers, a secretary and a receptionist.
“I wouldn’t say that everybody has to start that way. There are some law firms that start with the whole flow because maybe the owners have been practicing for 30 years and they’ve got the money. Then I didn’t have that luxury, but I placed myself at a place where I could attract corporate, but at the same time not breaking my back with the high rent and all of that,” he explains.
Despite finding it hard to get clients, the firm has to date spread its wings to the UK, making Nandi one of the few Kenyan lawyers practicing abroad.
During his free time, Nandi enjoys doing yoga, traveling (by air), playing tennis and going to cinema shows
“For me, being in the aircraft is is what I love most. I don’t like the landing and having to disembark. And yes, even when I travel, I don’t try local cuisine for fear of stomach upsets and things like that as well,” he says.
He advises young and upcoming lawyers to work for established law firms to get proper experience, but still keep their minds open to other options since all cannot fit in one place.