East Africa’s real estate and construction (REC) sector is dynamic and quickly evolving. In this article, the first in a three-part series on the REC landscape in Africa, Nicole Gichuhi, Partner at ALN Kenya spoke to Craig Sisterson of Africa Legal about implementing justice in a commercial sphere.
The ever-changing nature of the legal landscape, including the real estate and construction sector in Kenya and elsewhere in Africa, means success as a trusted adviser requires adaptability and keeping abreast of changes, says Nicole Gichuhi, Partner, ALN Kenya.
“There have been many invaluable lessons from a practitioner’s and personal perspective throughout my career, and one of the most significant is the need to be adaptable,” commented Nicole. She became a partner in ALN Kenya’s Real Estate & Construction practice in January, and is listed by Chambers Global as a key figure who’s helping drive growth at the leading law firm.
“For instance, a few years back, discussions about issues like ESG, sustainability, and reducing carbon footprints weren’t as prominent in the real estate and construction sector as they are today,” Nicole noted. “I’d say keeping abreast of changes and adapting very quickly has been essential in serving my clients well and progressing in my career. That’s been a big takeaway for me.”
As someone who benefitted from mentorship early on in her career, Nicole believes in paying it forward and helping build the next generation of African lawyers. One way she’s done this is by consistently meeting with a group of girls from her old alma mater, The Kenya High School, who have aspirations to join the legal profession.
When she was their age, Nicole candidly admits, being a corporate lawyer working in real estate wasn’t on her radar. While she was always captivated by law, she envisioned herself becoming a human rights activist.
“When you’re a student, you think justice is about making a noise and being the loudest in the room, but then you find out that every day is an opportunity for you to implement justice and fairness,” Nicole explained. “It’s in your interactions with people, the contracts you draft, the way you facilitate negotiations between parties to arrive at a decision, how you preemptively assess and mitigate risks and disputes in the future. All of that plays a pivotal role, and I think I’ve found my place in legal practice in that sense.”
For young lawyers looking to have a successful career in the profession and become a trusted adviser and strategic partner with clients, Nicole says the key is to put in the work and build trust with your team and clients.
“There is no shortcut. I find that people tend to glamorise career milestones such as moving to more senior positions, while overlooking the less romanticised realities of what it took to get there. In legal practice, if you want to be both a technical expert and a trusted adviser, dedication and time are non-negotiable,” she emphasised. “Demonstrate your hunger for knowledge and curiosity for experience. People will be more patient with you at a younger stage and are willing to show you direction. Build your technical abilities and learn to manage clients, so you can focus on strengthening business relationships at a more advanced stage.”
Keeping abreast of emerging issues and sectors, and learning to leverage technology and innovation to your advantage are also useful, given the world we live in, Nicole added.
Nowadays, Nicole gets great satisfaction when she and her team help close deals in transactions that have a real-world impact, and from the relationships developed along the way. “It’s quite fulfilling to become a sounding board as part of the strategy team, not just somebody they give tasks to and pay to get their documentation in order,” she commented.
This article was first published by Africa Legal.