Success Magazine got a chance to interview a rising star in Tanzania’s legal fraternity. Being a woman in the corporate world, Asha Mgembe exudes nothing but confidence as she makes strides in her profession. Interview excerpts:
When did you first know you wanted to become a lawyer?
It was not a straight forward realisation that I wanted to become a lawyer but the dream started to unravel itself when some property ownership matters, affected some very close members of my family. The realisation crystalised and hit me hard when I lost my beloved father and inheritance issues popped up. That is when I decided that I should pursue law studies to become a lawyer.
What drew you to this career?
The idea of helping out people in need of legal assistance.
Did you have a career or ambitions outside of the law prior to becoming a lawyer?
Yes, I did. Apparently my ambitions kept changing as I was growing older. The more I grew older the more I figured out exactly what I wanted. My ambitions kept on changing and I was actually all over the place. These ambitions included wanting to be an air hostess, to being a nurse until finally, I wanted to be a lawyer.
Do you have any mentors or professors that encouraged you along the way?
I mostly got encouragement from my parents especially my late father who believed in me and my capability to be whatever I wanted. I also got encouragement from my History teacher, Mr Mwachipa when I was in Advanced Level of secondary school. During the college years at the University of Dar es salaam, I got encouragement from the students who were years ahead of me when the journey got tough and I felt like giving up considering that I was juggling between raising my children and law studies. It was not an easy journey, I must admit. Lastly, I got so much support and mentorship from my former employer, Dr Ringo Tenga who trained me and mentored me in law practice as well helping me figure out what exactly I wanted to specialise in.
What is the best lesson they taught you?
Hard work always pays; to be patient and aggressive towards perfecting the dream of becoming a competent corporate lawyer. I was also taught that discipline, competence, hard work and integrity at work can take one to higher places and in turn advance one’s career because it builds trust.
What was the greatest lesson you learned in law school?
I learnt confidence and the practice side of the law. Law school basically taught me to apply the theory I learnt in undergraduate studies in practice as well as teamwork in solving legal matters, which involve discussion on legal researches conducted by members of the team so as to reach at one decision.
How do you apply that to your career today?
The confidence I have gotten from Law School has helped me build trust from my previous employers as well as growing the firm’s business, as clients need to feel that a confident and competent lawyer protects their interests.
What experiences have taught you the most in the seven-plus years that you’ve been in the legal field?
I have learnt that clients need transparency and competency in performing their assignments. This helps to crystalise the bond between a lawyer and a client which in turn contributes to more work being awarded to the business based on the trust created. Moreover, I have learnt that the nerve of a law firm business lies in building the goodwill over the legal services to prospective clients, as well as develop trusting relationships with existing ones. Lastly, I also learnt that teamwork is key in any business despite the rank/position of people who are part of the business.
What do you find particularly challenging about your practice? How do you overcome these challenges?
The challenging part of legal practice is the fact that one has to really commit time into work even if it means putting up with extra hours to complete client’s assignments. This directly or indirectly affects one’s quality time with family. Moreover, laws keep changing frequently thus one has to always be up to date with the changing laws. Therefore, to overcome these challenges I have to smartly manage my time at the firm so as to look after a family and health generally.
You’ve recently been named partner at Breakthrough Attorneys, has being a partner at a law firm always been on your radar?
Yes, it definitely has. That has actually been the motivation for working hard and being patient to realise that dream.
Now that you’re in the upper echelon, what’s your take on upskilling junior lawyers, and what do you think is the best way to retain them?
I believe strongly and I am actually a champion for upskilling junior lawyers as I believe everyone should be given an equal opportunity to prove themselves through hard work and training them on the do’s and don’ts of legal practice. Affording junior lawyers a platform for upgrading their skills and an opportunity to prove themselves will build confidence and unravel their potential.
What does the future look like for legal services across Tanzania?
The future for legal services in Tanzania looks bright though there are matters that can be improved. The way that legal services are delivered is fast changing due to advances in technology. In the past three years, I have witnessed a gradual shift towards online systems that are aimed at easing performance of legal tasks and help lawyers deliver more efficient and timely services to clients. Obviously, this shift to online systems boosts efficiency in issuance of legal services but on the other side, it negatively affects issuance of legal services as some of these implemented online Apps are still in their infancy stage and thus affect consistency and efficiency in performance of legal assignments. Thus, there is still some room for more improvements to remove some of the inconveniences occasioned by faulty online systems.
Let’s talk about diversity and inclusion in the legal profession; Gender disparity has always been an issue in many professions. Is the legal field any different?
I acknowledge that attitudes have changed regarding females in legal profession or any other profession who are given opportunity in higher positions in the corporate ladder, but generally, women are poorly represented in the legal profession. I see fewer female Judges compared to male Judges in the High Court and Court of Appeal.
There are more women coming into the legal profession, but when it comes to moving ahead as Judges, they tend to fall off the radar. Also, the nature of the legal profession puts so much pressure on women considering the legal profession requires long working hours, which makes it more difficult to manage the work-life balance. There is the additional factor of masculine prejudices both at home and in the workplaces, which makes a female lawyer to strive more than their male colleagues to make their voices heard, which in turn is usually negatively interpreted as aggressive.
How are the legal dynamics changing in Tanzania and how are you keeping pace?
My take is new laws, which have expanded citizens’ rights, and some of the laws quench that right have occasioned political and social battles, which makes the legal field play an active role in both courts and outside courts to orchestrate social change. Across the globe, people are going to court to claim their right to health, education or ownership to properties, making the legal fraternity very active in stabilizing these matters. Some laws are vague or have loopholes that leave many areas to become sparsely regulated, leaving courts and administrative bodies with more power. So, as one of the members of the legal fraternity, I am doing my best to make sure that I play a role in suggesting some changes in the legal practice that will improve the handling of legal matters and in turn boost efficiency.
Q. What advice would you give to young lawyers beginning their careers, in order to succeed in the field?
There are lots of things to advise young lawyers beginning their career but the three most basic things I would strongly advise are; Firstly, no matter what area you practice in, you will do a fair amount of drafting, be it pleadings, memos, contracts, letters, emails, etc. So they should definitely brush up their drafting and writing skills.
Secondly, you are bound to be really bored if you don’t pick a field of practice that fits your personality. There is great satisfaction and enjoyment in practicing the field of law that you are passionate about. If your passion is, for instance, Criminal litigation you might be bored to tears if you practice bankruptcy law instead.
Lastly, remember to take care of yourself unless your dream is to die of a heart attack at your desk. You should prioritize healthy habits like getting enough sleep, exercise and spending quality time with your loved ones.