At 43, Nelson Havi says that he wants to retire early, perhaps in less than a decade to come. While he may not fully bow out of the legal profession, he is certain that at some point he will have to slow down to enjoy life more. He is a self-confessed workaholic. However, before he retires, he sure has his work cut out for him, especially as he recently took the reins of LSK as the president for a two-year tenure.
It is not his first run for this position and therefore his zeal for the task ahead is palpable. His first attempt at the seat in 2017 was blocked, as he had not attained the required 15 years of practicing law after admission to the bar. Now, however, he is raring to go, as he has always been in his nearly two decades in the legal profession.
According to him, it needs one to be ‘foolish and hungry’. Quoting Chief Justice David Maraga, Havi says, “You cannot learn anything if you are not willing to look foolish and do not have a burning desire to learn. You must have a big capacity to accommodate knowledge.”
This mindset has also served to cement what has been ingrained in him since his childhood days in Kakamega. His mother and his late father were teachers who made sure everyone in the Havi household towed the line while giving academics precedence. While he and his father were more inclined towards engineering, his mother saw a doctor in him. However, his fate was sealed when one of his high school teachers advised him to take commerce as it gave him a better chance of becoming a lawyer. Law held a bigger probability of him succeeding in life as opposed to art, which Havi excelled in as well.
Setting up his practice
After his law degree from the University of Nairobi, it was his pupilage at Salim Dhanji & Co. in 2001 that set him on the path of commercial litigation. He then had another stint with Muriu Mungai Advocates before he decided to go at it alone in 2006. He thus set up his law firm – Nelson Havi & Co. Advocates.
His office is full of collector’s pieces including war relics and a Statue of Liberty decorating the green-themed room. He avers it wasn’t always like this. When he started out, everything was done in one room from handling briefs to office administration duties, which he handled alone. Thankfully, he had a good client base that he had developed whilst working at the two previous firms. These clients kept him afloat as he was establishing himself. Since then, it has been a steady growth for the LSK president with several milestones marking his trajectory.
One of the biggest markers of his success is setting up his practice in his own premises, as it is commonplace for lawyers being auctioned due to rent arrears. Additionally, his firm has also played host to many lawyers during their pupilage and he has also built a name for himself as an opinion-shaper in matters governance. Along the way, he has also picked up criminal cases stemming from his corporate clients and public law litigation, which has seen him handle election petitions, which are usually big briefs that are normally given to much older and experienced lawyers.
According to him, getting to this point has been a build-up, mostly unplanned, that has come together as a result of hard work and fortune. He has also had several mentors along the way mostly consisting of seasoned lawyers in the country, some of whom were his tutors.
“Everyone should realise that we do not all start from the same place but discipline and dedication are sure to pay off. When an opportunity comes, you will be ready to grasp it; which is what I call fortune. I don’t believe in luck,” he says emphatically.
Restoring LSK to its former glory
If his campaign mantra is anything to go by, LSK is set to see a major shift in how its operations will be carried out henceforth. At the top of the list is to awaken the sleeping giant, to provide direction to the country’s legislators as well as helping to streamline the legal practice in Kenya to protect the interests of lawyers.
Dubbed a radical by some, Havi dispels the notion promptly as simply being agitated when things go wrong, especially when it comes to matters legislation. He is however cognisant that taking on ingrained systems is almost a herculean task. In the past, even without the title, his views have earned him quite a number of threats.
“This position requires someone who is not afraid to take action because I know people want change in government and in the judiciary. God will give me strength,” he says matter-of-factly.
So, will two years be enough to see a turnaround?
“The answer to that is two-fold. It is enough time to put in structures in place but there’s also a lot to be done. That said, I do not think you need to be in a leadership position to serve. Before this, I had been calling out the government on systemic failures in the media and will continue to do so afterwards,” says Havi. He also adds that the mark of a true leader is also in knowing when to step down and pass the baton.
Inspired by revered world leaders such as former US President Barrack Obama and the late Nelson Mandela, Havi is ready to take on this leadership role as he considers it a privilege that he resonated with the community of learned friends who bought into his vision.
Despite the fact that there are more things on his plate at the moment, juggling his new duties as well as those of his firm, an eager Havi has already started acclimatising to his role. Now, his time is split between the corridors of justice as well as attending to LSK’s interests and those of the general public. He firmly believes in leadership rooted in people-oriented service.
Ultimately, he would like to see governmental departments like NHIF and ministries function optimally for the benefit of Kenyan citizens. Additionally, he urges Kenyans to leave the cocoons and demand for what is owed to them.
And just like the leaders who inspire him, Havi plans to write a memoir, although he admits that he is a little late. Even then, he is off to a great start. Being an ardent reader, he’s pored over countless memoirs including those of Nelson Mandela, Fidel Castro and Julius Nyerere with the cherry on top being his bank of memories from his childhood. Carefully stored in his pristinely furnished office, are his schoolbooks and report forms from his younger days, which his mother kept well preserved.
Married for 16 years, Havi considers marrying at a relatively young age a milestone as it helped refine his focus. His wife, also a lawyer, whom he met during his university days, has been a constant pillar of support. And although he admits that work-life balance has been elusive, he makes sure that he spends time with his family whenever he can, including triannual family holidays. Spending time with family also helps him take off the pressures of the job.
An artist to date, Havi also paints, sketches and writes satirical poetry and as such encourages his two older children (his youngest is three) to spend time in extra-curricular activities to better place them in a world that is fast-moving from conventional career paths. He has also taken up hiking and swimming.
“I used to be very poor at sports because I thought they were a waste of time. Thankfully, I don’t hold the same opinion now and I encourage my children to play sports. If anything, you will need to be physically healthy to take on your goals in life,” he says in conclusion.
This article was first published in the April 2020 issue of Parents Magazine