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Sunday, August 16, 2015

An Interview with Christine Kipsang: Attorney, Advocacy Teacher, and Aficionado of Ginger Masala Tea

I met Christine Kipsang at a recent Justice Advocacy Africa trial advocacy training course in Mombasa, Kenya. Christine is in private practice, with chambers in the Social Security Building a few blocks from the court complex in Mombasa. She agreed to contribute to the blog in the form of an email interview.

Christine Kipsang is second from the left in this picture of some of the Kenyan faculty members in the recent JAA Mombasa trial advocacy course. From left to right, Lilian  Oluoch-Wambi, Christine Kipsang, John Chigiti, Benjamin Njoroge.

Tell us about the trial advocacy training in Mombasa. The trial advocacy training in Mombasa began in August 2013. The plan is to hold it every year. Last year, however, it could not take place due to persistent travel advisory warnings advising Americans and other non-Africans not to travel to Kenya. At the time, Kenya was perceived as unsafe. The concern was that possible terror attacks could happen any time, especially in August, the anniversary month of the terrorist attack on the American embassy on 7th August 1998. This year's trial advocacy course coincidentally ended on 7th August 2015, the Memorial Day for the 1998 attack.

How did you become involved with this course as a faculty member? After a meeting with the secretary general of the Mombasa Law Society, Benjamin Njoroge, at one of our governing council meetings, I decided I wanted to participate this year on the faculty. As time went by I thought about the commitments I had and I kept on wrestling in my mind how much sacrifice I had to make to be part of the faculty this year. I thought about the issue over a long time and when all plans had crystallised I thought of the huge benefits each one of us getting to the programme reaps and I decided to keep my word to Mr. Njoroge. [Interviewer note: Mrs. Kipsang was quite busy during this course, and every day at the end of the course, she returned to her chambers to meet with clients and work.]

Your faculty profile for the course begins with the words, "I am an adult female of sound mind." How did you come up with that beginning to your profile? One day I realized while in court that I had not submitted my faculty profile. I then decided to write one using my iPhone as I waited on the honourable judge to start the proceedings which were to start at 9am and had been delayed for one hour. I decided to use the language, "I am an adult female of sound mind," because this is the same language you can use while writing a statutory declaration.

How did you feel about your fellow faculty members in the course? The day before the course we had a teacher meeting. Upon looking at the profiles of my fellow faculty members I was amazed at the logistics to come up with such a superb team, and I knew it would be a great week for me. After the teacher training session each of us was required to interview another faculty member and briefly introduce them during the start of the training the next day. I was fortunate to be tasked to introduce Njoki Mboce, whom I had met in 2013. I had trained her as a student in 2013, and now she was the youngest member of our faculty. I was equally fortunate to have Chris Behan introduce me.

You became famous for your ginger masala tea during the course. How did that happen? One memorable thing Chris Behan said during the introduction the next day was that I am good at making masala tea. From then you can imagine what happened . . . the participants and faculty expected me to advise the school's dining facility on how to make proper masala tea. I brought fresh ingredients and gave them specific instructions every day.

Will you share your ginger masala tea recipe? The entire group of participants and faculty enjoyed masala tea with acacia tree honey every tea break. The ingredients and directions to make tea for four are as follows:


Tea (Kenyan tea or black tea)

Masala (ginger)


Honey (preferably Acacia honey from East Kenya).

The formula for cooking is simple. Measure 3 cups of clean water. Pour it in a clean cooking pan. Light the fire. Put the cooking pan on the stove. Bring the water to boiling point. Add one teaspoonful of Kenyan tea leaves. Add the masala ginger (natural pieces not powder). Add two cups of milk.

After 5 minutes, lower the heat and simmer for some time. Put off the fire. Sieve the tea. Serve in the tea cup. Sweeten it with honey.

Tell us about the student introductions. The programme started with prayer, and I prayed for all us asking God to keep us well and grant us success in all days. After that, the President of the Mombasa Law Society, Eric Nyongesa Wafula, welcomed the students. The participants were 24 in number. We lined up in order from the youngest member of the group to the oldest, and we took turns introducing ourselves. It was amazing in the way each participant start to relax as they talked about themselves and sharing the personal achievements in their lives and their fears. I particularly remember Susan Fahringer, a partner at Perkins Coie in Seattle, giving us a serious statement to not allow our fears to stop us from living our dreams.

Tell us about the students. What were their backgrounds? Why were they taking the course? We had 24 students on day one. I must stress the fact this is a five full day training programme themed under learning by doing throughout the programme. JAA sets strict ground rules in order to receive a certificate of course completion. For instance, students must attend every session in order to graduate. The graduation certificates are signed by the president of the Mombasa Law Society and also by Steve Fury, the president of Justice Advocacy Africa. We lost a few students after informing them of the ground rules. For instance, by the time we reached the first break, one participant realized that they could not give up a whole week and left the programme. Another participant decided to attend to a matter in her law firm and failed to return for the afternoon session. Although she came back a day later and participated fully in the course, she was unable to graduate and will have to repeat the course.

The participants were in terms of three categories;

Firstly,some participants were newly admitted to the bar and had received their practicing certificates through the Law Society of Kenya. They were also associates in law firms meaning their employers had suggested that they take the programme or on their own decided to pay for the programme.

The second category of participants were the law students from University of Nairobi Mombasa (UON-M) campus. I recognized most of them having been a moot court judge in their various moot court sessions and competitions organized by UON-M and our local bar association. These law students were financially sponsored by practicing advocates in Mombasa. I must say these students were greatly enriched by the programme, and I am looking forward to the upcoming moot court competitions. I expect to see better preparations by the students in case analysis and overall articulation of the issues for determination.

The third and last category is peculiar one and it involves one participant who failed to complete the programme and thus failed to graduate in the year 2013. The participant in his own words said he got sick on the last day and found himself in a Mombasa hospital. He was unable to graduate because he missed the last day. Because he wanted to set an example for other advocates in Mombasa, as well as reap the full benefits of the course, he decided to enroll and pay for the programme again this year in order to graduate and get a certificate. The interesting bit about this participant is that he was once a senior judicial officer and resigned to start a private law practice. He has practiced for more than 15 years. His presence encouraged the entire team since he clearly showed that it is important to show accountability and follow rules and law with integrity and humility

I remember on the last day as he received his certificate the participants gave him a befitting praise. He asked the American faculty to inform Steve Fury that he kept his word and completed the program. He also said his parents told him good manners are repeated and it was good manners for him to come and repeat the programme and succeed.

From your perspective, what was the most successful aspect of the course? The most successful aspect of the course was the change in the participants from the beginning to the end of the course. The first day, most of them had not read the case file at all. By going through the programme and learning by doing how to do case analysis in proper manner, the participants began to experience enlightenment. They realized how much they had learned. Some realized how their previous lack of knowledge about handling cases had done a disservice to their clients.

By the day, the participants began to be moulded into real court room advocates. They gained confidence as the week continued. By the final day, each participant was able to prepare for and successfully try a case. I would therefore say the aspect of moulding the participant to hear, see, touch, and interact with the case file and receive faculty feedback without criticism in a training programme in a relaxed atmosphere makes this programme very successful .

In your view, what is the single most important skill for a trial attorney to develop? In my view I would say many are called but few are chosen (theory/theme).

The aspect which differentiates a good trial attorney is the skill of preparation. The skill requires one to look into the matter, analyse it in terms of good facts and bad facts and decide whether to take up the case or not. Analyze the aspect of time to be taken, the aspect of fees to be charged, or what amount of resources to be employed in a particular matter if done on pro bono basis. It also includes what kind of legal team to have in a particular case, what kind of court documents to prepare so as to avoid objections to procedures and jurisdiction challenges, what aspect of evidence is needed and how to analyze it before presentation, and what kind of witnesses to expect in a particular trial on both sides

And much more because as you embark on preparations then the case file becomes clear to you. As an attorney we are called to represent our clients in courts, tribunals and other fora. The manner in which you prepare your matters elevates you to the level that you will be the chosen one every time a client wants to employ the services of an attorney who will not bungle their case.

Thanks Chris for this interview I look forward to the next opportunity .

1 comment:

  1. Kipsang, on point as always. The participants were definitely awesome and the faculty, fantastic. JAA-this is indeed a good initiative.Njoki.