Conversation with Samuel Kyalo, RLS alumnus and Harvard LL.M. Student

Tell us a bit about your background.

Where do you come from and at what point in life did you know you wanted to pursue a career in Law.

I started from humble beginnings. Born and raised in Machakos County, I remember life going by at an easy pace. I was a curious and inquisitive kid growing up – the kind that upsets adults with too many questions. It served me well in school though - I excelled in class, but also enjoyed my extra-curricular activities. Looking back, I guess these should have clued everyone in that they had a future lawyer in the making.

My friends usually assume that I’ve always wanted to be a lawyer because of my grandfather, who used to be a very litigious person. While his influence was a factor, it might be surprising to know that initially, I wanted to be a Catholic priest! The idea of being a lawyer only started in my late primary to high school years when the push for constitutional change in Kenya was gaining momentum, and there was much buzz on the Post-Election Violence trials at the ICC.

To be honest, I don’t think I chose RLS – RLS chose me. As much as my parents wanted to support my dreams, they could not afford to sponsor me through Law School. It was RLS that took a chance on me and offered me the Katiba scholarship - a tuition-free ride for all my four years in Law School. Coupled with the school’s growing reputation in the country and its world-class faculty, RLS was a golden opportunity I could not pass up.

How was your experience at RU?

From my first day at RU in January 2014, I genuinely enjoyed every moment. There were a lot of opportunities for growth both inside and outside the classroom. Aside from maximizing my studies, I felt a real sense of community in RU and involved myself in student organizations, which made up some of my best experiences in law school. In my second year, I was appointed as the Chair of the RUEC, the body tasked with overseeing student elections. My friends and I also took part in various local and international competitions. I grew immensely in my four-years at RU.

Balancing between all the activities you just described must have been quite some task - how did you manage?

Absolutely, it was very taxing to balance my studies and the activities I took part in. But both sides gave me much fulfillment, and that’s what kept me going. Juggling all my student roles with excellence taught me the values of time management and diligence. These experiences also became avenues to form valuable networks that have been very useful in my young career. 

You eventually graduated with a First Class Honours, at the top of your class, and had several awards. What can you say enabled this success?

I believe a combination of a strong work ethic and the initiative to gain high-quality legal training early on enabled my achievements. Barely a semester into Law School, I secured a Legal Assistant position with a company in Nairobi where I worked for 4 years. I also worked as a researcher for a judicial officer and at some point, worked as an intern for a human rights NGO. By the time I was completing my LL.B., I had an idea of what the actual practice of law looked like. That helped not only with the Bar training at the Kenya School of Law but also in the profession of law itself.

How was the transition into the legal profession post-LL.B.?

After Kenya School of Law, I was fortunate enough to secure a position as a Trainee Advocate at Kaplan & Stratton Advocates, one of Kenya’s top law firms. I was later retained as a Dispute Resolution Associate. At Kaplan, I got excellent training, mentorship by Kenya’s top lawyers, and exposure to practice. I thoroughly enjoyed my work and deem the experience invaluable in my aspirations to become an arbitrator.

A man can only be so lucky, tell us about the different LL.M. offers you received.

Applying for schools abroad was a shot in the dark. When I was preparing and submitting applications, I was fully prepared to not get into any of the law schools but I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t try. Despite my doubts, I decided to apply to several Master of Laws (LL.M.) Programs last year and was thrilled and honored to secure admissions from 5 top US law schools namely: Boston College, Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, and New York University. 

Now you are in Harvard, what’s your feeling? Is this the peak and do you mind sharing your aspirations?

I’m ecstatic, of course, but also both excited and nervous about the road ahead. I plan to have a career in dispute resolution - focusing primarily on constitutional law and arbitration. I would also love to contribute to legal scholarship in these areas of law.

What things, if any, are you carrying over from RU to where you are now? 

Aside from the academics, I continue to carry over the confidence RLS placed in me all those years ago, with much honor and gratitude. While I had never imagined joining Harvard, in RLS I was made to believe that I could think like a world-class lawyer. The Socratic method of teaching adopted by RLS in 2013 shaped my disposition to never shy away from the hard questions. The intellectual stimulation offered by such pedagogy is useful in honing the ability to think and argue like a lawyer. Overall, the rigor of the training at the LL.B. program at RU served as a good foundation as I continue to specialize in my profession.

Any three top lessons/tips you’d like to share with fellow upcoming lawyers and law students?

First, have good mentors that you can look up to, and whose shoulders you can stand on. In my life and career, I have been blessed to meet inspiring mentors who have not only supported my journey but have also had a profound impact on my approaches to the practice of law. They have done an incredible job in defining me, as a person and as a lawyer. 

Secondly, take as many learning opportunities as you can. I believe that self-discovery is a lifelong journey, and while knowledge can enlighten, you can only truly discover your abilities and enhance them through practice.  Lastly, and I think more importantly, never give up on God, if you believe in God.

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