By Brenda Kerubo
Anne babu & Company Advocates may not be a catchy business name but it certainly has similar characteristics to most law firms operating in Kenya. The rules governing the legal profession in the country require the name of a law firm to be either the name of a present or past partner of the firm.
“This leaves little room for creativity. I could have chosen to use only my surname, as many women do, but I preferred to use my full names and that has been quite useful in personal branding, ” says Anne Babu, the founder of Anne babu & Company Advocates
The law firm is about five minutes’ drive from Nairobi City centre. Its proximity is surrounded by international institutions and government entities, which makes it quite strategic for walk-in clients. The firm offers banking, company, family, civil and commercial litigation, intellectual and property law services. Babu’s clients include global audit firm, Ernst and Young, Aga Khan Education Services, Standard Group and Kenya Airline Pilot Association.
“Prior to setting up, I was employed at one of the country’s top tier firms. I always thought that as long as I was in legal practice, I would be at that firm. I never thought or desired my own firm. I was ready to work for that firm until I made partner. I never saw the feasibility of a small firm,” says Anne Babu.
The employment and commercial law expert is no spring chicken to matters law. She has a bachelor of law certificate from the University of Nairobi and was employed for eight years before starting her business.
” In June 2013 I began to feel very discontent. The joy for my job left me and it became a real struggle to hold on. At the time, I figured I was exhausted and needed a break. I am one of those people who worked very hard in school and I did the same in employment, seldom taking breaks – so I could understand my fatigue, says Babu, “I was not sure what would be next for me but I was sure that I needed to leave.”
By the time she was leaving, Babu had made up her mind to enrol for a Masters in Entrepreneurship at the University of Nairobi.
“I had business ideas while in employment that I had decided not to pursue because I knew they would distract me from my scope of work. My employment contract also forbade me from engaging in any form of business or employment. I am one of those super-obedient workers,” she says.
Aside from the Masters, she decided to get involved in consulting on contract drafting and review, a skill she had developed while in employment. She also got a mentor to walk her through her entrepreneurship journey.
One day a divine setup happened when an advocate Babu had interacted with as an opposing counsel in one of the cases she handled approached her with a business proposition.
“Though we did not know each other at the beginning she called me and told me that she was emigrating to Canada to join her husband and that she was impressed with how I handled the case and she wanted to give me some of her clients. I took a decision to set up my firm with this in mind – that if I fail, I would wind the firm up and get a job,” says Babu as she tries to reminisce the moment.
Babu moved fast! It was a now or never moment for her. “I set up really fast, got my registration, logo, office and website in record time. This made most people at the firm I was working at think this was my plan all along.”
Babu has made legal accuracy, ethics and innovation her business principles, even as she bets on referrals to grow her client base.
“When you leave a big firm and set up on your own, you realise how sheltered and spoilt you were. I always rode on the firm’s goodwill and never bothered to brand myself. I never had to worry about clients and was exposed to good briefs, client portfolios and resources.
That’s part of the reason I never saw myself setting up on my own. I had to start from scratch and that’s where the entrepreneur in me came out,” says Babu.
Anne Babu has positioned herself as an employment lawyer in Kenya’s competitive legal fraternity. From handling disputes related to wage increments to helping expatriates settle in the country, she is the go to person on everything employment in Kenya.
She loves her trade so much that she blogs about it on a regular basis. In her latest article, Voluntary early retirement she offers glimpse of what her daily life revolves around.
“Voluntary early retirement is an offer which becomes contractually binding on being accepted by the employee. It is not a termination initiated by the employer, but a consensual termination, proposed by the employer. It should be voluntary. The employee may accept or refuse the offer and should not be punished for declining. Where there exists coercion the voluntary early agreement will be nullified and the same may be termed as an unlawful termination, ” she opined in her blog just hours after Nairobi Governor, Mike Sonko, announced a voluntary early retirement plan for the city county workers during the labour day celebrations.
In what is seen a strategic move she shares her posts on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as messaging services such as Google mail and Telegram.
Anne Babu lists loneliness and cash flow as some of the key challenges of the job.
“At the beginning, my family did not understand why I left my good job to struggle building something. By God’s grace, they are now my greatest cheerleaders,” she says, adding that “At the beginning, you are everything, business development, HR, finance, administration and technocrat…it’s not easy but you have no choice because you have no money to hire and pay bills.”
The challenges are just lessons in disguise because Babu has learnt and mastered the art of risk taking. She says you bear the risk but enjoy the fruits. Babu comes from the school of thought that also banks on good relationships with clients and suppliers. Because she has learnt over the years that people do business with people they like!