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Mercy Okiro, MCIArb

Mercy Okiro

Mercy Okiro MCIArb is the latest appointee to the Young Members Group (YMG) Global Steering Committee.  She is the current Chair of the YMG Kenyan branch, where she has been a committee member since 2015. Mercy is a CIArb trained mediator and is the youngest lawyer to be accredited as a mediator by the Kenyan judiciary.  

She is currently writing a thesis for an MA in International Studies and Diplomacy from the University of Nairobi.  Her primary areas of interest are international dispute resolution, arbitration, mediation, legal aid, women’s rights, sports law and legal research.

You have now been Chair of the Kenyan YMG for the past year.  Can you give us an overview of what you’ve been up to and your plans for the future?
For the first part of 2017, I focussed on raising YMG awareness amongst young CIArb members. We reached out to universities such as the Riara University Law School, Jomo Kenyatta University Law School and Kabarak Law School.  We sought partnerships with the Law Society of Kenya Young Lawyers Committee and Young Arbiters Society, an ad hoc organization for university students in Kenya numbering in the thousands, an important step for us. We have also increased the number of YMG members involved in training, especially the entry course in arbitration and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in Kenya.  Overall, we have increased YMG membership in Kenya from 30 at its inception to 120 members (not counting student membership). 
The future is exciting for the Kenya YMG. After our launch on 22nd September 2017, The Steering Committee plans to undertake the following activities:
  • Top of our agenda is to increase participation in more conferences regionally and internationally to improve visibility and network with ADR practitioners worldwide. I will be presenting a paper at the Annual CIArb Nigeria YMG Conference this year and would like to see more members of the Kenyan YMG involved in future. 
  • We also plan to hold YMG Kenya events in the format of Global YMG international events where the YMG event is held the day before the main event, as will happen with the CIArb Kenya Annual Conference coming up in November next year. 
  • Increase sponsorship for our events from leading corporates, banks, law firms to enhance exposure with private sector corporates.
  • Structured Mentorship to pair YMG members with more experienced Branch members to offer them practical experience with ADR. 
  • Surgeries and Lunch Talks on topics to broaden knowledge and interest in ADR. 
  • Extending engagement with universities beyond law faculties to include others such as Construction, Engineering, Architecture etc.
  • Continued efforts to extend partnerships with other Young Member organisations and institutions to widen our network.
  • Annual Moot for Universities in Kenya on International Commercial Arbitration, Mediation and Investment Arbitration. 
  • I will also launch the Kenya YMG Annual Essay Competition in 2018. This will encourage members of YMG to write more about ADR.
Tell us a little more about the ADR landscape in Kenya?  
Well, the ADR landscape in Kenya is pretty interesting. Initially Kenyans had little awareness of ADR and the few who did were mostly aged 40 or above. Over time, more young members aged 30 and below started to gain an interest and get involved in ADR. All Kenyan law schools have now incorporated courses in ADR in their curriculum yet ten years ago only two universities exposed their students to ADR as part of the curricula. 
Non-lawyers’ interest in ADR has also peaked notably in the last few years. The Constitution of Kenya which was passed in 2010 formally recognized the use of ADR by courts in dispute resolution. Subsequently, the Judiciary set up a court annexed mediation scheme which has been very useful in ensuring faster resolution of disputes and reducing the backlog of cases in court. The public is now more aware of the use of ADR in dispute resolution. 
Currently, most government agencies use ADR as the first mode of dispute resolution before referring it to court. Banks and other private organizations are also keen to take advantage of ADR in order to ensure confidentiality and save on costs. The establishment of the Nairobi Centre for International Arbitration has been one of the most important steps in ensuring that Kenya becomes a hub for international arbitration and mediation in the region and worldwide. In my opinion, there remains much work to be done on ADR in Kenya but the steps we have made as a country are remarkable and we can only get better.
You deal with commercial disputes but you also mediate family, children and land disputes for the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) in Nairobi.  Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Under the Access to Justice Programme, FIDA provides legal aid services to women in Kenya towards the realization of their social, economic, political and cultural rights. One of the ways they assist women is through providing mediators for their disputes. As a mediator for FIDA, I mediate over disputes related to custody and maintenance, family disputes, environmental disputes and land and inheritance matters. My experience there has shed a lot of light for me on the need to empower women on socio-economic rights in Kenya. I have also come to appreciate the unique nature of family mediation as it involves very high emotions and requires a lot of patience and tact. It is actually harder than commercial mediation as it relates to handling and balancing the parties’ high emotions. The involvement of children also makes it very sensitive in nature. The most fulfilling bit of these mediations after agreement is that relationships are preserved despite the parties having a dispute between them.
What are your three top tips for those wishing to develop their career in ADR?
Networking: in ADR practice, I believe that your network is your net worth. It is very important for new members to network extensively in order to succeed. It is only through networking that you get to learn of new developments in ADR, get referrals and put your name on the international map. One of the best ways to do this is to attend conferences and seminars. Ensure that you keep in touch with contacts you meet and keep looking out for new opportunities even if they are pro bono. Trust me they will always pay. International Conferences may seem expensive especially for the younger members but they will be worth it in the end; I promise.
Hone your skill set: one may only succeed in ADR if you have a good and competitive skill set. This involves reading a lot of material on ADR even for pleasure, writing articles on ADR, ensuring you get practical experience in ADR and keeping abreast with emerging areas in ADR. The ADR spectrum is extremely wide and one needs to have both knowledge and experience to succeed. You simply never stop learning.
Passion and resilience: if you are passionate about something I believe that you will always succeed. I would like to encourage all those interested in ADR to be resilient. Do not wait for anyone to come and hand you everything on a silver platter. Start small and do not give up in your quest. Take advantage of any small opportunity that comes your way and capitalize on it. Even where you’re from a jurisdiction that hasn’t fully embraced ADR, use the internet and reach out to people in more established jurisdictions to assist you. You will be surprised at how many are willing and ready to assist but most people shy away and never ask for help. Start somewhere and grow from there.
Finally, how did you get involved in ADR and what was your route to membership with CIArb?
I studied a basic course in alternative dispute resolution back at Moi University. However, it was not until later in 2011 when I stumbled upon a member of CIArb Kenya at a rugby match did I realize that this is an area I wanted to specialize in. He spoke so passionately about ADR and provided me with a lot of information. As I was awaiting my graduation, I sat my entry course at CIArb Kenya in Arbitration and Mediation. After this, I knew that CIArb was the right place for me. I then pursued the CIArb Arbitration Pathway up to Module 3 (under the old structure) but when I started my Masters Degree I took a break from the arbitration modules. During the break, I completed the 40 hour training with CIArb Kenya. I will be doing my CIArb Mediation Accreditation in November this year.  I am currently a Member and am hoping to qualify as a Fellow through the CIArb Mediation and/or Arbitration Pathway. In future, I plan to also explore construction adjudication under CIArb’s training pathway.