James Ngotho, 29


DLA Piper Africa

Sometimes, the random scrawl of career fate can read suspiciously like poetry. Take James Ngotho Kariuki. If his law career is a poem, then he is the poet without a stanza off key, without an ounce of excess, meticulously defined to the Nth degree.

He is the Chairperson of Young Members Group (YMG), Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIArb Kenya); Africa Regional Representative (ARR) of the Young International Arbitration Group (YIAG) of the London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA) and the recent winner of ‘Young Arbitration Practitioner of the Year’, Africa Arbitration Awards, East Africa International Arbitration Conference (EAIAC) 2022.

Fortunately, or unfortunately—depending on which side of the law you hold brief for—this has come at a steep cost. He is always working.

At IKM Advocates, he forms part of the dispute resolution team—when he is not sitting as an arbitrator. This is despite his day-to-day litigation, where he puts his Master’s in law from the University of Nairobi to practice. As part of the ARR team, his work is to represent Kenya and set up events for the continent.

"Law deals with day-to-day lives. I synthesize facts and present things in a very simplified yet attractive manner."

“There are only four of us; two are from West Africa, and one is from South Africa, and then there is me.”

The big dream, he says, is to create an environment where young lawyers and arbitration practitioners have ample opportunity to get the most out of the profession from the onset.

“This is hard because our profession is based on seniority. We need young practitioners to generate more interest and more niches within our young practice so that young practitioners are more enabled. My dream is to champion that.”

Maybe this risks making a poet into a pedant, but James’ superpower is a silver tongue. Words flow out of him like he makes love to them.

“Law deals with day-to-day lives. I synthesize facts and present things in a very simplified yet attractive manner—even if the crux of it may be very boring.”

“From time to time, I will volunteer to go to universities to speak to the students regarding alternative dispute resolution.”

Already, he has been to UoN, JKUAT, Strathmore, Moi, and Kabarak Universities. “I would love to bring what we do to the everyday person, so they understand the law better.”

Have things turned out the way he expected at 29?

“If you asked me this question last year, I’d tell you no. This year, things have definitely worked out.” But he is not resting on his laurels either. “If you stop looking forward, then you stop progressing.”

That’s why, on the balance of the scales of justice, he knows he has had to sacrifice his social life to be where he is today. “Ideally, you’d want to have more social connections, but with time, I have realized that all you need is one or two people to be around. I don’t regret all the time that has gone into myself, but sometimes you look around and wish more time could have been given to things other than the ones that push you forward in your profession.”

What will the boy you once were tell the man you now are? “Wow,” he says. “It’s more of aesthetics; you look nice and happy, and that is what the boy would want to be. What the boy needs to know is that it is possible. Wow.”

Eddy Ashioya