City lawyer's tips on dressing the mind and body for successWednesday May 03 2023
Chacha Odera, a senior partner at Oraro and Company Advocates, has had an illustrious career spanning over 34 years. On April 26 this year, he turned 59.
He shares his journey and how style has been an integral part of his personal brand development
Describe the journey in your legal career to date.
Law was never my first choice. When I was at Lenana School, we had a rugby coach, David Henderson, who also doubled up as an economics teacher.
He greatly influenced many of the students' decisions to choose Bachelor of Commerce as a university course. Unsurprisingly, upon completing high school, I was admitted to the University of Nairobi (UoN) to pursue a Bachelors of Commerce degree.
Within the first week, I realised I was taking the wrong course. The Maths which I was trying to avoid was in every single unit and the lecturer would use such difficult words in his lessons that you would have to first understand his choice of words then understand what he is teaching.
I decided to apply to switch courses to architecture and design. After speaking to a few students I was informed that architects constantly had projects and often worked overnight to beat their deadlines.
I reasoned, 'Surely I didn’t come to university to struggle so hard and yet I need to engage in extracurricular activities and go partying at night'. So I decided to change again to study law.
The Vice-Chancellor at that time was the late Professor Festus Mutere, my father’s friend and brother-in-law. I went to seek advice about my situation and he told me to think keenly about the path I wanted to follow.
Eventually, I settled on law and my application to the Faculty of Law was accepted.
Thereafter, I soon realised there would be a lot of reading required and started wondering if I should change courses again but it was too late because the time allowed for changes had already lapsed.
I graduated from UoN in 1984 and from The School of Law in 1987. I did my pupillage programme at Daly and Figgis Advocates, the oldest law firm back then.
My focus was on probates and trusts – setting up people’s trusts or administering trusts. I got bored quickly. I wanted to be in court like other lawyers.
So I moved on to work with James Orengo [now Siaya County Governor] as an associate. My father was livid as he was a great Anglo-African man who loved the ways of the Englishmen and their anglicised style at Davy and Figgis.
Working for Mr Orengo was a great experience as I was able to better understand and experience civil law.
But Mr Orengo never saw a demonstration that he didn’t want to participate in! I worked with him on political cases for various clients for six years before moving on to work with Oraro and Rachier in 1989.
I was the youngest associate at that time. Mr Rachier retired and set up his own law firm and then ours changed to Oraro and Company Advocates.
I have been in this firm for 34 years. I have transitioned from a junior associate to a Senior Partner, which is more of an advisory role.
What is your most memorable experience as a lawyer in the firm?
When I joined the firm they gave me all the work that my colleagues did not want to do. One Friday evening I was fed up and walked into Mr George Oraro’s office with my resignation letter.
He smiled and picked a rubber band from his desk and stretched it with his fingers and said, “You know potential is like a rubber band. It’s very useful to the extent to which you can stretch it. You have a lot of potential but you’re not stretching it so I am stretching it for you !”
He threw my letter away and gave me another file that he needed that night to work on! Good sense prevailed and I picked up the file, went to work and submitted it later that night.
How has your personal style evolved?
My style has been greatly influenced by two main factors. First, Tudor Jackson, the School of Law principal for many years mentored students on how to dress professionally as lawyers.
Secondly, Lenana School discipline, especially when it came to dressing was very strict. The rule then was all students had to have their stockings held up with a garter.
One time George Sale, my housemaster stopped me and upon inspection, he realised my stockings were held up but with no garter. I was punished.
I felt that he was being unfair because my stockings were held up. Later he hosted me for dinner at his house and explained that the function of the garters was not just to hold up the stockings, but to follow instructions.
I didn’t see the logic then but years later I was sitting on a panel interviewing candidates who had applied for a job at the Kenya Law Reform Commission.
Many candidates who were qualified were dismissed because they didn’t listen to simple instructions and carry the specific documents as requested.
Is there a direct link between one’s personal brand and career?
Yes, when we talk about someone’s personal brand it really goes beyond just the dressing. Dressing may capture someone’s attention and they engage you.
But once they are engaged, you must have a brand that extends beyond your image. It must be based on excellence in your deliverables, honesty, integrity, humility, and professionalism.
From which outlets, either local or international, do you shop for your suits?
For a very long time, my wife used to shop for my suits whenever she travelled outside the country.
In the last three years, however, I have had my bespoke suits made by local designer Sydney Owino of SAO Sartorial.
I am very impressed not only by his work ethic but his attention to detail, entrepreneurial skills, the team he has employed and the technology he uses in his communication and creative processes.
What are some key factors you consider when purchasing a suit?
A versatile suit, one that I can wear both to work and other functions. Many years ago, I think it was in 1994, a friend of mine was getting married and I was one of his groomsmen.
We went to Italian Menswear in town and ordered suits, each with a Sh35,000 price tag. At that time I was earning around Sh50,000, so that was most of my salary gone.
We selected beautiful classic navy blue suits that required alterations. When I went back for the final fitting, the suits were beige!
The shop informed me that at the last minute, my friend had changed the colour scheme. I was very upset. But since the suit was already paid for and I was supporting my friend, I wore it. I have never worn it again.
How much are you willing to spend when purchasing a suit?
The price is never a factor so long as the suit fits well and is versatile. My suits cost anything between Sh35,000 and Sh50,000.
What do you typically wear on casual Fridays and Weekends?
When dress down Fridays started it was during my tenure as managing partner. I started wearing blazers, casual jackets, shirts and khaki pants and the rest of the team followed suit.
Later on, we had to issue a memo that even as they dress down, specific parameters must be adhered to. On weekends my style is mainly jeans, khakis, polo shirts, and loafers.
What do you like to do outside of work?
My weekdays are very hectic. I live up in Ngong, so I am in the office by 6:15 am every day. I like to keep my weekends open to relax, occasionally I do some work in my home office.
I socialise with my friends at the Karen Country Club. I don’t play golf, but I like to socialise. I also like to travel to my rural home in Uholo in the 'Great Republic' of Siaya.
Do you think the tie will disappear from the corporate realm in the next five years?
In the legal profession, it has started fading off slowly, especially with the transactional lawyers who do not go to court. They prefer the Business Smart look, that's blazers, shirts and no ties.
The tie may disappear but not for lawyers going to court. Our founding partner Mr Oraro does not wear a tie if he is not going to court.
Did your dress code change at the start of the pandemic when we were working from home?
During the first week of the pandemic, I was in my home office and working in a tracksuit. I was so depressed and with the uncertainties of the future, the mood was sombre.
By the second week, I changed gears and started dressing up in a full suit, tie and shoes while working from home. My wife was very amused but for me, it made a difference in my mindset and attitude.
What styling tips do you have for the younger generation of lawyers?
As they start off in their career, I would advise them to be conservative and smart. They should not prescribe a dress code to an organisation that already has one.
As they progress and establish themselves, they can be the ultimate determinant of how they want to look and their personal style.
Which article of clothing should male lawyers not skimp on?
A well-fitting suit does not have to be expensive but must fit well. Opt for suit colours in classic navy blue, charcoal grey, and black.
The suits can either be plain or pinstriped. Shirts should be in light pastel colours, that is white, pink and blue. Finally, top the look with a classic pair of Oxford shoes.
What is the most memorable advice your parents have given you?
Let me start with my mother. She told me that you can take many positions of responsibility but do not be just right in the way you treat people, be fair to everyone.
My late father told me that in life he had done many good things, he asked me to emulate the good things he had done. He had also made his mistakes and from them he wanted me to learn to avoid doing similar mistakes.
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