Once inside her palatial home, she giggles at a mundane question I pose: “How is law with you today?”
Renee Omondi is a woman of law. We both flick a laugh at the unlikelihood of her ever treading on the wrong side of the law.
With a wry smile, Renee affirms that she has nothing but respect for the law. What if her son was ever to commit a felony that would attract a penalty as surreal as death?
“It would be a chilling experience. I wouldn’t want to find myself in such a situation. As his mother, I would swirl with emotion but to that point, I could only offer my advice. The law, like a double-edged sword, cuts both sides. I would let it chat its course,” she says.
Renee was born and grew up in the suburbs of Nairobi with her parents — a doctor and a teacher — and two siblings.
“I was a law-abiding child. I respected the rules at home. Both mother and father wanted us to heed their instructions and I was probably the best at it.”
She had no idea that her career in law was manifesting in her. All she ever wanted to be, as she recalls, was a secretary. But as she grew up and ascended past primary into high school, her foray into Law shaped up. From the way she rose to argue student’s cases among her peers and at times to teachers, anybody could surmise her love for justice, truth and the rule of law.
Life has hurdles, though, and one appeared at the time she completed high school. “The results came back and I had not passed well enough to get admission into the university to study Law. I missed the cut for the cluster points. As disappointing as it was, I was still determined to study Law,” she says.
Renee would afterwards apply for a five-year programme at India’s Nagpur University to accomplish her longing to practice Law. When she came back home in 1996 after graduation, she was denied admission to Kenya School of Law (KSL) — the institution that ratifies and confirms qualification of all practicing lawyers in the country. The officials at the institution thought an Indian Law degree was of substandard quality.
She hired lawyer PLO Lumumba to follow up the matter and it surprisingly turned out that there was no particular reason for her not to be admitted to the institution.
This was her first direct brush with how the law works. She could not imagine letting go of five years spent studying to be a lawyer in a foreign country.
I tell her that lodging a case in court to see her application to KSL through was a show of determination. She pauses for a second and says, “I wanted to achieve my dream and being barred from KSL was holding me from achieving that dream. I believe in the rule of law and I could not find a reason why I hadn’t qualified to join the institution.”
Renee was eventually admitted to the bar in 1999 and since then, she has been a zealot of law and order. She joined Christine and Oraro Associates where she nurtured her career. She also joined the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) and has since risen through the ranks to become the organisation’s chairperson.
She is, like many accomplished women, an embodiment of that sober, staunch and pragmatic level-headed woman who understands her rights, what she wants and has a blueprint to achieving it.
“In 2007, having been a board member of LSK since 2001, I was elected as a council member. Last year in March, I vied for the vice-chair’s position and was duly installed after winning,” says Renee.
From the time she was young, her father made it clear to her that she had to work hard to curve out her own life and build it. It was the rule and she strove to keep. At times she had to learn the hard way. In fact, she lost her first case.
“I felt like giving up. I was hoping to begin well, but the judge ruled against my client. I picked myself up and forged ahead.”
It’s a decision she has never regretted. Despite the challenges of school and qualification, Renee managed to brush everything aside to achieve what was always in her loins as a young girl: Implementing law. She was an emerging prodigy at it.
Even though she is the second born, between her brother and sister, Renee portrayed a rare level of maturity when she was still young. Her father wouldn’t look any further whenever he wanted to put somebody in charge of the house every time he wasn’t home. Her spirit to shun trouble and adhere to rules made her a darling.
She says: “My father believed in me. He trusted me with a lot of things and knew everything would turn out as he wanted because I kept his rules. He, however, wanted me to follow in his footsteps and do medicine but my mind was made up on law by the time I finished high school.”
He was a guiding angel to Renee but in a sad turn of events, he died of cancer last year. And just like always, he left the family house under Renee — the one he believed would uphold law and order.
“I think I am fitting in his shoe in managing the house,” she tells me. But one thing her father would be proud of is her tenacity to be successful in everything she does. Her son, Trevor Joseph, named after his deceased grandfather, is in Class Six and eloquently says that he wants to be a doctor. Renee’s father wasn’t wrong after all, to have spotted some amount of Medicine in his daughter.
Juggling her responsibilities at LSK with running her private firm — Renee Omondi and Company advocates — and bringing up a young boy is not easy. However, with each passing day, she couldn’t be happier doing all she loves.