Second female Vice President of the East Africa Law Society

Maria Mbeneka: Photo Courtesy
Maria Mbeneka: Photo Courtesy

Maria Mbeneka is no stranger to many especially in the legal circles having vied unsuccessfully for a seat in the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) earlier this year.

She is also a notable lawyer with a bias towards Conveyance which is the transfer of ownership in real property such as homes from one person to another.

Mbeneka also practices in Intellectual Property Law which deals with issues such as copyright and trademark, as well as in Family and Civil Law dealing with matters such as successions.

“I have practiced law for the last 13 years and those have been very rewarding years,” Mbeneka observes.

It is therefore clear that her journey to the busy and intimidating Kenyan Courts did not start yesterday, in fact her interest is the law is well linked to the activities that surrounded the fight for multiparty politics and democracy in this country.

Growing up in Nairobi, she would every now and then see the police make impromptu and frightening visits to the neighborhood where she and her family lived.

Many would peep behind window curtains and closed doors for this were different times and freedoms of expression and association were much more limited.

Many knew that the police were not making courtesy calls or in regular patrols to maintain security, they often came to arrest notable politician James Orengo, now a Senator, who had become a person of interest for his outspoken views on democracy and governance.

Turning point

This was in the late eighties and it went on through most of the nineties. In 1990 specifically, Mbeneka became even more aware of these visits by the police, she had just joined form one in Machakos Girls High School.

The sight of trouble, especially the kind that involves the police and jail cells should have made any teenage recoil in fear but those incidences significantly changed the course of young Mbeneka’s life.

“I grew up in the same neighborhood where notable persons in the fight for democracy such as Njeri Kabeberi, Maina Kiai and James Orengo also lived. In fact Maina Kiai gave me my first copy ever of the Constitution at the time,” she says.

Often, Mbeneka would wonder what would make a person to sacrifice their own freedom and comfort to fight for others “I would see Jaramogi Odinga make visits to James Orengo’s house,” she says.

This means that unlike most teenagers, she had in a way a front row seat of the period during which the one party system begun to unravel and people became bolder in their pursuit of democracy.

She also saw in person political figures that her peers only read about in history books and it was left to their imagination to create a mental image of who these political figures were.

“I knew then that I wanted to be a lawyer. After my fourth year I did not however qualify to study law in Kenya and my first option was to travel to the United Kingdom but it was too expensive,” Mbeneka expounds.

She therefore joined Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University in India. Here, it was a requirement that she first studies a Bachelor in Social Legislation before the Bachelor of Law degree.

Practice

It took her the specified five years to accomplish both graduating with first class honors in the Bachelor of Law degree.

Mbeneka was neither the only African or Kenyan studying law in India.

There were many others, in fact, there were two male law students, one senior, the other her peer who would later shape her career in very significant ways. But that would come later.

Upon returning to Kenya she joined the mandatory School of Law and should have consequently been admitted to the bar to practice in 2001 but she took a break to welcome her first child, a son. She also has a 10 year old daughter.

In the intervening years before Mbeneka would make it to the bar in 2003, she participated in very critical processes such as the Constitutional review in Bomas in 2002, processes that shaped her value system and work as an advocate.

Mbeneka joined the E.K Kimani law firm in 2003. Kimani had also studied in India.

She worked under his leadership for two years and in 2005, E.K Kimani became Kimani Kabucho Mbeneka Advocates.

She had made it as a partner in a law firm. A dream that had come just two years into her practice with the two male students who just like Mbeneka, had also travelled to study law in India years before.

Challenge

“The main challenge we faced is that we were new faces and especially in legal matters, people take time to warm up to new faces but we were not discouraged, we worked very hard to build a name and a profile to ensure that business picked up faster,” Mbeneka expounds.

It was therefore not long before clients came calling and the business has kept growing.

“We were friends before business and shared similar experiences having studied in India. This has made it very easy to form the kind of partnership where we might each have different clients but our responsibility to these clients is always singular,” she says.

Further saying that this means that in the absence of one partner “work does not stop, we step in for the interest of all our clients.”

For a lawyer, it is also very curious that she is also Chair and Director of Ghetto Radio 89.5 FM which is a Sheng Station offering news, views and entertainment by people from the urban ghetto.

“I represented two artists in court and one was working for Ghetto radio. The station was under a Trustee at the time and they were impressed with the work that I did and I was brought on board to join legal advisory,” she says.

Appointment

And the rest as they say is history. Moving forward, by virtue of her practice, Mbeneka was appointed to join the Industrial Property Tribunal where she was not only a member but the Vice Chair of the tribunal serving between 2010 and 2013.

“The Tribunal is a specialized court dealing with any matter touching on patenting, Industrial Designs and Utility Models among others,” she explains.

Further saying that the Industrial Property Tribunal also hears any appeals emerging from decisions made by the Director of the Kenya Industrial Property Institute (KIPI).

“If for example one applies for a patent to KIPI and they are not satisfied with the decision, the Tribunal becomes the Court of first instance meaning that you do not go to the High Court but to the Tribunal for the matter to be resolved,” Mbeneka expounds.

It is during her tenure where the team at the Tribunal managed to successfully get the commercial division of the High Court to transfer all matters relating to patenting, industry designs and utility designs among others to be transferred to the Tribunal making it easier to fast track such cases.

But despite her many other interest, Mbeneka’s work in Court has not missed a beat.