“We exist to provide an innovative service that nurtures relationships and impacts lives.” These words drive the award-winning IFLR recommended law firm KTA Advocates (formerly Karuhanga & Tabaro Associates). It’s located in Uganda, with an East African regional presence in Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania, DRC, South Sudan, and Rwanda. Founded 14 years ago, its vision is to be the go-to regional firm of choice. Leading the firm is Managing Partner Asmahaney Saad, a highly respected and seasoned business leader. She was recently recognized amongst the national Top 40 under 40 in Uganda’s New Vision 2022. In addition, she was nominated for Partner of the Year by Africa Legal Awards in 2021 as well as 2022. She also serves on the boards of United Bank for Africa (UBA-U), Iman Africa Energy, and Platform Capital as a non-executive director (an angel investor fund in Africa). Furthermore, she serves on the Investment Advisory Committee of the Petroleum Revenue Investment Fund (advising the Minister of Finance on the creation of a Sovereign Wealth Fund from petroleum revenues). She has also served as Secretary General to the East Africa Law Society’s Governing Council (2018-2021).
KTA Advocates has been at the forefront of legal business in Uganda due to their client-centric approach and technological innovation in an industry that is reputed to be very traditional. As Asmahaney shares, “Our USP is our client-centric service. We are local with a regional and international outlook.” Based on collaboration and respect, it helps them offer the best possible multidisciplinary service in the market, helping their clients make better business decisions with the constant development of their clients, employees, and society as a whole.
Intuitive, Disciplined, & Tenacious: Qualities that Helped Shape Her Career:
“I started my career as in-house counsel in different corporate organizations. Almost 10 years later, I made an intuitive decision to seek more than what everyone else looked at the peak of my career. I was working for an international oil and gas company, well respected among my peers, with what looked like a bright future ahead. When I left, I had to rebuild my career and find my place in the business of law,” shares Asmahaney. This journey was hard and filled with trials and tribulations. The pain and fear she felt, combined with the self-leadership, focus, tenacity, discipline, and courage she displayed, proved to be the most critical part of her leadership journey. It paved the way for her to reach where she stands today, both as a business leader and a woman. As she puts it, “I never planned for leadership; leadership was always part of me.”
She joined KTA in 2020 when their firms merged, inspired by the shared values and the incredible opportunity to lead the firm to the next level as a partner. She says, “I joined the firm to head and build the corporate, commercial, and projects practice. As I embarked on this journey, I realized there was a need to institutionalize, strategically consolidate, and capitalize on the firms’ strengths to move to the next level, which is the East African Region. In the next half year since joining the firm, I took on the role of head of strategy and developed a ten-year strategy, vision, and execution matrix that would get us into the East African region, the African continent, and the international world. By the end of my first year at KTA, I was made the Managing Partner, a role that is held on a rotational basis in the partnership.”
Faith, Tradition, and Religion: The Power of Belief:
For Asmahaney, her faith has been her driving force. As a born-again Christian, her deep relationship with God has challenged her notions and filled many gaps in her life. She says, “I take every assignment as a divine assignment; I value my representation of faith in all the spaces that I am in. This allows me to set a higher standard of performance because it’s not about me but God, and in there I have built resilience even in the hardest of times.” Coming from an African traditional and Muslim religious background, finding her place in society, let alone as a female lawyer, has been a journey of self-discovery that continues to this day. Her biggest obstacle was overcoming SELF which meant looking beyond the profession, her culture, background, beliefs, and environment. “Overcoming biases is a continuous process and starts with SELF,” says Asmahaney. “I have let my capabilities, work ethic, and overall personality speak for me. In brief, it’s the results I deliver that have gotten me to where I am today.”
On this journey of self-discovery, she was highly inspired and came to see her inspirations as wings that gave her the belief that she could also dream and achieve greatness. Growing up, she was inspired by the first female Vice President in Uganda, Dr. Specioza Wandera Kazibwe. She shares, “Seeing her standing next to the President made me see it is possible.” And now, “I draw my inspiration from Oprah Winfrey as a leader that has impacted the lives of many young girls in Africa through education.”
Traits, Routines, and Outlets: An Insight into a Leader’s Life:
Asmahaney believes that a leader must have certain traits to be able to be a role model. She says, “A leader should be able to influence, listen, empathise, serve, be tenacious, and mentor/succession, as well as understand your strengths and weaknesses; leverage the positives, and build a team to fill the gap in the weaker aspects, in short, self-awareness is the magic bullet to good leadership.” Working with other female leaders has inspired her and she places their traits in high regard, being highly purpose-driven yet maintaining work-life balance to break the proverbial glass ceiling. Despite the fact that gender stereotypes persist, “you have to put in twice as much work as your male counterparts to maintain your place at the table.”
Being a full-time managing partner with a family makes maintaining work-life balance a priority. She says, “My mornings start at 5:00 am with my quiet time with God (reading the Bible and praying), family time (catching up with my husband and children), and then I head to work. A typical work day for me is a combination of meetings, working on client briefs, managing teams, and stakeholder engagements. I love to end my day at the gym, then head home (homework, day’s catchup), pray, and read a book to sleep. I have to do prayer-mediation every day. I just try my best to give quality time to my family when I am with them. My husband and children are a primary source of my energy, so it’s quality time.” She loves socializing with friends in different circles and her workouts (especially dance classes). She is also involved in Church Ministry, professional mentorship, and different community outreach projects.
She has amassed a lot of experience in her 14 years of working, rising to the top of the chain, but for her, it’s just the start. She explains, “I don’t see myself as successful but only the successes I have had. This means there is still more to do. I have not made it. My vision is to use my successes in leadership to mentor and groom next-generation female leaders. Until I have a minimum of 50 female leaders at the top, I have not yet even scratched the surface of success. I still have a long way to go.” To advance professionally, she prioritizes continuous learning, networking, learning other disciplines, reading, and mentorship.
She has some insights for the coming generations eyeing the legal field that will help prepare them for the upcoming challenges that life and the profession will throw at them:
- “The practice of law is a tough business, but women have a place at the top.”
- “It’s okay to fail because life is a process and failure is a catalyst for success. Let’s choose to learn from our failures and move on.”
- “Balancing work and life is tough, but you can achieve quality moments with your loved ones that will last a lifetime. So be intentional about those moments and never feel guilty about pursuing your passion because that is your purpose in life.”
- “Never be afraid to lead; it takes one breath of courage.”
- “Never be afraid to start over at whatever stage in life you are in.”
- “Have a learner’s mind and choose to live every moment of life as a learner. You will grow.”
Looking Beyond: Challenges & Vision:
Asmahaney feels that the challenges the legal market faces are based on the changes in the relationship with clients, attracting and retaining talent, innovation, and institutionalization. She shares, “Today’s companies need lawyers not only to resolve legal issues but also to support their business development efforts. We stay current and, along with the standard deep level of legal knowledge, have additional training and tools in the areas of business, technology, project management, and data analysis. It requires moving from the traditionally experienced lawyer to attract business to a multidisciplinary lawyer who understands business.”
Looking ahead, she believes to stay relevant, firms must stay nimble in adopting technology as it will drive the industry. Expanding the legal sector into emerging areas like agriculture, climate change, tech adaptation including artificial intelligence, green energy, collaborating with other firms, and having versatile teams will be the driving forces for future growth. As for her firm, institutionalizing their legal practice in the East African region remains a top priority.