The Workchop Conversation with June Okal, Legal Advisor & Co-Organizer, Legal Hackers

Written by Jesulayomi Adetola

September 2, 2021

The Workchop Conversations is an ongoing series of conversations with different players in both the law, tech & justice tech space, sharing about their work and innovative role within the space, promoting access to justice in Africa.

For this week, we have June Okal, a legal professional with years of experience mitigating legal risk and advising Government State Corporations as well as high value global clients on Intellectual Property, Technology, Telecommunications and Media transactions as well as In House Counsel supporting a trillion dollar leading technology company’s operations across fifty one countries in Sub Saharan Africa.

Tell us briefly how the transition was, from being a counsel to working with different organizations like ARTICLE 19 and Legal Hackers, Kenya. Was there anything particular that spurred the move?

I wouldn’t say it was a move per se as all the roles are related and in the field of Technology, Media. and Telecommunications. I have always wanted to have some across the board experience in the industry in order to appreciate the unique challenges and nuances in each. For instance, I started work in tech policy at the equivalent of an ICT Department, but for the Government of Kenya supporting in setting up ICT Standards to be adopted, then worked at the Copyright regulator where we ratified rules on copyright exemptions for the visually challenged as well as introducing the first Kenyan legal instrument on intermediary liability, then engaged at a leading Think Tank that seeks to catalyze ICT reforms through a multistakeholder approach, to offering legal and regional client advisory at a boutique and specialist TMT law firm, to setting up the office and helping protect clients IP for one of the largest IP firms globally, shifting to a big tech service provider interfacing with a user base of +1B and then to a passive infrastructure telecommunications provider and currently at ARTICLE 19 where we advocate for freedom of expression and information, with a focus on the Domain Name System. The transition at each point has been exciting, some more seamless than others, but because the foundation is the same, it is simpler to build upon it.

What does your role as an Internet of Rights Fellow at ARTICLE 19 entail? Could you tell us a bit about ARTICLE 19, what it is about and who it is for?

As an Internet of Rights Fellow, I’m part of the International team at ARTICLE 19. Since 2014, ARTICLE 19 has been a pioneer in introducing and strengthening human rights considerations in the design, development, and deployment of Internet infrastructure by participating in global Internet governance bodies where technical standards and policy development happens. The main goal is to protect and promote freedom of expression, freedom of association, privacy, and other human rights in key Internet technical standards and policy bodies. 

Under the Business and Human Rights track which I work under, my mentor Ephraim Kenyanito and I actively engage within the Internet Governance ecosystem, particularly at the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). At ICANN, we monitor policy development processes and drafting of policies which outline how the internet as a public resource is managed and we advocate for the upholding and respect of Freedom of Expression and Information.  

With your work experiences from being an In-house counsel to a TMT lawyer, IP lawyer and even as co-organizer at Legal Hackers Kenya, what one experience has shaped you so far? Could you share any major advice for lawyers and other players in the legal industry?

When I was in my first year of uni, one of our lecturers, Ms. Pamela Ager asked us to read the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Malcolm speaks of the 10,000 hour rule for anyone to be good at what they do. She emphasized the need for us to stand out from the pack, the Kenya School of Law for instance, churns about 2000 students each year. Kenya’s bar association has over 14,000 advocates, the question then is, how do you differentiate yourself from the pack. Focus on that and be excellent at it.

What is that one problem if, given the chance, you would like to solve within your industry?

Cross functional collaboration. Having worked at different stakeholder groups, I have come to appreciate the varied interests that each has and seeks to protect. While there is some level of cross functional and multi stakeholder engagement, with increased trust, goodwill and a collaborative spirit, a lot more can be achieved in the ecosystem.

Walk us through a typical workday. How do you keep track of what you have to do?

I’m currently taking a gap ‘month’ off active work at the moment – which I think is highly underrated. Having the space to rest and rejuvenate allows you to take a step back, have a breather and re-evaluate your life choices, align priorities and set new ones. I now go with the flow. But resources that have greatly helped me in the past are Calendar bocking, to assign and block out time in the course of the day, having two notebooks – a day to day diary highlighting what needs to be done for each day and another to note down all tasks that are to be done regardless of urgency and timeline, and then checking off both lists of gradually.

What is that one ideology that you don’t agree with?

That we should all be entrepreneurs. For a long time this narrative has been pushed across all sectors for the youth. We do not all need to start businesses, if we do, where will the resource base come from but more importantly it is possible for one to be passionate about an entrepreneur’s dream and there is nothing wrong with that. According to Investopedia, for instance, in 2019, the failure rate of startups was around 90%. Research concluded that 21.5% of startups fail in the first year, 30% in the second year, 50% in the fifth year, and 70% in their 10th year. Among other reasons of course, for me, I think that narrative is partially to blame.

What artist do you listen to the most? What is your favourite music app?

Sauti Sol without a doubt. App – Deezer. While I know many may disagree and go with Apple Music, Spotify and SoundCloud, I really, really like Deezer, I think their AI/ML software is very good at gauging/reading the mood and auto playing related genres and similar songs.

Funny question, what is the funniest thing that happened to you recently?

I kept waiting for something funny to happen to me for weeks, lol. I’m rather surprised at the power of social media, it’s reach and how it’s changing the power of weak ties. I recently needed to offload an asset, I put it up on Instagram, and in about 10 mins it was gone, I had to delete the initial post in a matter of miniutes. I think it’s quite interesting to see that power firsthand.  

Who would you like to answer these questions? (Here, we expect that you nominate someone to answer these questions too)

Let’s start with the person responsible for bringing me into the tech space, Ms. Grace Bomu, the one responsible for my advocacy and lawyering Mr. Stephen Kiptinness, KICTANet Convenor and trailblazer in the field of ICT Policy, Grace Githaiga, my Co – Organizer at Nairobi Legal Hackers Rosemary Koech – Kimwatu, Thought leader and University Lecturer Prof. Bitange Ndemo whose way of thinking I hope to emulate, Lawyers in Technology Lean In Circle convenor Linda Anene who has found a way to bring leading female lawyers in technology in to one space, Founder and CEO of the Lawyers Hub who has built a fantastic community of lawyers and techies, Linda Bonyo, my seniors and kickass tech lawyers Nzilani Mweu and Mutindi Muema and talented young lawyer Sumaiyah Omar whose future is much brighter than she even knows.

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