On social media, TONNY TUMUKUNDE has endeared himself to several followers as the advocate of young lawyers. He will either be announcing a new court ruling or will be helping a young lawyer raise tuition for the next semester.
And at just 32 years, the trail-blazing Tumukunde is already employing more than 20 lawyers at his law firm. As Samuel Muhindo writes, Tumukunde’s benevolence stems from his childhood experiences.
The reception at Tumukunde and Company Advocates exudes an aura of a young people-led workspace. As I walks through the offices, visibly youthful lawyers are at work.
“I am the oldest among them all,” Tumukunde said. On the walls of his office are photos of Tumukunde’s children, wife and mother. “I was brought up by a single mother. I am a product of her success. Her photo reminds me to support the girl child at any stage in life”.
Tumukunde was born on August 6, 1991, to Amos Bashaija and Juliet Namugaya in Jinja, Eastern Uganda. Tumukunde is the second-born child among three children. In the early years, the Bashaijas oscillated between Kampala and Jinja until the family finally settled in Jinja.
For his school, Tumukunde attended Kaliro Model PS, Kiira College Butiki for both ordinary and advanced levels of education. After S6 at Butiki, Tumukunde proceeded to Uganda Christian University (UCU), where he pursued a Bachelor of Laws. He later joined the Law Development Center in Kampala for a post-graduate diploma in legal practice.
At the tender age of eight, Tumukunde witnessed the separation of his parents. “I was in Primary Two when my parents separated due to irreconcilable differences.”
Although Tumukunde enjoyed a good relationship with his father, the separation strained it.
“I didn’t see this separation coming because our father loved us very much. All the responsibilities of bringing up a child rested on my mother’s shoulders. From my experiences at home, I committed myself to protecting the sanctity of marriage, protecting the girl child, and supporting single mothers in any way. I have vowed to never blame my parents for their mistakes,” he said.
Tumukunde met the father twice after the separation, before his wedding.
“I met him when I was in senior two, the second time when I was joining campus. These were always short interactions. We reconnected fully at my wedding. He played a major role during the wedding. We have been at good times since then”.
Cheekily, Tumukunde said his student life at Butiki prepared him for the university life that awaited him after senior six.
“My time in Butiki was guided by the libertarian principle of life. Students were self-driven. We were never scolded for making mistakes. Life there prepared me for adult life when I joined UCU, and I had to fend for myself.”
He added, “By the time I joined UCU, it was among the most expensive universities in Uganda. She sat me down and we discussed how fees could be paid, and I went to do law. My mother was very honest with us as children. From the onset, we learned that we were studying on loans. She would seat the three of us at the table and then explain to us the sources of tuition. Since we didn’t have enough money, I learned that we couldn’t report to school at the same time. There were schedules for reporting”.
“The situation got worse when I joined UCU. Since it was expensive, it took a toll on my young brother and elder sister. They always delayed reporting to school because I had to pay my tuition on time. It wasn’t easy, but my mother managed”.
During his time at UCU, Tumukunde served as the guild speaker for the university from his second to fourth year. Although the current lawyers automatically join the LDC immediately after graduating with their law degree. Tumukunde joined on the third attempt at the bar course pre-entry exams.
“I failed the pre-entry examinations in 2016, tried and failed in 2017, until 2018, when I was eventually admitted. My first failure in 2016 was difficult to comprehend. I felt I was a ‘smart student’ who should have been admitted first. I learned quickly that wasn’t how life worked”.
Dejected upon rejection, Tumukunde found solace working with the law firm Mungoma and Company Advocates in Mukono.
“My salary was Shs 200,000.”
It kept me until 2018 when I entered LDC. I found some of my colleagues still there. By the time I joined LDC, my parents insisted that I pay all my tuition. I used to pay the tuition and all other errands. The clients I met during my time at Mungoma kept me going. They gave me errands that kept me with a good flow of money.
Since I knew my problems, I worked myself with books. Fortunately, I passed LDC on the first attempt”. Tumukunde joined K&K Advocates in Kampala for his internship and clerkship.
During his final semester at LDC, Tumukunde was recruited by the Uganda Registration Services Bureau as an officer.
“I was among the four best-performing students at the time of graduation that were taken up by URSB. Sometimes these circumstances, like the two rejections, were set by God. I was triggered to work hard. I was very straight with my books. Since I felt that my friends were ahead of me, I decided to marry my wife at around 26. I was doing everything almost in double format so that I could catch up with my friends”.
STARTING THE LAW FIRM
After a short stint at URSB, Tumukunde rejoined K&K Advocates for a year before leaving to start his law firm. At 29 years old, he opened the doors of Tumukunde and Co. Advocates on January 10, 2021.
“The start wasn’t easy, but I stayed the course. I didn’t have big clients who had put me on a retainer. I only had my savings from my time at URSB to look forward to. A client I had worked with on their 2016 election petitions funded my law firm when I chose to go solo. He gave me my first car. Another colleague, who was abroad at the time, assigned me cases. My wife chipped in her money when we started. Since then, we have risen from five to 20 lawyers”.
Even when the start was hard, Tumukunde insisted that going solo brought gratification.
“Although I had a well-paying job, I wanted to get little from my sweat while branding myself. I wanted to build a brand”.
To give the law firm direction, Tumukunde recently announced Ritah Asiimwe as the managing partner of the firm.
He added, “Whenever one builds a brand, let them not die on it. Although she is young with only three years of experience, she is capable. I am only able to be here because senior lawyers like Kiryowa Kiwanuka, the attorney general, mentored me at a very tender age. It was time for me to pass the mantle of leadership to fresh blood. I have great belief that there is so much ladies can do when they are given the latitude to bring out the best in themselves, both as leaders and managers.”
Cheekily, Tumukunde emphasized that dealing with young lawyers required benevolence.
“Although you pay them little, their pay should be prompt. In the first three years, a young lawyer works for transport, food and rent. Young lawyers are not demanding a lot. They need someone to allow them to grow themselves.”
WHAT OTHERS SAY ABOUT HIM
Kelvin Balyebuga, a lawyer at the firm, said, “Since I have worked elsewhere, Tumukunde’s belief in young people stands out. He provides both mentorship and guidance to young lawyers. He interacts with his employees as equals. He has allowed
us to have a say in money matters. Someone starting a career wants such a relationship with their boss”.
Like Balyebuga, Ritah Asiimwe, the new managing partner of the law firm, said, Tumukunde’s selflessness had made their law firm a dream one-stop center for young lawyers.
“He trusts you with so much responsibility. He has exposed us to assignments we didn’t expect to do in our first years of practice. He is patient with our young staff. Even as a founder, he doesn’t take any decision without consulting with me, the managing partner. He has eased my role of providing oversight to the law firm and the team.”