Welcome to Maggie Baingana Kali, LLM ’04, who is a lawyer based in Kigali, Rwanda.
- Maggie, could you please tell us your career path since you received your LLM at McGeorge?
It is almost 20 years since I was an LLM student at McGeorge School of Law, but it feels like it was just yesterday. Right after graduation, I was not thinking about my career path. I was only thinking about returning home to Rwanda as quickly as possible in order to marry my then fiancé Jean-Louis. After my wedding in August 2004, Dr. Margee Ensign, who was the dean of the School of International Studies at University of the Pacific (UOP) at the time, got in touch with me and invited me to join her and work on establishing a fellowship program through Tulane University’s technical assistance program to Rwanda. I had come from a criminal law/prosecution background to an LLM in government law and policy, and now was veering off that road and landed myself into development work in higher education and the health sector in Rwanda! I worked for Tulane University programs in Rwanda for several years doing training, faculty development in e-learning with the University of Rwanda, and managing multi-million-dollar grants from USAID and CDC. I got to interact with the government, international development partners and teaching faculty at the University of Rwanda, an experience I cherish until now.
During the many years with Tulane, I missed legal practice and therefore sought occasions that would help me to keep one foot in the legal world. I got together with other female lawyers, and we founded an association of women lawyers in Rwanda with the mission to advocate for women and raise awareness for women’s issues in post-genocide Rwanda. In the meantime, Rwanda’s economy was growing, and the country was opening up as an international investment destination. There was a need for English-speaking lawyers to support the business community and I saw this as an answer to my desire to enter into private legal practice. In 2017 we established Shield Associates, a corporate/commercial law firm that serves the business community in Kigali and the region. In less than 5 years, and with two years of covid interruption, Shield has grown to become one of the leading law firms in Rwanda and in East Africa, with clients from Europe, the U.S., the Middle-East, and many countries in Africa.
- You were a trailblazer as the first Rwandan attorney to come to McGeorge for your LLM. Could you please tell us what it was like to arrive in Sacramento and to be immersed in American legal education?
It was my first time leaving the continent of Africa! It was a whirlwind for me. I had studied in English all my formal education years, and I went to law school in Uganda at Makerere University and studied law based on the British common law system. But when I arrived for my first class, I could have sworn they were not speaking English. Everyone (except Professor Linda Carter) spoke so fast, and they used so many acronyms and phrases that I had never heard before. In one class, I was sure I had read through all my assigned reading only to be asked why the plaintiffs had to sue Uncle Sam! There was no one named Uncle Sam in all the reading I had done the previous night, so I asked the professor who this person is and whose uncle he was. When the class burst out laughing, the professor responded to me with so much grace and explained the origin of referring to the federal government as Uncle Sam. He paused and asked everyone to be considerate and graceful with me as I was finding my bearings. This marked the beginning of my journey not only to learn the law, but also to discover the American culture and language.
All the teachers made sure that we knew that they were there to help us to learn and succeed. The school gave us opportunities to meet leaders in the government as part of our learning. I met then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Kerry, and many judges and legislators. The icing on the cake was being part of the Kennedy scholars, traveling with then-Dean Elizabeth Rindskopf Parker to the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., and meeting Justice Kennedy and the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I also really wanted to meet the late Justice Antonin Scalia because I had ready so many decisions written by him, but it did not happen. To sum it up, my experience was simply awesome and I’m forever grateful.
- Which course or courses did you enjoy the most and why? What did you think of the law school community?
There were so many courses that were really wonderful. I especially enjoyed comparative criminal law because I had just come from working for our public prosecution during the time of prosecuting genocide cases. I also enjoyed constitutional law and international investment and development. One of my fondest memories during my education at McGeorge is being cast as the U.S. government delegate in mock UN deliberations discussing Guantanamo issues. My favorite answer to all those who were accusing the U.S. of wrong doing was, “I cannot comment due to national security considerations.”
- How would you describe the contribution of your LLM to your career? What has been your contribution to law practice in Rwanda and within the East Africa Community?
I have seen the contribution of my LLM mostly in the invaluable exposure to a diverse way of thinking, ideas, and approach to solving problems that I apply to my day-to-day legal professional engagements. The community of international and American students, and teachers with whom I formed friendships and professional contacts has helped me to get opportunities that I would not have had access to if I had not had this opportunity. Lastly, learning the foundations of U.S. law through the LLM really gave me an understanding of the American legal system and has helped to improve my confidence as I interact with and serve clients from that part of the world. I have served on the Rwanda Bar Association and the East Africa Law Society’s governing council and on its rule of law committee. I’m a member of Rwanda Leaders’ Fellowship and I’m an appointed director of the largest pan-African bank on the continent.
- Are you in touch with classmates from your LLM year? Do you think that it would be useful to have a greater network of McGeorge LLM alums?
Yes, I’m in touch with some in Europe, the U.S. and some from Africa. This September, I was pleasantly surprised to run into my McGeorge roommate at the Orange County Airport! Suffocating bear hugs exchanged and it did good to my soul. I absolutely believe it would be beneficial for everyone to have a network of McGeorge LLM alumni for personal and professional exchanges.
- As a final question, we can’t resist asking about a very special wedding shower that we happen to know took place in Sacramento. Could you please tell us about that?
Oh, this is a memory I still cherish! I don’t know of any other place where professors, international and American students, and friends work together to throw an amazing bridal shower bash for this African student who was far from home and could not have in her wildest dreams imagined such a blessing! There was amazing food, meaningful and scandalous gifts and heartwarming speeches and well wishes for my wedding! I will never forget that day! That is a testament to the type of community/family I found at McGeorge. I would love for our experiences at McGeorge to culminate into the establishment of an alumni network.