At 34 years old, Kow Essuman has had quite an interesting life. His legal career has seen him argue cases in the Supreme Court in Ghana, courts and tribunals in the United Kingdom and the United States of America.
Born and raised in Ghana until he left the country for England after he completed Senior High School, Kow recognizes the direct link between his personal growth and the growth of the country he calls home – Ghana.
He is a strong believer in using one’s position to go the extra mile to ensure that the vulnerable in society get the best they deserve.
Curious to get a better understanding the man, who also provides legal advice to the President of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo, Kuulpeeps.com held an exclusive interview with Kow Essuman.
Below is Q & A session we had with Kow Essuman via email. It’s a long read, but a very interesting one too…
Kuulpeeps: Congratulations on your nomination for the Outstanding Achievement Award for the Westminster Alumni Awards. We hope that you win. However, beyond the lawyer, who is Kow Essuman?
Kow: Kow is not defined by being a lawyer but by the purpose that God has for his life. He loves God and has faith in God, believes in the truth, honesty, and integrity. He likes football, Arsenal, video games, traveling and meeting new people to have discussions that advance knowledge. He believes that good people should be in politics. It’s only by having good people in politics that the development agenda of the country can actually be implemented. If you have greedy people who do not have the country at heart in politics, we will have a situation where people are just trying to serve their own interests.
Kuulpeeps: Tell us about your time in Ghana as a child.
Kow: I was one of the first students who started the Alpha Beta school in Dansoman. From there, I went to Morning Star and then from there I went to Prempeh College. After Prempeh College, I went to England. During my time in SHS, we had to do two and half years, and then wait a whole year at home before going to the university. For the period of waiting at home, I went to London and did a course there and then went to the University of Westminster. It was a very interesting period in Ghana because we grew up in the post 1992 constitutional era. I was born before 1992 during the military regime and then transitioned into the constitutional era. We saw a lot of the development of the rights we enjoy today. Our time was interesting, you were required to read a lot because there wasn’t a lot of media or social media to speak of.
Kuulpeeps: What childhood experience, if any, influenced you to become a lawyer?
Kow: I don’t think I had any childhood experience that influenced me to become a lawyer. It was never my intention or never part of my plan. Maybe my grandmother prophesied it because she used to say that I was her gentleman. First of all, I wanted to become an architect and then I wanted to become a pilot and then my uncle died in a plane crash and so the pilot dreams were just out of the window. But after that I wanted to become a medical doctor and then I thought about the fact that I didn’t like chemistry. I was good in biology and physics and stuff but I didn’t like chemistry. Not that I wasn’t good in it, I just didn’t like it. I thought it was too much so that’s why I didn’t choose General Science when I went to secondary school. When I went to secondary school, I did the arts subjects – government, elective maths, economics and geography. Even in secondary school, I wanted to become an economist so none of those experiences shaped me to become a lawyer. But interestingly, when I had to go to London after secondary school for one year, the course I did was a foundation in law course. I think that’s where the interest started and then I went to university and studied law.
Kuulpeeps: Can you share an inspirational (life changing) moment you’ve had while representing a client?
Kow: There are so many of them to be quite frank but one that stands out a lot is a Supreme Court case that I did. I think it was my first time actually arguing in the Supreme Court. I had been in the Supreme Court to take judgment and stuff but I hadn’t argued a case before the Supreme Court myself. My senior had traveled and so I had to go to the Supreme Court with a junior lawyer and I was going against one of the most respected senior lawyers in town. Our client was a multinational company in Ghana. Before court day, my senior didn’t think that we would win the case, but I had told him that we could, so he said we should give it a try. Because he was out of Ghana, he really didn’t think that we were going to win anyway so there was no harm in letting Kow argue it right? So we went to court and then as I sat in court I just started saying the Lord’s prayer because I didn’t know how this was going to work out and then the judge came to hear the motion. Because it was a motion, there was only one judge. The opposing senior lawyer got up and started arguing – it was a matter that had to do with the scope of an arbitration agreement. He argued and argued and argued and at a point I thought to myself, you know what, this case is dead on arrival. Then he said something that made me think that my defence was just done, so I sat there wondering what I was going to say. When it got to my turn, I got up and started arguing. Taking the arguments step by step, dealing with the procedural arguments and I realized that the judge was following my argument. Then suddenly, out of nowhere an argument just came out of my mouth and I repeated the argument again. I looked at the senior lawyer on the side and saw that he had started fidgeting. I knew that the case was done. So, I started arguing with so much passion and then when I finished, I sat down and the court was quiet. There were other senior lawyers at the bar and one of them said to me ‘well done young man’. Right there after arguing, the judge said he was ready to give his ruling. That never happens in the Supreme Court. You argue, they tell you to go and come back in two weeks for the decision and then maybe come back for the reasons but right there and then the judge gave his decision and ruled in my favour. The judge ruled in my favour and told us that we should come back in two weeks for the reasons for his ruling. Everyone in the court was surprised. We went two weeks later to listen to the reasons for the judge’s ruling, by this time, my senior had returned from his trip. The judge gave his reasons for that ruling and then asked my senior ‘where is the young man who came to argue this motion’ and then i got up and then the judge said “young man I congratulate you for the argument you made before me two weeks ago, you have a very good career ahead of you as an advocate and I really hope that you continue in that stride because we haven’t seen that kind of advocacy in this court for a while”. You can imagine. That was very inspirational and I really believe that God had a hand in that.
Kuulpeeps: Last year, many law students had issues with the Ghana Law School regarding the entrance exams. What is your opinion on that?
Kow: I think that the law school is going through a period of reform and they are trying as much as possible to make legal education accessible while balancing that with maintaining the quality of lawyers. The truth of the matter is that you go to court sometimes and you see some lawyers, you really doubt how they made it to the bar. So it’s important for the General Legal Council and those responsible for legal education to take all views into consideration and be able to balance it very well. At the same time, I think that there is a huge demand for legal services in Ghana. The ratio of lawyers to people is very, very high. It’s about one lawyer is to about 10,000 citizens or something like that. That is a very funny ratio and there are so many things that require legal services in this country. I think that the Law School is going through a period of reform and I am confident that at the end of the reform, it would have been able to balance the access to legal education while maintaining the standards and quality of lawyers that we need to provide legal services in this country.
Kuulpeeps: You had a high flying job in the United Kingdom. Why did you decide to relocate to Ghana in 2010?
Kow: No matter the kind of job you have outside of Ghana, Ghana is your home and there is nothing you can do about it. There is very little impact you can make in a country that is not yours. Rarely would you find people making that kind of impact. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen, it does happen, but then you have an opportunity to make a bigger impact in a country where you’re from. Corporate and commercial law transactions have happened in England for a very long time, so the question for me was whether you want to use your skills and contribute to the development of corporate and commercial law in Ghana or you want to stay in England and continue the high street practice. I thought that coming to Ghana would be a better option. When I moved back home, the jobs I landed were good enough to be able to convince me that I had made the right choice.
Kuulpeeps: While in New York, you represented indigent clients. How did that shape your worldview?
Kow: The two things that I used to do in New York when I was practicing in the legal aid clinic were the social security applications and unemployment insurance benefits. They were very, very interesting. You meet all kinds of people and who have all sorts of frailties and you have to help them as much as you can. One particular thing that I learned; there was this young lady that was slightly older than me who had a medical condition and the state of New York had refused to give her social security for some time even though she had applied again and had been refused. Obviously, we thought that they couldn’t refuse her because the medical reports and everything suggested that she had a medical condition but then they refused her in 2002, 2006 but I was of the view that they could reopen the case. My supervising attorney thought that I was pushing it but I just felt that it was only fair for us to give it a shot. If the Social Security Administration felt that it was not possible then they would say so and they will just give her the benefit from 2002 to date when we had filed. But if it was possible to reopen the case, that means that we would have gotten a lot more money for her, you know, because she really couldn’t do anything because of the medical condition. I made the argument, went to court and we filed it and we were successful in opening the case all the way back to the 90s, when she had initially been refused. What that did for me was that, it taught me that society has a lot of vulnerable people who present very sad situations and circumstances and they need help. The help that you can give may be within your ability to give but sometimes it doesn’t hurt to try to go the extra mile because by going the extra mile you may just be able to get them what they are really entitled to and not what the current circumstances say they are entitled to. So, it helped me to always think about the vulnerable.
Kuulpeeps: You work in the office of the President as Counsel, how does it feel knowing that you give expert advice to the most powerful man in the land?
Kow: Working in the President’s office has its ups and downs. This is a president who is himself a very, very accomplished lawyer. He knows the law more than I do. I mean, most of the cases I read or learnt about, he did all of them pretty much so how are you going to advise him? But the good thing is that it presents you with the opportunity to learn. Because the President is someone who likes to teach, and this is someone who teaches you, not based on what he has read but what he has actually done. Because you have that in mind, when you’re taking work to him or when he’s asking you for advice, you want to make sure that everything that you present to him is something that you are very satisfied with, leaving no doubt in your mind. You make sure that all ‘T’s are crossed all your ‘I’s are dotted before you go before him because the President likes to argue to make sure that what you’re telling him is accurate. So, he will argue, ask you questions and push you and you don’t have to back down or run away from your point. You have to argue back so that he knows you have done a thorough work. He always tells me this, what we are doing in this office is not for us, it’s not for today’s generation, but for generations to come and that any document that we draft, anything that we put on paper, it has to be so clear and understandable that thirty years or forty years from now, when they pick that document they will know and understand what we were trying to do. He has so much history and he imparts so much knowledge. It’s just a beautiful thing discussing work, having debates or arguments about things – how much he loves the country all comes in to play. It’s such a beautiful thing to see that in a president and for him, I always say that I don’t know whether there is any person in the current leadership in Ghana that can meet the standard he has set as a president. The work ethic, the professionalism, it’s very mind-blowing and I feel that it is one of the things that I have benefited a lot from by working with him. Sometimes you see the impact of your work in the lives of people; people take a lot of things for granted but when you are involved in a particular decision that has an effect on all Ghanaians, it’s a very humbling experience and that I don’t take for granted at all.
Kuulpeeps: What is the one mistake you have committed (personal or career), and how did you rise above it?
Kow: I can’t say for sure whether there is a particular mistake. Maybe I would say it’s more of a failure. I don’t think anyone sets out to make a mistake but inevitably you’re likely to fail because that’s how life is. There are successes and failures. One of the things I am very particular about is integrity and ethics, which was influenced by events from bar school, as I was preparing for my finals. We took an exam which had to do with professional responsibility and ethics, and I remember very well the content of the instructions that we had been given for drafting. When the results came back, I had failed ethics, which was very strange to me because I am very particular about those things and I would have picked it up. I challenged it and the matter was referred to the Bar Standards Board in England and when the results came back they said that there was a split in the decision of the Standards Board and that half of them were in favour and half were not, and so they couldn’t make a decision on that. Fast forward, what came of it was that they had to scrap that question and ask me and other people who had failed to take a viva. Many couldn’t graduate because of that but I took it and I passed with more grades and graduated on time. The experience made me even more conscious of ethical issues and I think that it has helped me a lot to be a more ethical person.
Kuulpeeps: Thank you very much, Kow. All the best.
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