Flamboyant Nairobi lawyer Ahmednasir Abdullahi says he charges high legal fees to most of his clients because “it is human nature for service-seekers to love expensive things in life”.
Abdullahi, popularly known as the Grand Mullah, says he learnt that modus operandi from the Late Makueni Senator Mutula Kilonzo, who was his lecturer at the Kenya School of Law in the early 1990s.
The father-of-five made the remarks on Sunday, August 23 on The Hot Seat, a YouTube show hosted by former Citizen Television journalist Jacque Maribe.
“One of the guys I admired a lot, when I was a student at the Kenya School of Law, was [the Late Makueni Senator] Mutula Kilonzo. He taught us a course called Professional Ethics [in Law]. Mutula was at the peak of his career in 1991/1992; he was the president’s lawyer, very flamboyant, [undeniably] very good and was well-connected,” said Abdullahi when he was asked to respond to a widely-held belief that he is one of the most expensive legal reps in Kenya.
“[During Mutula’s lessons], he would tell us a lot of interesting things. One thing that I remember him telling us, was: ‘the more you charge the client in [legal] fees, the more he or she loves you’.
“Mutula said when he started practicing [law] in Machakos, [he would charge normal rates]. However, when he relocated to Nairobi, he raised his fees by ten or 15 times against what lawyers in the capital city were charging at the time. He further revealed that when he started charging expensively, more and more people started seeking his services regularly.
“I think it is human nature for people to love expensive things. When I was the LSK chairman, and disappointed clients would complain to me that they had sought services of lawyers who failed to listen to their briefs hence the reason their cases failed, I would tell them: ‘lawyers are like brands. If you buy a Toyota Corolla, do not expect it to work like a Mercedes Benz. If you buy a shirt for Ksh50, you get value for Ksh50, and if you buy a shirt for Ksh1,000, you get value equivalent to Ksh1,000.
“For instance, there is work that one lawyer would charge you Ksh100,000 and another would charge you Ksh10 million. When a client is in a position to afford both, most likely he or she would go for the one who charges Ksh10 million; it is psychological. When a client pays a lawyer Ksh10 million, he or she walks around proud. He would tell people: ‘my lawyer is an expensive lawyer; he charges me Ksh10 million’,” said Abdullahi.
‘Grand Mullah’, however, said on some occasions he offers free legal services.
“We do a lot of pro bono work. But, I tell guys, when I do work for someone at no cost, there is someone somewhere who is paying for it.”
The senior counsel revealed that he has been practicing law for 26 years now, and that he joined the profession “accidentally” after a then-academic staff at his alma mater, Nairobi School, quashed his (Abdullahi’s) choice for degree course.
“I had chosen Bachelor of Government [Management] as the course I would love to pursue in university after my Form Six exams,” said the University of Nairobi alumnus.
“However, our house master cancelled my choice, and replaced it with Bachelor of Law, which I pursued at UoN. That is how I ended up being a lawyer.”
Abdullahi says throughout his law career, he has never worked for anyone, or any law firm besides his. He revealed that after completing university education, he talked to a friend who gave him a room near his (friend’s) law firm, where Abdullahi started a consultancy company.
“In my first two months of practice, I managed to earn more money than my classmates, who had been employed by other people’s law firms. After four years [of practice], I entered into a partnership with Abdikadir Hussein, the former Mandera Central MP,” said Abdullahi.
The senior counsel has a wife, whom he shares five children with. His first child, a son, is a second-year student at Georgetown University in Washington, USA. The remaining four children are daughters, with the last two being identical twins.
“Sometimes, I cannot tell the difference between my twin daughters; I, therefore, end mixing up their names,” he said.
‘Grand Mullah’ has represented Kenya’s high-ranking government officials and agencies, including the IEBC in post-poll suits.
In 2018, then-IEBC Chief Executive Officer Ezra Chiloba told MPs that they paid lawyer Ahmednassir Abdullahi Ksh40 million for his services in the 2013 presidential election petition, filed by ODM leader Raila Odinga against the Jubilee coalition's Uhuru Kenyatta.
Abdullahi represented then-IEBC boss Issack Hassan while Aurelio Rebello was paid Ksh30 million for acting for the commission.
However, the IEBC could not offer a proper explanation to the committee on why Abdullahi was paid more money than Rebello and the other firms.
Chiloba's response to the committee was that in 2018, there was a "shortage of good lawyers" in Nairobi.
“Mr Abdullahi was the lead lawyer for the returning officer for the presidential election. The Ksh40 million was negotiated. In fact, he had asked for much more money," said Chiloba.
The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) incurred Ksh202 million in legal fees in 2017.
In a report tabled at the National Assembly in March this year, IEBC said the amount was part of the commission's Ksh361.7 million in accrued expenditure for the 2018/19 financial year.
The Ksh202 million was paid to law firms that represented the commission in disputes -- from nominations to the outcome of the August 8, 2017 general election.