Firstly, congratulations on D. Moukouri & Partners being the first female-owned law firm from Cameroon to be ranked in the Chambers Global guide. Could you start by telling me about your career journey?
I took my first steps in the legal profession in Cameroon in May 2008 with Nico Halle & Co. I worked as an associate for more than three years, becoming the Director of the Intellectual Property Department and a contact person of the South African law firm Adams & Adams.
In 2012, I was admitted to the Nigerian Bar and worked as an associate at IKIEBE & Co in Lagos, to broaden my international experience. In 2013, after several consultancy missions for international organisations and teaching assignments at the University of Abomey-Calavi in Benin, I set up D. Moukouri & Partners. All I have done in the last 12 years as a legal practitioner is to keep pushing myself as hard as I possibly can. I feel so proud to be at the head of the first female-owned law firm ever to be ranked by Chambers and Partners in Cameroon.
Business law and fintech are traditionally very male-dominated fields. Can you tell me a little more about how you broke into these fields, and about the barriers you overcame to do so?
For a long time male lawyers were considered more ‘serious’ than their female colleagues in business law. Women tended to be mostly involved in litigation. I never really thought about breaking the glass ceiling. I am simply passionate about business law and felt that I could use my skills to make a real difference in the legal profession in Cameroon.
As far as fintech is concerned, I fell in love with that branch of technology law three years ago in Tokyo. On the sidelines of the 55th annual congress of the International Young Lawyers Association (AIJA) on Artificial Intelligence, I completed a FinTech Professional Certificate Programme. The emergence of fintech as part of the fourth industrial revolution is an opportunity to create a more diverse and a more inclusive environment, as women are increasingly involved in new technologies.
What progress has been made for female lawyers in Cameroon and what is still to be done?
Legal practice is generally not the first choice for women studying law. There are more women in the legal affairs department of companies and institutions. It can be challenging to start a firm in an environment where banks are unlikely to support you, and statistics show that men represent about 80% of practising lawyers in Cameroon, thus owning most firms.
It is difficult to correct a system where there is a lack of female representation, but more women are being called to the Cameroon Bar these days. We’ve seen a gradual increase over the last five years and women now represent about 21% of the Bar Roll. Similarly, women are now recognised in areas of practice where men were traditionally the only experts. These are huge steps forward. However, I think we can experience a greater improvement if corporate clients demand more accountability around diversity.
Does your firm have particular initiatives or programmes in place to help young female lawyers?
Inspiring others to become their best is one of the best things to do. In 2013, our firm launched ‘OHADA Professionals Days’, a training programme for business lawyers and legal professionals in the OHADA (Organisation for the Harmonisation of Business Law in Africa) zone. This yearly event is accredited by the Permanent Secretariat of OHADA and attracts law firms’ and companies’ delegates from all over the 17 member states.
In addition to ‘OHADA Professionals Days’, I support Women in Technology in Cameroon. I am an active member and resource person of the African Women in Tech Startup (AfricanWITS), the association organising the yearly Women in Technology Festival (Festival Femme Numérique) in Cameroon. The event is co-chaired by the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications and the Minister of Women’s Empowerment in Cameroon.
Further, I hope to make a positive impact on young female lawyers around me, through my activities as a lawyer at the firm, as a lecturer at the university, as a speaker at legal events and as a Masterclass Facilitator.
Danielle Moukouri is Managing Partner of D. Moukouri & Partners. She is a member of the Cameroon Bar Association, Nigerian Bar Association and the American Bar Association. She is a business law graduate and experienced business law practitioner. She has acted as a lead counsel in a wide range of corporate and commercial briefs in the leading law firms she worked with in Cameroon, Nigeria and South Africa.