Alex Matovu is a practising commercial lawyer and partner at Signum Advocates, a Ugandan Law firm he co-founded in the year 2014. Aside from his legal work, Alex is involved in leadership, management, and corporate strategy. He sits on the boards of organisations such as International Needs (Uganda), Shine Leadership International, Imagine Me Africa, Credo Management Limited and JIK International Ministries. Alex is a recipient of the prestigious Chevening Scholarship and is currently pursuing his master’s degree at Queen Mary University London.
“It’s not true that to win, another party must lose,” stresses Alex Matovu, founding partner at Signum Advocates in Uganda. “This idea of there only being winners if there are losers comes from a scarcity mindset – the belief that there’s not enough for all of us,” he explains.
Alex started a law firm at the age of 26 after being disillusioned with the ideologies and practices that seemed to be the standard at law firms across Uganda. “I worked in law firms while I studied, and I found that they weren’t run well. They weren’t sustainable beyond the founding partners. There were no formal structures to support staff, no contracts.” And most importantly, there seemed to be a lack of vision. “I tried to find their ‘why’ – what was the ‘thing behind the thing’ for them? And sadly, I found that most were just aiming at the next $1 million or whatever financial target they’d set for themselves. And that would be it.”
This pained Alex as he saw a deep need for justice in his community, yet the justice system was failing them. “I thought there had to be more to being a lawyer than just making a few bucks,” he says.
He acknowledges that he and his two co-founding partners “were quite young, but we had an insatiable desire to see things done better, such as how we treated our employees, but also the value that we would bring to the profession and our country. From the onset, we said it would be different.”
For them, being different meant raising the standard of the justice system in Uganda. They believed that if just one lawyer or one law firm was successful while others failed – it was a failure of the whole justice system. “It’s important that we succeed together. We must raise more and more lawyers that believe in professionalism, that believe in justice as the motivation for what they do.”
As part of this mission, Alex developed a programme called Law Firm Management. He approached various successful lawyers to come and share what they’d learned with other lawyers in the programme. But even there, Alex came up against the scarcity mindset. “One of the people I approached to be a trainer asked me how he was expected to maintain a competitive advantage over other lawyers if he shared all that he had learned with them. So here again was the belief that if I share what I have, I will lose.”
Another senior lawyer shared his concern with Alex that if he trained his staff to a level where they could run law firms themselves, they would likely leave the firm to go start a new one. “And guess what my answer to him was? I told him there were 800 to 1,000 lawyers released into the legal market in Uganda every year. I asked him how many lawyers his firm could employ – he couldn’t employ even 5% of those lawyers. So, how, as a senior lawyer, can one complain about young lawyers not being professional, if you haven’t participated in helping them develop that professionalism?”
At Signum, Alex and his partners believe in sharing all the knowledge and experience they have. “People consult us about how we do things and about the systems we have set up internally. And these are would-be competitors. But we prefer to view them as collaborators, because the ultimate goal is the delivery of justice.”
According to Alex, everything comes down to building meaningful personal relationships. He attributes many dispute resolutions as being resolved through a simple phone call. “The first thing I do whenever a client gives me a dispute is to find out who the lawyer is on the other side. Chances are that I probably know that lawyer. At Signum we intentionally build relationships and I think we have a fairly positive relationship with most of the lawyers around the country, even abroad.”
“So it’s easy to make a call and say, ‘This is Alex Matovu’, and someone will lend you an ear because they dealt with you in another transaction and know you are human, and not just pushing for a win. We’re not just transactional. We are primarily relational.”
Alex attributes his vision for his industry to his relationship with God. “Why have we been successful? Because it is not our work. It is God’s work. It’s important to note that Scripture says God causes us to will, but also to do. This means that if God places the desire in my heart, God will provide for the vision to be fulfilled. And that’s why we keep saying provision will always follow vision.”
Alex is particularly encouraged by Luke 19:13. “In the NKJV version, Christ says to his servants, ‘Do business until I come’. The will of God is that he may dominate in every sphere – including the business sphere. You cannot have a kingdom without a king, and a king cannot be a king unless he has dominion. The king can only have dominion if the principles that he has laid out for that kingdom are being followed. So, we can say he has a kingdom and he is our king if we are submitted to him and are following his principles. So, when we do business and seek justice, it’s such a privilege to extend the kingdom of God. That’s how I view it,” Alex summarises.
As a final encouragement, he points to Hebrews 10:25. “It tells us to not give up on the habit of meeting together. I’ve been a part of a fellowship from 2010 when I left law school until today, and we meet weekly. That takes a certain level of commitment, but also a certain level of appreciation of the value of fellowship.”
“Please do not allow yourself to be isolated as an entrepreneur – find the help next to you. There are so many marketplace fellowships. More and more the church is recognising that we must take the kingdom into the business world. And so, there’s support for what you need. Embrace that support, and you will thrive!”