I am by no means a specialist – yet, or, rather, an expert of any sort. By that I mean the researchers, experts, and specialists I frequently see on the television or read sharing their thoughts. What I treasure are the privileges, both positive and otherwise, that I have gradually embraced overtime, and these observations which I now share, in this my first of hopefully many articles for The Deuteronomy.
In September 2015, I made a decision which was, with the benefit of hindsight, a drastic one. I chose to end the numerous years of waiting to return home, to be with my family, to sacrifice all the pleasures and privileges available to me, and invest myself in contributing to building the nation.
While here, in Kampala, I had to find one or more ways to make myself useful. Like any “gunner” who had done well academically for the sake of doing well, who still believed in Big Law, I set out to find not a sit-in-a-cubicle-all-day kind of job, but an affiliation. I knocked on the door of what I had spent a considerable time on researching about and what I had been recommended as the Big Law firms in Kampala.
My resulting experience was that they are, sadly, quite disorganised, less technologically savvy, less nimble, less flexible, and less efficient than I could be as an individual or as a small(er) law firm elsewhere could be. In a particular Big Law firm which I approached because it prided itself in its membership of a continental legal fraternity. I was made to wait while there, watching CNN which was showing on a screen in their foyer and reading a book I had on me. It was a long, boring hour and a further thirty minutes. Not a single busy that saw and walked past me said a word. The front desk manager (read: secretary), who was on my immediate right, and more than aware of my presence and appointment there, spent the same time on her paid office telephone chatting up a possible or prospective boyfriend. She was so close that I did not have to pay attention to what she was saying or concentrate in order to listen in.
Feeling neglected, I rose from my seat and inquired about my appointment. I was informed that the founding partner, who was the only person who could meet with me, was engaged in an impromptu conference call, and that I had to wait some more. On requesting for a postponement and an e-mail address which I could use to follow up, I was informed that of all the employees and partners there, it was only one – the founding partner – who could respond to my e-mail if I sent it, that the others were not familiar with the ways of the web. My conclusion that like most of its peers, whom I had visited too, it had the tendencies of small law firms in other cities, and that I did not need them.
The promise of completing University and/or law school is that one will, hopefully, obtain employment in a firm of their choice – if it permits them an opportunity. Unfortunately, that is, simply, mythological. After toughening it out at the Law Development Centre (LDC), most graduates are pointed to the deep end of the law library pool; and told to start swimming. In Uganda, that is for at least nine months post LDC, which are spent, inter alia, appearing before a Magistrate and other judicial officers of lower ranks, and before an undetermined time when one can be enrolled. This has, unfortunately, turned many into normal lawyers, or to use the words “over glorified clerks” who wake every other day only to prepare paperwork and serve it.
The misfortune with that is that young associate advocates will definitely miss out on the very important and training which they are ought to enjoy post LDC as they deal, and directly so, with the real life experience in the corridors of the Courts of law, just like their Kenyan colleagues, for example, do during their pupilage, which is comparatively, a good six months period, post law school – Kenya School of Law (KSL). This dilemma is a result of unfortunate fact that the LDC curriculum and periods of study have, in keeping with tradition, not been revised well enough to cater for either mini or extended pupilage, both conducted during the course of study and happening before graduation and enrolment which can both take place on the same day as long as the students have met all their requisite obligations.
The fact that this tradition still exists , that even those who make it through it confess to the immense pressure it presents upon the students, one that has created numerous academic exiles and left several failures in its wake is only illustrative of the conviction that there must be people who do not want any competition whatsoever, people who are, unbeknown to them, both directly and indirectly denying or rather limiting the citizens of Uganda their deserved rights to legal representation and consultancy. One would not be wrong to conclude that Uganda does not readily trust young people and does not trust responsibility on them easily or early.
The nature of the clientele is, largely, uncertain; at least, by the confessions of a seasoned advocate. By my own findings, it could be informed by the fact that more than half of the population, and, if not, the most of it, is informal. This inadvertently leaves a not so much market to serve, as it is certainly seasonal and preoccupied with other engagements like survival, and meeting other obligations such as medical and educational needs.
In my opinion, it is incumbent upon the profession to encourage the informal to formalise their relations and/or dealings, and to move to the formal side of doing business. Not only would it be beneficial in broadening the clientele, but in enriching Uganda’s tax base too. To detail; in a more formal setup, there would be more people paying taxes to the local and national tax regulatory bodies, and, with effect, have people find a reason to make use of tax consultancy or solutions or services as provided by the legal profession. Also, as the legal profession watches the trends of both the informal and the formal sectors, they would help the tax regulation authorities to broaden the tax base through curbing revenue leakage.
I have noted that even in as much as Ugandans have a notable work ethic, and may beat their colleagues from other jurisdictions in research and soft skills, the profession, as it is, is not diverse or dynamic enough. Imagination is not great. Creative ability is a disability that most people cannot afford to live with. For a paltry forty hours a week that some of my pals dedicate or offer mandatorily, they describe their experiences as normal. By normal, they proceed to describe it as waking up early in the morning only to prepare leadings before returning home. It only creates over glorified clerks out of them.
Personally, I would be more motivated working in a profession that is heavily invested in providing solutions where they lack. For example; there is no known comprehensive legal framework for domain names in Uganda. An inquiry leads one to the disappointing realisation of a non existence of a domestic legal framework on domain names. Some aspects of it are, indeed, covered the Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act – in as far as they relate to the copyright-ability of domain names. More reference is made to the WIPO Guidelines On Domain Names Registration And protection – since Uganda is a member moving towards full harmonisation, the Trademarks Act, the Companies Act, and the Business Names Registration Act.
In 2016, an age of the internet, when we should be concentrating on harnessing and protecting the rights of, especially, creatives who rely on the internet to exhibit and trade their work, we are still approaching and solving related challenges by utilising a conflation of archaic colonial legislation instead of contributing to the drafting of legislation suitable enough to our life and times.
The legal profession is founded on, amongst other cardinal things; the obvious fact that all who benefit from it or contribute to the body of its work must have access to as much reading material as possible. Reading material is vast and may be found in the form of files as kept in the Court registries. My experience may be wanting, but what I have observed, particularly in Mbarara, left a lot to be desired. I could not find a file I was there for. To get one; I had to wait for pretty much all day, as their day started after 10:00 AM, I was told that I had to pay a clerk, one who is already on a government stipend, or they would recommend to another clerk, who would also need a payment to do the same job, and to ask a Magistrate friend of mine there to help out. After an extensive search, or the failure of one, we did not get the file.
We, really, cannot continue to operate this same old way. There is absolutely no harm in better organisation, and even much better, in the computerisation of the registry services. It is warranted. The corruption may be explained or excused away by the greed and pathetic socio-economic status quo, but unless it is clearly defined as a tip – which is not a bad thing – no one should ever be paid an extra coin in order to execute a job that they are already paid to do. Elsewhere, where structural issues are consistently improved and maintained, such disorganisation does not see the light of day.
The foregoing and a whole lot more is what most people would notice, because it cuts across the board – affects other professions as well. However, the danger is in it illustrating itself, as it has to me, through the result that is the work done. I noticed, when I instructed a lawyer to handle some paper work for me that they worked in haste, were not keen enough, did not concentrate, and had been excellent in copying and pasting from the Indian jurisdiction in order to satisfy a local need.
If we are to cherish our honorable profession, and to fully embrace and enjoy the benefits accruing from our membership of regional, continental, and worldwide fraternities, as we are, apparently, excited about them, we will have to pay attention to these and more details, to think beyond our traditional boundaries, embrace innovations, encourage imagination, do away with as many unnecessary limitations as possible, and better our best, lest those who can and do will come over and take over the profession.