Inclusion – of all members – and their engagement with, especially, local and foreign sister societies, is at the core of all law societies. Well, at least the ones in the East African region.
National societies have diversified well enough in order to appeal to, acknowledge and celebrate the diversities of their members who include the young, the handicapped, and those of different sexes.
Due to the belief that young lawyers are the foot soldiers of the rule of law across borders, those who can revolutionarise cross-border practice, we now have societies for young lawyers like the regional East African Young Lawyers Society, with national equivalents for Tanzania and Kenya. National societies have also decided to launch their demographically specific branches like the recently launched Law Society of Kenya, Nairobi Branch.
Opportunities, for engagement, with other regional, continental, and international societies are still readily available. On admission and enrolment as an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya, members of the national society have the immediate benefit of becoming members of, and, essentially, to engage with members of East Africa Law Society, Africa Bar Association, the Commonwealth Lawyers Association, the Criminal Bar Association, and the International Bar Association; with the most basic benefits being the trading of information, networking with, and learning from one another.
With 2006 members of the Uganda Law Society (May 2013), and over thirteen thousand members of the Law Society of Kenya (2016), the unification of East African Community countries presents limitless opportunities. Their connection with and engagement with regional and international firms and entities like Bowman Gilfillan, Norton Rose, ENS, Linklaters, Clifford Chance, White And Case, Allen and Overy, and the 1.3 million lawyers in the United States of America (2014), the opportunities are indeed infinite.
Like the Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU)’s, the visions and missions of most of these societies are well intended. Like PALU, they wish; “to see a united, just and prosperous Africa, built on the rule of law and good governance”, and “to advance the law and the legal profession, rule of law, good governance, human and people’s rights and socio-economic development of the African continent”.
However, these visions and missions have not, or are yet to meet the realities of the legal training, the legal employment market, and the advances in technology.
The UK’s Law Society has built a website which provides facilities such as a bookshop (it is still difficult to access legal publications in East Africa), a gazette (you can easily download a free copy of the Kenya gazette, but you still need to walk to the offices of the Uganda Printing and Publishing Cooperation on Jinja Road to pay for a copy of the gazette), a job centre (most of the young, unemployed lawyers get to find out about opportunities on Facebook and WhatsApp or by word of mouth), and events (there is no prepared schedule of/for upcoming legal events in most East African Countries).
The Law Society of South Africa (accessible via www.lssa.org.za) has prepared readily available and tailor-made information for both legal practitioners and the public. The public has convenient ways by which they can get legal assistance and raise complaints. Both practitioners and the public can also get the latest issues of the monthly The South African Attorney’s Journal, and keeps posted about legal careers.
The America Bar (accessible via www.americanbar.org) has gone a notch higher by availing to the public information pertaining to the approved law schools, their accreditation, public education and resources, and availed resources for institutions, officers of the law, and also provided adequately well for non US lawyers.
Without a doubt, law societies are much needed, especially in as far as meeting their core purposes of inclusion and engagement are concerned. The challenges, however, are still vast. Intriguingly, these challenges derive from the impression that they leave upon their own members.
For example, the Uganda Law Society is perceived as one which is only interested in serving the leading law firms. It is those firms which are highlighted at regional and continental conferences, the ones which are recommended by first world High Commissions to their nationals, the ones which, with effect, share the rewards the entire profession should be sharing. The Ugandan legal profession is estimated to be worth UGX 2 trillion, which is mostly shared amongst the top five law firms, with the most going to international firms.
There is no up-to-date national record of members of the Ugandan society, with the last and only available one being shared in May 2013. There are no figures as to who have matriculated into the several law schools. There are recurring battles as to the stringency that characterises the application for, the survival during, and graduation from a bar course which has been described as basic.
Most of the regional and national societies have not yet caught up with globalisation and worked hard enough to counter the interruption by the internet. While young advocates are being encouraged to tout for clients during free legal aid weeks, it is now much easier for those in need to find online legal guidance. The effect is that it will mean that there will be less work for new law school grads, and therefore less reason to go to law school.
The solutions to their dilemma are as several as their challenges. The two most important would be to elevate and align their national bar courses so that the variations with the members of their sister societies are not so extreme, and, secondly, to continuously find solutions that will make them – the societies – more relevant to both the legal practitioners and the general public.