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Young lawyer, cut your expectations short

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Writer: Ashim J Lubega. PHOTO/FILE/COURTESY 

Of recent, young lawyers have found themselves caught up in a web of unfavourable employment conditions that have rendered them underpaid and overworked.

Completing the legal practice diploma at the Law Development Centre (LDC) is always premised on the perception that one is going into law practice and will earn relatively well. But many young lawyers usually end up disappointed at the law firms where they seek employment.

Most young lawyers don’t actually fall within the ambit of an employee as defined by Section 2 of the Employment Act, 2006, which defines an employee as any person who has entered into a contract of service, or an apprenticeship contract. It further says the contract might be oral, written, express, or implied.

At the end of each academic year of the bar course, a student is required to undergo a clerkship at an approved law firm or the legal departments of institutions.

Many students wish to be retained at those firms as employees, but not all of them can be accommodated by these firms. Those who are willing to work for free – in the name of gaining experience – are sometimes allowed to hang around the law firm’s premises without any employment contract. 

This lawyer usually offers services to a firm, but there is no legal relationship between him/her and the firm. He/she is neither an employee nor a partner in the firm.

This, in the long-run, is manipulative in a way that the senior lawyer acquires free and adequate services, and somewhat unfair given that the young lawyer also has bills to pay but won’t because the senior lawyer doesn’t pay, or when they do, it’s peanuts. The young lawyers have no legal course to take against the senior lawyers, other than social media activism.

Senior lawyers exploit an opportunity created by the Law Council. There are as many young lawyers to exploit as one’s firm can accommodate. It’s only the firm’s space that limits a senior lawyer’s ability to exploit. 

To some extent, these senior lawyers are not to blame. What can they do? Close doors to young lawyers in need of experience? This would certainly kill the profession.

But this practice needs to be regulated. In economics, the law of supply and demand dictates that if the supply of goods or services outstrips demand, prices will fall. If demand exceeds supply, prices will rise.

Every academic year, the Law Development Centre has a pool of more than 2,000 applications for the diploma in legal practice from various universities. Today, there are almost 15 universities accredited by the Law Council to offer the Bachelor of Laws degree. The increasing pressure from applicants has forced LDC to open up three regional campuses, with Mbale opening up in August. 

The pool of lawyers out there in practice, in my opinion, is higher than the demand for lawyers by the general public, meaning decrease in their worth and price.

LDC can’t be faulted for admitting large numbers because it is under no obligation to decline to offer placements to students who want to pursue a diploma in legal practice, unless one doesn’t meet the requirements as laid out under The Advocates (Professional Requirements for Admission to Postgraduate Bar Course) (Amendment) Notice 2007. 

The issue at hand is well within the scope of the Law Council, which is supposed to regulate the numbers, starting with universities supposed to offer undergraduate studies in law (a bachelor’s degree in law) and people being admitted to the course. Lawyers must play within the laws of economics, or else they will be the victims.

This surge has been created by the Law Council and it is the Law Council to regulate it. Otherwise, the exploitation of young lawyers will continue.

Ashim J Lubega is a lawyer and former guild president at the Law Development Centre.
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