Alex Tawanda Magaisa
Continued from last week I UNDERSTAND that the International Bar Association currently helps in the Continuing Legal Education programmes. Nonetheless, a concerted approach is required i
n order to improve the way in which young law graduates are trained before being unleashed on society. This is even more important now given the lack of resources affecting the faculty at the UZ.
The truth is that Zimbabwe is probably one of the few countries that have a system of churning out lawyers from the faculty straight into the profession to practice law. In most countries both developing and developed such as Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda, Kenya, South Africa and the UK law graduates have to undergo further training before admittance to practise law.
Those who do not wish to practise can choose to forgo that route but it is mandatory for everyone else with a desire to practise law. In the USA law is actually a graduate degree, which means that people who become lawyers have done another degree before and therefore have considerable experience both socially and academically.
Even after the law degree, they have to qualify for the Bar by facing further examination to test their capability. The truth is that the academic excellence that is sought at the university is not enough – lawyers have to be equipped to handle the practical side and the current system in Zimbabwe is simply inadequate. The system will also add exposure to law graduates in terms of the work that they can do, which is currently done by other professions such as chartered accountants.
Examples include tax practice, corporate recovery, mergers and acquisitions, etc. A law practice is a business but how many lawyers straight from law school have the requisite business management skills? Such things are not taught during a law degree programme and indeed need not be taught during that time. They are best reserved for a specialised training programme.
Currently a graduate joins a firm whose only major practice is criminal law and for the rest of his lawyering life his horizon is limited to that field – adopting tactics that include visiting accused persons at remand prison to source for clients or chasing relatives of the accused at the Rotten Row courts to offer representation for their loved one.
Post-degree specialised training will ensure that with adequate resources and structuring graduates receive a similar level of exposure to the wider field of law and business prior to starting practice. Organisations such as the IBA and others could be persuaded to assist in such programmes.
There are of course other problems affecting the profession, which no amount of training can solve. It may be a result of greed, incompetence or sheer negligence. That is where the efficacy of the regulatory framework becomes important.
Although created and governed by statute, the Law Society is largely a self-regulatory body. It has worked generally well over the years but there are suggestions that it could do better given the cases of malpractice.
Perhaps the Law Society has not been proactive enough and acts only after problems have emerged and tarnished the image of the profession. Indeed some colleagues have referred to the need for the “Gono Factor” in most professions.
The idea is that it is necessary to clamp down on malpractice in a more efficient and visible manner without of course, going to excess.
The decision to have mass enrolment of students at the UZ law faculty without adding to the resources and creating a viable working environment was an unfortunate one that will have serious consequences in the future. Unless the state is prepared to increase capacity at the faculty, there is a high risk standards will deteriorate further. The legal profession should not pay a high price for the obvious mistakes and misguided ambitions of administrators at GZU.
The quality of legal training has long-term implications on excellence in and the integrity of the profession. If the regulatory authorities do not enhance their enforcement capacity and efficiency and the problems continue, the danger is that the state will sooner or later use the shortcomings as justifications for interfering and legislating new and harsher measures as we have seen happening to other professions. The system introduced at independence has largely served its purpose and it is time to return to basics. At present we belong to a small minority of nations that pursue such a limited approach to legal training. Everywhere else, the necessity of pre-practice specialised training remains highly valued and necessary.