MASERU – A prominent local attorney has threatened to sue the Law Society of Lesotho if it fails to rein in advocates who are stealing clients from attorneys.
Qhalehang Letsika, an attorney who is also the dean of the National University of Lesotho (NUL)’s law school, complains that the society had failed to stop advocates from appearing in court without instructions as required by the law.
According to the Legal Practioners’ Act 1983 advocates can only appear in court on instructions from attorneys.
Advocates are also prohibited from directly dealing with clients.
It is also an offence, according to that law, for an advocate to receive fees directly from a client.
The law also states that a client should instruct an attorney who in turn instructs the advocate to appear in court.
A client pays legal fees to an attorney who then pays the advocate.
This means that only attorneys are the advocates’ clients.
Yet over the years this legal requirement has not been followed as most advocates deal directly with clients and collect fees.
In his March 30 letter to the law society, Letsika says although the matter was raised at the society’s annual general meeting last year, nothing has changed.
Advocates continue to deal directly with clients and receive fees, he says.
Letsika says the general meeting had asked the law society leadership to “deal with the current situation where advocates are masquerading as attorneys contrary to the law”.
“For the sake of oversimplication, you will no doubt know that all advocates including all members of the council, who are supposed to regulate professional conduct and ethical responsibility of the legal profession, essentially consult and take moneys directly from the lay public contrary to the law.”
He says some advocates have in the past forged attorneys’ signatures to give the impression that they have been instructed to appear in court.
Letsika is also concerned with the “preposterous manner in which the councils have dealt with the issue of subscription and contribution to the fidelity fund”.
The fidelity fund is a fund established to compensate clients in cases where attorneys would have embezzled monies they hold in their clients’ trust.
Attorneys are required to pay annual subscriptions into the fund.
Attorneys are supposed to deposit the money they receive from clients in trust accounts from which they will deduct their fees as the case proceeds.
When an attorney abuses the trust account, the law society will disbar the attorney from legal practice and then use the fidelity fund to compensate the affected clients.
Letsika says while attorneys have over the years been obligated to contribute to the fund “advocates have not been required to make a contribution yet the Law Society is fully aware that our advocates do all sorts of things such as consulting lay clients”.
“This, in one’s view,” charges Letsika, “borders on extreme professional misconduct or unprofessional conduct”.
Letsika threatens that if the society does not intervene he will “launch legal proceedings seeking a declaratory interdict barring the current illegality”.
He will also mobilise all attorneys to refuse to sign pleadings for advocates.
And he will also “report any incident of forgery of signatures of attorneys to police for criminal prosecution”.
The letter has been copied to the office of the Registrar of the High Court and Attorney-General with a request that they help the society’s council deal with the problem and suggest the necessary reforms.
However, in his reply the vice-president of the Law Society of Lesotho, Advocate Monaheng Rasekoai, denies the assertion that the previous law society councils have dealt with the issue of subscription and contribution to the society’s fund in a “preposterous manner.”
“This is more so in view of the fact that the actual challenge of dualism of the legal profession is an age-old quagmire which has never been comprehensively addressed by the members of the profession in unison,” Rasekoai said in his response to Letsika dated April 28.
According to Rasekoai, the present council’s “humble view” is that the fusion of the legal profession cannot be put in motion in a hasty and haphazard manner as Letsika’s letter seems to suggest.
“The practical impact of the merger of the profession demands the overhaul of significant provisions of the statutory regime under the auspices of the Legal Practitioners’ Act read with the Law Society Act.”
Rasekoai states that the overall impact of Letsika’s letter “is to create some sense of acrimony between attorneys and advocates”.
“The letter makes an over-generalised and superfluous suggestion to the effect that advocates are engaged in the prevalent practice of forgery to the prejudice of attorneys.”
“The letter seeks to politically address issues which have a direct bearing on
the professional standards of the legal profession but fails to propose the manner in which the profession may be merged.”