Of briefcase lawyers and car boots
Acting chief justice Tšeliso Monaphathi hit the proverbial nail on the head when he remonstrated against “pseudo legal practitioners” that have swamped the ranks of the legal profession.
Some of these “lawyers” don’t even have offices but operate from “Asian imported vehicles”, opined the respected acting Chief Justice.
Officially opening the new session of the High Court two weeks back, Justice Monaphathi bemoaned the decline of standards in the legal profession in Lesotho and the proliferation of briefcase lawyers that are obviously a dent on the reputation of the judiciary.
“There must be as many of such vehicle-based offices just as there are numerous cheap, used vehicles imported from Asia,” said Justice Monaphathi.
Scrutator is in full agreement with the learned judge.
In fact, she says hats off to Justice Monaphathi for telling it like it is.
If you throw a stone anywhere around Maseru, you are unlikely to hit a hobo, a street vendor, a thief or an ordinary citizen.
Your stone will likely hit someone calling himself an advocate or lawyer of sorts. If the truth be told without fear or favour, Lesotho simply has an oversupply of lawyers.
I have not done the ratios but if I were to, I am sure it will be one lawyer to every three or four Basotho.
The only problem with this situation is that it results in shoddy legal advice as the many lawyers available jostle for work from the few clients available.
Lesotho, is too small a Kingdom, to contend with the humongous number of so called lawyers we encounter in our daily lives.
Scrutator speaks from good experience. Imagine a case that this newspaper encountered recently.
Someone, masquerading as a businessman, subscribed to receive a copy of the Lesotho Times every week.
At the time of subscription, this person was told that he had to pay extra money for postage because he was stationed out of the capital Maseru where door to door deliveries are done.
The “subscriber” never paid this extra postage money so the paper was never posted to him.
Suddenly from the blue, this newspaper received court summons from this “subscriber” in which he was claiming a cool M100 000.
Readers, I mean this subscriber wants a cool one hundred thousand Maloti from the paper. His reason is that since the newspaper was never delivered to him, he lost an opportunity to see tenders which are widely advertised in this newspaper and therefore lost income.
Nowhere is it acknowledged by this “subscriber” that he did not get the paper because he did not pay the full costs, including postage.
This “subscriber”, judging from his flawed logic, automatically equates getting a copy of the Lesotho Times to winning tenders advertised herein.
I have since been laughing my lungs out.
But then I am also asking myself; What kind of legal advice is this “subscriber” getting.
Surely for any lawyer to advise and help this poor chap file court papers in which such an absurd claim is made is not only grotesque, it’s also deeply preposterous.
I have stopped blaming this poor chap nevertheless. Why blame him when he is the recipient of advice from a “lawyer”, probably operating from his second hand car boot and is probably always desperate for fuel to move this “office” around scouting for more clients to fleece.
In that case, any “legal advice” is proffered.
Scrutator is still wondering the amount that this “subscriber” shall invest in an apparently futile lawsuit which cannot be reasonably upheld even by a Kangaroo Court sitting in a herd boy’s kraal.
Imagine lads and lasses if by receiving a copy of this publication, you immediately claimed that you are automatically entitled to tender riches. Everyone of us would now be filthy rich.
But we should not be surprised by all this. In a country with such an oversupply of lawyers, every piece of advice will be proffered no matter how incredible.
For as long as a client is kept in the front passenger seat of the second hand car office, every piece of advice would be pulled out from the boot.
Scrutator wonders what shall happen in a few years time with all this proliferation of lawyers.
Perhaps every Mosotho will now be a lawyer and there would be no clients left. Imagine a scenario in which every arriving second hand car is snatched to become an Advocate’s office.
The only prospect of forestalling that scenario is to shut down the faculty of law at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) for a few good years to allow for the development of the existing ones.
Justice Monaphathi called for the strengthening of the law society through adequate funding and ensuring the introduction of an administrative system to regulate legal practice in Lesotho.
“We need to introduce a compulsory educational programme to keep practitioners constantly informed of the latest developments in the practice of law,” said Monapathi.
“We need such a system to supervise the activities of a whole legion of pseudo practitioners who conduct their illegal trade with impunity, to the detriment of the public,” he added.
The acting chief justice’s is not alone in worrying about these pseudo practitioners.
Remember one judge (Scrutator has forgotten his name) who once berated lawyers for their poor quality of work as evidenced by their failure to write coherent pleadings and other court documents.
One would have hoped that the first person to embrace Justice Monaphathi’s statements and proposals on arresting the declining standards of the legal profession here would be the man charged with heading the Law Society himself, one Mohaheng Rasekoai, who wrote a rambling article in
defence of the indefensible last week.
“In my view it is wrong for any person to state that the standards of the legal profession are lowering . . .”
“If we entertain the proposition that they are indeed lowering, what then is the yardstick for standards in a polarised professional environment like that of Lesotho?.
“We have engineers in this country who construct roads which overflow with water and are often riddled with gaping potholes. Is that reflective of the incompetence of engineers in Lesotho,” asked Mr Rasekoai.
Scrutator’s question to you Mr Rasekoai is simple.
Which planet are you living on?
Or rather, which planet have you just landed from?
It cannot be Mars, Saturn or Jupiter but perhaps one of those newly discovered far flung planets.
Surely, everyone living in this country who has an tiny inkling of law would agree with Justice Monephathi’s views about the proliferation of many pseudo lawyers with a bad grasp of the legal principles that they are supposed to apply and their affinity towards short-changing clients. Professionals must do their jobs right.
There is no excuse for shoddiness Mr Rasekoai.
Yes, if engineers construct roads and bridges which collapse thereafter, it is indeed a reflection of the incompetence of the profession in this country.
Do you honestly expect us to showcase such pothole ridden roads as an example of what the local engineering industry can produce.
Definitely not. Get real Ntate Rasekoai. Of course you are right that there are many other distinguished law practitioners in this country who have done well.
But Justice Monaphathi’s focus was not on those good ones.
He was highlighting the briefcase ones, who are indeed many.