The idea of ‘fake it till you make it’ has been idolized in recent years. We all admire the bravery it takes for someone to do something they are not ‘qualified’ to do, sometimes even better than those who are. The higher the stakes, and the more they have to lose if they get caught, the more thrilling it is. It’s like watching a very captivating movie in real life.
However, we have to agree that this only works for some professions. I would not be comfortable flying in a plane with a self-taught pilot. Even for a minor surgery, I wouldn’t want to be operated on by someone who has read all medicine books or even watched 1000 videos on YouTube on operations. It is the same case for a legal practitioner. No matter how ‘good,’ knowledgeable, or charismatic they may be in court, it is to your disadvantage. Because even if you win, you still lose.
We have heard the phrase ‘null and void’ so many times in this country. This is what happens to a ruling if the lawyer in charge of your case is not qualified. It doesn’t matter how much time has passed since then. This is exactly why you must know whether the lawyer you engage is qualified, trustworthy, and competent to handle your case.
Qualifications of an Advocate
Anyone who identifies as an Advocate must have a Law Degree Certificate from a recognized university in Kenya or an institution approved by the Council of Legal Education (CLE). They must have undertaken the Advocates Training Program and passed The Bar Examinations. After this, the lawyer must complete their pupillage (apprenticeship) before being assigned the role of an advocate.
Every new advocate is assigned a unique designation called a practicing number. This is what uniquely identifies them from the rest. It is also the one sure way to know that the person you are dealing with is authentic. You can verify them by a simple Google search of their name on the Law Society of Kenya’s (LSK) website, and their practicing number should match the name.
Note: An individual with a law degree is not an Advocate. They are known as a Lawyer (when speaking, we sometimes use the terms interchangeably, but it’s important to know the difference). A lawyer can only give you legal advice but cannot represent you in court or perform the role of an Advocate. To attempt to do this is a criminal offense.
Filing a Complaint
This is where the distinction between a lawyer and an advocate comes in handy. Unlike a lawyer, an advocate is bound by the codes and ethics of the Legal Profession because they are a member of LSK, the professional body in charge of the legal profession in Kenya. When an Advocate breaks the codes and ethics of the profession, they answer to the Disciplinary Tribunal. You can also lodge a complaint against an advocate for professional misconduct to the Advocates Complaints Commission.
It is, however, important to note that a complaint lodged against an Advocate to the Tribunal does not disqualify them from practicing. It is saved as a pending disciplinary matter awaiting investigation. Even lawyers are innocent till proven guilty because the law does not discriminate. If found guilty, a punishment equivalent to the act is administered to the tune of license revocation, prosecution, or both. In the next section, we shall discuss more ways to protect yourself from corrupt legal practitioners.
How to find the right lawyer for you
The following are the five things you should consider when choosing a lawyer. We do not give them as an exact science because situations differ. These are, however, the things we believe will give you a better chance of getting the outcome you want.
AREAS OF SPECIALIZATION – Not every advocate is best suited for your case. There are so many areas of practice for any one advocate to be competent in all. An advocate handling your child custody agreement (Family law) may not be the one best suited to handle your land case (conveyancing).
PS: If you wish to work with one entity, choose a law firm that houses lawyers with different specializations.
REPUTATION – as mentioned earlier, ensure your advocate is in good standing with the LSK. Check if they have been involved in cases of fraud or malpractice before. This will help you know the amount of caution to exercise with them or look for alternatives.
TRACK RECORD – just like any other person you hire to do something for you, their performance record is paramount. Find out their success with the cases they have handled or the magnitude of cases they have tried. If it compares to your case in any way, then you can have more confidence in them.
YEARS OF EXPERIENCE – we have to admit this does not say much about their competence. Still, years of practice is one of the best ways to gauge any professional regarding experience and knowledge.
TESTIMONIALS – this is one of the oldest but most effective ways of verifying anyone. Find other people the lawyer has served and get their experiences. Of course, you won’t lack one or two angry/dissatisfied clients…nobody is liked by everyone. But if a majority have bad experiences, then run for your life!
If you are the kind of person who feels like all this is a lot of work, then we have an easy way for you. Sometimes, you may have a lot on your plate and not have the time to do everything on the checklist. You may also have a legal emergency that needs immediate attention. In such cases, you are better off working with a law firm than an individual. There is nothing wrong with working with an individual; there are many good representatives out there. There are, however, lower chances of quacks practicing in a firm than you would find individuals pretending to be attorneys. A law firm does the hard work, so you don’t have to.
We have legal practitioners in different practice areas. For any inquiries, questions, or comments, reach us on call at 0713 889 939, Click the WhatsApp button, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for taking the time to read to the end.
By Natasha Andeyi, Lawyer.