HARARE – The Law Society of Zimbabwe (LSZ) has condemned the rent-a-chair practice — popular in hair salons — which hard-pressed lawyers have turned to, as they struggle to raise money to pay for practicing certificates.
According to LSZ, of the 3 000 lawyers registered with the High Court, only 1 500 acquired practicing certificates — a prerequisite to operate legally — from the organisation this year.
However, not all of the 1 500 lawyers without practicing certificates are rogue lawyers, as some are said to be attached to civil service, corporate and other sectors.
Practicing certificates are acquired annually at a $750 fee, with most law firms committing to pay for their employees.
Lawyers that spoke to the Daily News on condition of anonymity claimed that they were struggling to raise the practicing certificate fees because business had gone down owing to prevailing economic situation.
“Sometimes you actually rejoice when your matter is set before a magistrate you are familiar with because you will not be asked for a practicing certificate.
“The thing is these days we are struggling to raise that money as there are also workshops that must be attended to qualify for the practicing certificate,” one of the lawyers said.
“People no longer afford to hire lawyers and we have even reduced on what we charge to represent a person or else you will not make income.”
LSZ president Misheck Hogwe castigated the mushrooming rent-a-chair lawyers, arguing it was difficult to assess their conduct and performance since they would not have acquired practicing certificates from them.
“A lawyer has to operate from a premises registered with LSZ and for one to set up a law firm, compulsory pupillage is a prerequisite.
“It’s a form of training a lawyer undergoes before writing exams at the end of the programme before you can eligible to set a firm…then identify the premises and satisfy us that there is enough equipment,” he said.
“In terms of the Legal Practice Act, no lawyer without a practicing certificate from LSZ should practice. What it means is that no judge or magistrate should entertain such a lawyer, they are bogus.
“We do not allow the rent-a-chair practice where some lawyers purport to join a law firm and pay some premium to enable their practice.
“It is unethical and a very dishonourable conduct. It means that there are no checks and balances as there is no proper grooming for the lawyers. Normally when there are suspicions of such practice we conduct a spot audit.”
Hogwe said registered law firms ensured that their members attained all the required documentation before commencing practice.
“In the normal process, when a lawyer employs a professional assistant they become responsible for acquiring that practitioner’s practicing certificate and it is $750 per annum.
“If a law firm cannot pay, then they should not employ because it would be like employing a driver without the car.”
He urged members of the public to demand to see practicing certificates whenever they deal with lawyers to avoid being duped by some bogus practitioners.
“We normally publish names of deregistered lawyers and those without practicing certificates so that they are aware of the people they will be dealing with. It is in the public interest. Our profession is about integrity and everyone has to feel safe in the hands of the lawyers,” Hogwe said.