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Last year, a close young lawyer friend approached me regarding an idea; He wanted to launch a campaign – from a labor rights perspective – against what he termed as the exploitation of young lawyers by their employers – law firms and senior lawyers.
His idea made sense to me because I am totally opposed to any form of exploitation and thus I pledged to help when the campaign is finally ready.
However, I have been pondering the issue of low pay and scanty (if at all) benefits handed out to lawyers in exchange for their services and I have come to the conclusion that their situation is not bad at all.
Talk about “poor working conditions” (as if factory workers) for young lawyers has been brewing on the internet for quite some time now but it has become much more pronounced with the advent of the Coronavirus pandemic which exposed loopholes in the way we work and how we assign value to that work.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, a young lawyer staged a lone protest at the State House of Uganda in Nakasero, Kampala on which he claimed he was lacking the basic necessities for survival since the pandemic-induced lockdown had eaten into the core businesses of young lawyers. This prompted senior lawyers to set up an “emergency fund.” [Read about that here].
READ MORE: Senior Counsel Versus Senior Counsel; What’s The Difference?
We interviewed the then President of the Uganda Law Society Mr. Simon Peter Kinobe about the issue of young lawyers’ low pay and he told us quite controversially that there is a problem with our legal education system and that as a result, young lawyers don’t add much ( if any) value to their employers. [ Read about that here].
It is easy to dismiss this argument but when analyzed soberly you won’t miss its veracity and definitely the “positive ring” around young lawyers’ low pay.
When someone like the celebrated writer Daniel Kalinaki calls for an examination of our education system, what do they mean? What’s wrong with our education system? Is it the curriculum? Our teachers? What’s the problem?
Let’s look at law school. Honestly, what are law students taught that prepares them for the “outside” world?
Law Schools are running on mental models that produced and sustain Senior Lawyers but won’t empower young lawyers.
Presently, law students are unleashed into the legal market only armed with professionalism and nothing like entrepreneurial thinking and spirit.
Most think and behave like value grabbers instead of value creators.
Law School is a highly competitive environment as undifferentiated law students tussle it out to scoop roles at blue-chip law firms by posting “good grades.”
Any attempt at entrepreneurship and legal diversity is too risky for these law students as it eats into their “sense of belonging.”
READ MORE: Establishing Yourself In The Legal Profession – Senior Lawyer Sim Katende’s Tips
A typical law student would rather dream and strive to end up working at a cool law firm like S & L Advocates because it has built and honed its name for more than 30 years and therefore better positioned to fork out a large pay not to mention the Prestige that comes with it than venture into the unknown and create something they genuinely love that promises more fulfillment and satisfaction in the long term.
Being paid peanuts (or even more compared to your colleagues at the expense of your time) culminating in great dissatisfaction, anger is the right fuel needed to spur growth in the legal market as lawyers will break up with their childish dreams and put on their big boy pants like every other hustler and start building great and more legal businesses and products.
Poor working conditions at established legal businesses like law firms offer invaluable training to young lawyers that they don’t get in law school; The Market rewards and The Market punishes.
Eventually, lawyers will start embracing the true spirit of entrepreneurs for that’s what they are, and perform activities that entrepreneurs perform; value creation, marketing, advertising, etc.
That way, all kinds of lawyers benefit. And consumers of legal services benefit more!
Benjamin is a Digital Legal News Journalist (trained by Reuters) and digital media enthusiast who founded The Legal Reports website in January, 2020 while a fourth year law student at Makerere University school of law.
Prior to that, Benjamin used to write amateur blogs and some of his legal commentaries were published by the Daily Monitor and Independent Magazine – both leading publications in Uganda. He covers lawyers, law students, judges, judiciary, courts, law schools, and law firms.
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