Samson’s Take: Poorly paid, and only 23 lawyers offering legal aid? Phew!

Samson Lardy   Samson Lardy Anyenini

Sun, 25 Feb 2018 Source: Samson Lardy Anyenini

The noble profession has attracted a lot of public criticism these past couple of weeks. There is the news of 81% percent of students failing the exams that would give them the right and pride to wear a funny wig and gown in tropical Africa.

I don’t recall half any of the two classes of some 200 students failing when I was there. But a former Director of the Ghana School of Law Mr. Kwaku Ansa-Asare isn’t “surprised at all” as he points us to an even worse outcome where only 9 out of 123 students passed in 1963.

He tells of similar situations in 76, 78, 81 and 1984. He also identifies a combination of factors including a generation of law students distracted by modern attractions like social media.

There is also the fight in and out of parliament to annul an L.I seeking to legitimise entrance exams and interviews as modes of filtering students desiring to enter the school of law. That L.I just may not mature into law in the next nine working days as the Minority NDC and Majority NPP are said to be united around Muntaka Mubarak and Afenyo Markin to rally 183 votes to kill it.

My views on these matters are well documented. In 2015, I joined Prof. Stephen Kwaku Asare, Prof. H. Kwesi Prempeh, Maxwell Opoku Agyemang and Ace Ankomah to publicly criticise the arbitrary and unfair entry restrictions.

But I first broached the subject of expansion of the school and I did do officially as the SRC President almost a decade ago. It was exciting to learn soon thereafter that two satellite campuses had been opened. Much has been said and I hope authorities will be receptive to suggestions for lasting solutions that won’t compromise standards.

I leave this here because my guests will discuss this subject, and you know my rule not to deal with matters tabled for discussion.

The third news about the profession this week has been about some young lawyers confessing how poorly they were remunerated while serving the mandatory period of pupillage or their early years in practice.

By the standards then, I didn’t experience that even though I did feel after a while that earning a bit more would have been appropriate as I was handed so much workload. But my preoccupation and satisfaction was in getting all the learning I could get from my seniors under whom I read in chambers.

I am, however, not unaware some are not treated well at all. It is exploitation to load an intelligent conscientious junior counsel with so much work, and some working upwards of twelve hours a day only to receive barely enough to take care of fuel for their 1.2 litre engines, if they own a car.

Something ought to be done about this and now! But before that happens, please treat young lawyers fairly, it might help to reduce the sprawling one-man and boutique-type firms in an era where much business is lost to Ghana as result by large firms which are also a place for real growth and the future of the legal profession.

The fourth issue is news that Amnesty International’s 2017/2018 Report found that only 23 lawyers offered legal aid services in Ghana. What a stink?! I recently wrote about fashioning a regime to train and equip paralegals to assist even in the court.

The lawyer-citizen ratio is terrible as I have already noted in Samson's Take: Fear of the floodgates and a country in bad need of ... This report certainly doesn’t take account of what pro bono services we may offer without recourse officially to the Legal Aid Scheme, but it is such a blight on the profession in Ghana.

I urge the Bar Association to, for this purpose, empower and make the most use of the CJ Wood backed Nene Amegatcher administration brainchild Young Lawyers Forum. A mentor who is turning a preacher-man, Yoni Kulendi tells me the truth that a conscientious lawyer makes clients happy and, in the least, gets a reasonably dignified living.

Another, Ace Ankomah, constantly reminds us never to forget the poor. Many are on death roll simply because they couldn’t afford the services of a lawyer. Even though I find myself in a situation where I get overwhelmed by requests, I try to accept three pro bono cases each legal year. We can and should do more. But it should be mandatory for licence renewal and rewarded to encourage the practice.

The reason I make the last two issues the focus of My Take today, is to draw the attention of the General Legal Council - the regulator of legal education and the profession to the critical need to address these equally pressing matters while focussing on legal education and discipline.

Samson Lardy ANYENINI

February 24, 2018

Columnist: Samson Lardy Anyenini