Robes Without Jobs: Proposals to cure lawyer unemployment in Zambia
E. Munshya, LLM., MBA, MDIV
The shortage of lawyers in Zambia is catastrophic. The country of 15 million people currently has only 1,500 members of the bar. This is a diminutive 1 lawyer per 10,000 citizens. For the sake of comparison, Alberta has about 10,000 active lawyers in a population of 4.3 million; 1 lawyer per 400 citizens. Disturbing as the Zambian numbers might be, the next statistics are even more alarming: hundreds of Zambian lawyers remain unemployed or under-employed in 2018. Without official figures to go by, some of my colleagues are estimating putting the number at over 250, or over 15%.
This underemployment is so astounding that some lawyers have resorted to working in administrative support positions. For those employed as associates in Lusaka, they have seen their salaries and bonusses drop drastically. Lawyers working for the government are not smiling either. What was once a plush profession has been reduced to low and unsatisfactory wages. The lawyer aura might be quite deafening, but in reality, the profession is broke, and the market has become ultra-competitive, if not dead. How can a country with such a low lawyer to population ratio have so many unemployed lawyers? What can be done to change this trajectory?
The first problem is with the structure of both the Law Association of ZambiaAct (LAZ Act) and the Legal Practitioners Act(LEP Act). I am calling for a complete overhaul of these Acts so that Zambians begin benefiting from all the current members of the Zambian bar. The two Acts, as they currently stand are completely inadequate to address lawyer shortage in Zambia and cannot adequately address why hundreds of new lawyers remain unemployed.
In spite of the dramatic and sometimes drastic changes that have taken place with the laws governing Zambian universities, Zambian law schools and the Zambia Institute of Advanced Legal Education (ZIALE), there has been no corresponding reform of the two primary statutes governing the legal profession. To put it in context, the Zambian legal profession is still being governed by laws and regulations that were drafted for the 1972 legal market. The changes over the years have been cosmetic if not duplicitous. The 1972 legislative framework is ill-prepared to provide proper and effective regulation in 2018. LAZ was caught completely off-guard when ZIALE offloaded over 300 new lawyers onto the market just this year alone. We can predict with some confidence that ZIALE is likely to continue offloading more lawyers on the market, and without clear reform of the LAZ and LEP Acts, under-employment and unemployment will continue.
Zambia should do away with the regulatory system that forbids new lawyers from establishing law firms. If LAZ or the Chief Justice have concerns about the fitness of these lawyers to establish their own firms, these concerns can be better addressed and should be addressed through ZIALE. If ZIALE is not offering entry level skills for lawyers, what is it doing then? If the Chief Justice cannot rely upon ZIALE to produce lawyers with entry level lawyering and management skills, what is ZIALE’s role?
Further, as long as regulators impose the 3 to 5-year ban on solo practice, Zambia will continue to see underemployment and unemployment in the legal profession. Self-employment is they only cure to lawyer unemployment in Zambia. Additionally, unless there is change, lawyers will continue to saturate Lusaka as it is the only city with adequate law firms that may offer associate employment to these newly minted lawyers. The legal market in Lusaka, however, is not what it used to be. The firms are broke, and they cannot absorb this huge number of lawyers being minted by ZIALE. What is needed is to expand the legal market by taking lawyers to all the areas in Zambia that need lawyers. This can easily be done if new lawyers are given some self-determination to commence practice on their own or to establish law firms in other areas other than Lusaka.
Since sharp practices and theft of client funds is a regulatory concern, LAZ and the Chief Justice can still come up with rules that take that into account. For example, they can allow new lawyers to establish law firms around the country but forbid them from handling client trust funds. Further, the regulators can look at this issue on a case-by-case basis.
The most recent ZIALE results were released just last week. With a passing rate of 1%, Zambians have a cause for concern. However, I am not a bit concerned with this passing rate at the moment, as I see it to be temporary. ZIALE has changed and it will continue to change. ZIALE will continue to redeem itself and will continue to offload new lawyers on the market. I can safely predict that the bar call in April 2019 will have hundreds of newly minted lawyers, mostly from the repeaters’ examination. My main concern, therefore, is about the regulatory framework in Zambia that require reform to channel the energies of these new lawyers and ensure that they are spread around the country to serve the legal needs of the republic. ZIALE has done its part and it will continue to do so. The main question is, is LAZ ready? From the way it has handled new lawyers so far, I do not think LAZ is ready, hence my calls for reforming the regulatory framework.
Munshya, E. (2018). “Robes Without Jobs: Proposals to cure lawyer unemployment in Zambia”. Elias Munshya Blog. http://www.eliasmunshya.org (October 22, 2018).