The revelation that some lawyers have been swindling their clients and others have been involved in outright theft is damaging to theprofession.Lawyers the world over are held in high esteem and they are expected to behave exemplary all the time. They are part of the justice system and people in trouble with the law including criminals rush to them for legal services.
It was embarrassing when the Malawi Law Society (MLS) named and shamed errant lawyers. It is unfortunate that some lawyers have been swindling clients’compensation. Some of them even invest clients’ money in short term financial products such as fixed depositand make extra money out of their poor clients
According to media reports, the names should have been published last year. But the MLS was withholding the names, ostensibly to defend their fellow lawyers.By hiding their names the MLS was placing their members above anyone else and was sending the message that their members should not be exposed no matter how they behave.
Lawyers know the law better and should be exemplary.The word “justice” is constantly on their lips. But why should they demand justice from others when they equally behave unprofessionally. It is only fair that the Attorney General and the Solicitor General recommended that unethical and unprofessional lawyers should pay for their sins. Surely, no one is above the law.
While lawyers are human beings and have their own weaknesses, it is the deliberate attempt to shield theirwrongdoing that is disappointing. If people from other professions are exposed for their unprofessional conduct, why not lawyers? From media reports, the list would not have been published if the Solicitor General Dr Janet Banda did not put her foot down to have the list published.
She is quoted as ‘confirming that the publication of the notice follows her refusal to chair further meetings of the disciplinary committee to force the publication of the notice.” This means that the MLS has been trying all it could to block the notice. The date of the notice (30 September 2016) speaks volumes how the MLS had been trying to protect their fellow lawyers. By protecting their members, the mother body was making their members above the law. They were made untouchables.
The Solicitor General and the Attorney General should be commended for their stand to publicise and prosecute some errant lawyers. Government should not tolerate lawyers who swindle their clients or behave in a manner inimical to their profession. Malawi needs lawyers of high integrity and be role models to the society because they are torch bearers of justice. This should serve as a lesson to other lawyers that they will be exposed for any unacceptable behaviour.
We know that some lawyers have been shortchanging their clients for some time and have been getting away with it because they were shielded by their mother body. Both the Law Society and government should work out a mechanism for members of the public to report unethical and unprofessional lawyers.
The issue of legal fees also needs to be seriously looked into.Generally, legal services are high. However, some lawyers overcharge their services. Many Malawians are unable to access justice because they cannot afford the exorbitant fees. Some lawyers can charge as much as K200 000 to offer their services. How many Malawians can manage such high fees?No wonder the majority of the people are unable to access the legal services. Because of high legal services, many lawyers have become millionaires within a short period, buying flashy vehicles at the expense of their clients.
The MLS will do Malawians a great service if it can checkthe high legal fees and swiftly takes action against its aberrant members without being pressurised.