The Zambia Institute of Advanced Legal Education (ZIALE) must be the most organized cartel in Zambia. The latest results, showing that only 18 people out of 187 (9.6%) who sat the bar exam are worthy of holding practicing certificates proves that the powers that be at ZIALE must be some of the most selfish people in this country. I do not mean to be mean and rude, but that is exactly how I and many other Zambians see these people.
We are not fools who can fail to see that the ZIALE Cartel artificially restrict how many lawyers come on the market so that we pay hefty sums of money to hire them, since they are also practicing lawyers. It has nothing to do with quality of lawyers. We are currently paying around K3,000 deposits just for a lawyer to open a case. By the time the case is over, legal bills reach K30,000 or more. How many Zambians can afford to spend such money on a legal case? And of course the more they fail students at ZIALE, the more money they get with each exam re-sitting.
The pass rate at ZIALE this year of less than 10% (it has been as bad as 3% in the past) suggests that it is easier to pass Engineering in Zambia which of course is nonsense. The argument that the quality of lawyers going to ZIALE is poor is a nonsensical argument. Some of the lawyers who fail at ZIALE were among the top students at UNZA and I have personally known such cases. Sadly, the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) has gone on record agreeing with this circus.
A simple thought experiment makes the point clear about the insanity of the passing rate at ZIALE. Imagine that all the students get 90% or more in a bar exam. ZIALE in their infinite wisdom will only allow 20 people to pass it, meaning that a person who got 90% of the marks is not worthy to be a practicing lawyer. How absurd can this logic (or lack thereof) be?
I simply refuse to accept that Law at ZIALE is a more difficult course than Engineering which I did in my youth. We had to learn complex Mathematics that allows us to design motor vehicles, railways, bridges, skyscrapers, spaceships, aircraft and many other complex things whose complications are best appreciated by watching an episode of “Mega Structures” or “Extreme Engineering” on Discovery Channel and National Geographic. How can the qualifications to prepare legal argument be more difficult than for putting a man on the moon?
50 years after independence, Zambia has just about 1,500 lawyers with practicing certificates because of the ZIALE cartel. That is one lawyer to 10,000 people. Compare with Europe which is at around 1,000 and USA which has a lawyer to every 300 people.
The ZIALE cartel are so shameless that at one time, they used to reject students from other Universities apart from UNZA. They used to quote the ZIALE act which specified admitting UNZA students until someone was brave enough to take them on in court. When the ZIALE Act was written, there was only one university churning out lawyers so a literal interpretation of the Act makes no sense. ZIALE lost the case and that is when students from other institutions could be admitted into ZIALE.
They also have this strange practice of barring students from re-sitting any exams for FIVE YEARS when they fail 3 times. Now, what logical explanation can anyone give for this senseless rule, other than again an attempt to restrict new lawyers getting practicing certificates?
Having few lawyers means the Zambian legal system is very weak. It affects economic growth because the strength of the legal system is one of the main things investors look at when choosing where to send their money. Investors want to be sure that if their investments are threatened, they can go to court and get recourse. The current scenario where the LapGreenN court case has been dragging on for years is unacceptable. LapGreenN has half a billion Dollars stuck in Zamtel in Zambia which they cannot access until the court case is disposed of.
If you are defrauded by someone, you usually cannot easily take them to court due to high legal fees or lack of lawyers where you are. Legal aid doesn’t work either because it is understaffed. Imagine all the lost opportunities that prevent you being more productive. Court cases involving retirees taks 5 to 10 years to conclude because there are too many court cases relative to the available judges since lawyers are so few. By the time money is being paid out, many have died due to depression and poverty.
Not only is the ZIALE Cartel preventing more rapid economic growth and perpetuating poverty, they are also participating in the deaths and misery of thousands of Zambians. How can they go to sleep with such a thing on their conscience as long as they are “eating”? This is why many people I have talked to say that they are selfish small-minded people who cannot see the bigger picture.
Zambia needs not less than 5,000 lawyers in the next 5 years if we are to develop properly. Adding 20 lawyers to the bar per year when almost half a million people (at the current 3.2% growth rate per year) will be added to the population next year is utterly ludicrous.
Having more lawyers will drive down legal costs by the law of demand and supply but it will also create a much bigger market for law firms. They shall be able to set up in the more than 100 districts that do not have law firms or lawyers. They shall have access to many more people who will be able to afford the cheaper legal costs.
Mr Leon Louw, Executive Director of the Free Market Foundation and former head of the South African Law Review Project did a brilliant research paper called “Habits of Highly Effective Countries”. Sponsored by the South African government, he used a statistical method to find the top six or seven factors – as measured by various indices such as the Economic Freedom Index – that coincide with high economic growth rates. To his own surprise, the strength of the legal system in a country ranked in the top 3 factors for most countries.
If Zambia had more lawyers and more judges, the economy would grow faster because the better the legal system, the more people are willing to do business with strangers and take more business risks because they know the law will back them up in cases of disputes. The insanity of the Zambian legal system means the you can drive for hundreds of kilometres, pass through many towns and not find a single law firm.
The solution to this problem I have described is very simple. Amend the ZIALE Act in Parliament to allow any other competent and accredited institute to be set up as a competitor to ZIALE. Eventually students will vote with their feet and abandon ZIALE for the new competing institutions. If entire universities can be regulated through accreditation, I see no reason why the same cannot apply to ZIALE. Their counterparts in the accounting profession moved away from this cartel behaviour many years ago and I see no reason why the legal profession cannot do the same.
Another solution is to separate the people who set the bar exam from those that mark it. We can bring in lawyers from the Commonwealth to mark the exam without any bias and the passing mark should be objective and fixed at for example 70%. If everyone passes, well and good. It means we have clever students which is good for the country. I however favour the earlier approach of competition since we cannot know what other ways the ZIALE Cartel will rig the system.
I appeal to our Members of Parliament to please get busy writing a bill to amend the ZIALE Act. Lets us do it for the sake for the entire nation. Let us stop pandering to the whims of selfish small-minded people in the ZIALE Cartel who are not representative of the legal profession which has many honourable and fair-minded people.
By Michael Chishala
P/S – I also propose that all students who have been failed before at ZIALE be allowed to resit exams for free only once under new rules of a fixed passing mark.
LAZ defends ZIALE exams
Passing ZIALE is all in the students’ hands – LAZ