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LSK squabbles signal societal malaise

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Law Society of Kenya (LSK) president Nelson Havi. FILE PHOTO | NMG

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Summary

  • Lawyers like other professionals have rules that govern them. While some are codified there are a wide array that is not.
  • It was inculcated in me as a new advocate that seniority was one of the bedrocks of professional etiquette amongst lawyers.
  • This required that you give due deference to those who had been there before you, while the older members were to treat juniors with courtesy and help them learn the ropes of the profession.

The Law Society of Kenya (LSK) held a special general meeting this past week. Many of my friends sent me messages asking what was happening to lawyers. Having attended the meeting myself albeit online I was not sure what response to give them. However, when a day later I still got similar concerns from other friends, it became clear that try as I did, it was going to be difficult to ignore the issue.

Lawyers like other professionals have rules that govern them. While some are codified there are a wide array that are not. For example, it was inculcated in me as a new advocate that seniority was one of the bedrocks of professional etiquette amongst lawyers. This required that you give due deference to those who had been there before you, while the older members were to treat juniors with courtesy and help them learn the ropes of the profession.

The events of the past week, however, shattered the image of what has been a respectable, glamorous, and revered profession. One need only look at the number of people who continue to troop back to the university in old age to study law, even when they are already settled in their first professionally chosen paths to appreciate the respect the legal profession has traditionally commanded.

However, to the discerning the events are symptomatic of a larger problem in the Kenyan society. We have planted seeds of anything goes and might is right to an extent that we can justify all manner of unbecoming conduct and get away with it.

Listening to the assessment of the activities of that day from members of the LSK, one would be forgiven for thinking that they were describing a normal event. The disparate arguments depended on what side of the divide the members supported. Unfortunate, since the divides were mainly not driven by principle but by politics.

It is only non-lawyers that saw the conduct for what it truly was, a shameful performance by an institution that occupies an extremely high pedestal in the Kenyan society. First, it is mandated by the people's representatives to play a role in the administration of the law and adherence to the rule of law in Kenya. This is huge responsibility which requires a certain stature and fidelity to be able to discharge.

Sovereignty is the basis of democratic governance. While the basic analysis of the Constitution of Kenya demonstrates that this power is donated to the arms of government, it should be evident that by virtue of the fact that the LSK operates under a law made by one of the arms of government, it is not a private members’ club. It is undertaking a sacred task. This explains why members of the public get concerned about what happens at the LSK. Secondly, from its history the Society has not only been at the forefront of discharging this mandate but it has also done so with such decorum and a sense of public responsibility that members of the public have become accustomed to.

To be clear though the events of last week are the culmination of a few years of upheavals. I remember when the Okoa LSK initiative started I pointed out to some of my colleagues in the profession that the manner we were conducting the discussions was sowing seeds of discord that would take years to root out. Unfortunately, instead of rooting it out, we have watered it and entrenched the culture to an extent that it is now almost an ogre.

Time has come for all of us as who are members of the Society to accept that we are in a hole and stop digging. Finger pointing will not help since the problem is bigger than the current leadership. It is a problem of the collective membership and demonstration of the cultural decay in society.

Solving this problem requires a refocus on basic values that define our various interactions in the spaces we engage in. It is about asking what defines one as a lawyer. Is it the suit, is it our manner of argumentation or is it our mannerisms? Once we get this right, we then must chart the oath to getting back to that destination. It is only then that the public will trust the collective body as being capable of discharging its statutory duty.