Law societies study legal demands in bid to launch cross-border service

Saturday January 17 2015

Lawyers take oath before being admitted as advocates of the High Court at the Supreme Court of Kenya. Soon lawyers will be able to work all over the region. PHOTO | ANTHONY OMUYA |

Law societies in East Africa are reviewing how legal fees are charged across the borders as a step towards setting qualifications for their members to practise across the region.

This will help EAC residents to pay uniform fees for services rendered by lawyers and also reduce complications in the movement of the professionals across the region.

The move comes barely a year after Kenyan lawyers raised their fees by nearly 50 per cent in April 2014 opening up a wide gap ahead of their regional counterparts.

This meant Kenyan lawyers seeking contracts outside the country could be forced to take pay cuts as the region’s labour market finds its balance in terms of supply and pay structure under the Common Market Protocol.

READ: Kenyan lawyers raise legal fees despite objection

The protocol which was signed in 2010 seeks to liberalise groups of service sectors for easy access by job seekers in the region and open up competition for jobs in communication, distribution, education, tourism, transport and financial services.


Top on the list are business-related services such as advertising, architectural, accountancy, legal and computer services.

The EastAfrican has learnt that a memorandum of understanding to this effect has been drafted and discussions are underway to iron out differences among the members on the proposed move.

James Mwamu, the first President of the East African Law Society (EALS) said that an agreement was drawn on October 30, 2014 in Dar es Salaam and tabled before members during an annual general meeting in Kigali in November but the members asked for time to review it.

“The members are currently studying and analysing it with a view of approving it during the AGM in Zanzibar this year. However there are various views on the proposal with some members demanding that legal fees be determined by market forces and not be capped. Those are the issues we are working on.”

The bar leaders include the Law Society of Kenya, Uganda Law Society, Rwanda Bar Association, Burundi Bar Association, Tanganyika Law Society and Zanzibar Law Society working under the aegis of the EALS.

“The issue of harmonisation of legal fees is one of the areas that has been looked at and agreed upon,” said Mr Mwamu.

The LSK chairman Eric Mutua however denied knowledge of any negotiations. “I am not aware of such a memo. There is no such understanding. We just reviewed our remuneration order last year,” he said.

Plans are underway for lawyers within the EAC to start practising across borders without limitations following the drafting of a Mutual Recognition Agreement for lawyers. The agreement provides that the EAC member states settle on similar qualifications for legal practitioners in the region.

Mr Mwamu said once approved, “The member states will have to review their respective laws to ensure there are no laws that are hostile or are an impediment to cross border legal services.”

He said all partner states have already made a commitment to this agenda with exception of Tanzania whose laws already have provisions for cross-border legal services.

Last year Kenya’s Chief Justice Willy Mutunga gazetted the Review of the Advocates Remuneration (Amendment) Order, 2014, which increased the fees charged by lawyers in areas such as conveyance, filing of suits, registration of trademarks and debt collection.

ALSO READ: Justice to be dearer as Kigali Bar proposes to raise legal fees

The order also set new fees for preparation of leases, agreements for leases and tenancy agreements, which increased by at least 35 per cent.

For instance under the revised rates an individual buying a Ksh5 million ($55,555)  property would pay a lawyer two per cent of the value compared with the previous charges of 1.5 per cent.

Other changes included increasing the fee paid on filing a new suit valued at Ksh200, 000($2,222) and Ksh50,000 ($555) to Ksh45,000 ($500) from Ksh28,000 ($311).

In Uganda, vendors advocate for deducing title to freehold or leasehold property and perusing and completing conveyance (including preparation of contracts on conditions of sale (if any) charge 15 per cent on the first Ush1 million ($351) 10 per cent on the values ranging from Ush10,000 ($3.51) to Ush100,000 ($35.11) and 10 per cent to values of over Ush20 million ($7,022.84)

The vendors advocate in relation to commission for successfully negotiating a sale of property by private treaty earns 15 per cent on the first Ush1 million ($351), 10 per cent on values from Ush1 million ($351) to Ush20 million ($7,022.84) and five per cent on a value of over Ush20 million ($7,022.84).

In Tanzania a lawyer is allowed to receive a special fee in addition to the remuneration.

READ: Tanzania lawyers can now advertise services

A lawyer may also charge interest at 12 per cent per annum on his disbursements and allowable costs from the delivery of his bill to the client, provided that such claim for interest is raised before the amount of the bill has been paid or tendered in full.

A lawyer may accept from his client and his client may give to his advocate security for the amount to become due to the advocate for the remuneration and disbursements in business to be transacted or being transacted by him.

A review of some of the charges by lawyers in Tanzania shows that an advocate is paid three per cent of the value of the transaction for negotiating a sale of immovable property by private contract.