Unlike some professions, the legal profession requires a qualified lawyer to undertake tutelage under a senior lawyer before practising their craft.
This time and term under instruction is referred to as pupillage. Many advocates would agree without hesitation that the greatest acquisitions a cultivated lawyer would require is a liberal frame of mind dedicated to lifelong learning and a thorough pupillage undertaking. These are the alchemical processes that mould exceptional lawyers.
The main reasons for pupillage are two-fold: First, to equip the future advocate with the essential intellectual and ethical wherewithal to have a successful law career; and second, to aid those not interested in the rigmarole of legal practice pursue other careers within their ken.
During pupillage, aspiring lawyers are expected to grasp the fundamentals of legal practice such us conducting research, legal drafting, managing client relations, bar ethics and etiquette, courtroom strategy, amongst others.
In the recent past, advocates and pupils have decried the poor state of pupillage in law chambers and other centres offering pupillage. It is discernible from social media commentary by pupils that at least the problem lies in the disposition of pupil masters - sometimes characterised as one with contemptuous disrespect - and the lack of essential accessories in law firms.
Pupil masters, on the hand, other flesh out scarcity of lawyers clothed with laudable zeal as the genesis of the problem. These correlated factions of the legal profession have genuine concerns that should be rightly addressed.
Whatever pupillage should consist of is well articulated in the Kenya School of Law (Training Programme) Regulations and the pupillage deed. While it would be appropriate to amend some of these rules to address the needs of our time, the core issue to a practised eye remains a practical one. One theme of perennial interest is the remuneration of pupils during pupillage.
There are known cases of pupils residing in Nairobi receiving a paltry salary of Sh10,000 monthly. Such meagre pay would surely not be a true incentive to proper learning. Law firms, hence, should remunerate pupils generously to make their tenure during pupillage comfortable.
There is also a lack of commitment by pupil masters to correctly instruct pupils, compelling pupils to attend to menial tasks and giving unclear instructions. There are well documented cases of pupils preparing meals, cleaning law chambers, and attending to other personal affairs of pupil masters. This is rooted in the falsity that pupil masters are 'masters' in the slave like application of the term.
Here and there, pupils refer to law offices as plantations in the slave like usage of the word. Such tasks are diametrically opposed with the ideals of pupillage which is to ensure pupils are instructed in the proper business, practice, and employment of an advocate. Pupils should be treated with dignity and only given tasks that allow the proper development of lawyerly skills.
On the flipside, senior lawyers lay emphatic stress on the sloth of pupils in the execution of their duties. Objectively speaking, the legal profession requires that advocates devote their time to laborious and rigorous examination of documents, vigour of thought, keen study of treatises, and diligent interpretation of laws. Pupils must eschew sloth and idleness.
These obstacles towards proper training of advocates during pupillage are not insurmountable. With a mutual understanding, members of the profession can set up an internal mechanism to make all law firms and pupils fit for pupillage. This would immensely improve the quality of legal services offered to the public and restore honour and dignity to the legal profession.