The Law Society and Black Lawyers


Two (Black) lawyers submitted bills of N$657,000 and N$646,000 respectively to the NDC for a disciplinary hearing on the ODC’s vanished investments. No sooner had the bill been submitted when the story made sensational (ised) headlines even before the client, or as the papers would have it, the victim, and the two lawyers had met to discuss the bill. The articles expressed open condemnation in phrases like “lawyers cash in.” The Law Society reportedly condemned it as “unfortunate, opportunistic misinterpretation of the tariff guidelines.” The bill resulted from 2004 tariffs of the Law Society for perusal of documents at N$90 to N$120 per page at a 10% adjustment per annum which would have shifted the amount chargeable to roughly between N$110 to N$150 per page. This would have given a perusal fee of between N$440,000 and N$600,000 for each lawyer. Had an hourly adjusted fee at 10% per year of between N$900 and N$1 800 per hour in 2006 for other activities such as legal research, the hearing and other consultations have been added of say 10 to 20 days, it would have added another amount ranging to anything from N$90,000 to N$360,000. That is a bill of between N$530,000 to N$960,000 for each lawyer. The Law Society now all of a sudden suggests that the lawyers had to rather use the time-based method of determining the bill. Nobody knows how much time was needed or was taken. One can perhaps just in passing note that this suggested method is that a laggard and a slow analyst would be seriously advantaged over an urgent, methodological and competent professional. The farce lies in this: these bills are in terms of the Law Society’s tariffs and nobody else’s. If the bills are wrong and exorbitant then the Law Society’s tariffs are wrong and unethical. The fault cannot possibly lie with the individual lawyers. All these years a schedule of tariffs existed that could be minimised or maximised on the individual lawyer’s discretion in terms of the guidelines of the very Law Society, while the Law Society had the opportunity through centuries to draw up schedules with definite discernible criteria and codes of conduct. When the two lawyers used their discretion – nay, when they used the rates of the Law Society – they are said to have cashed in (into the scams of the Law Society or Avid?). The innuendo is not unequivocal as it is clearly meant to imply Avid (avarice), but it is nonetheless ironical as the innuendo is only sustainable through the Law Society’s rates and mechanisms of unlimited discretion (or let us say within the wide parameters of the Law Society. Parameters which the Law Society itself now finds indefensible). Whether the lawyers had charged the minimum bill of N$530,000 or the maximum of N$960,000 or somewhere in between, we are still at a loss what constitutes an acceptable bill and the Law Society the source of the tariffs will not accept responsibility for such standardlessness. We have to agree that the Law Society’s response to the gossip columns is sheer hypocrisy and cynicism. In this regard further, the act of condemnation is a comparative act. Neither the papers nor the Law Society tell us whether the two lawyers’ bills are outside the actual rates charged by the legal fraternity in similar situation. The fact is many of us know that so-called perusal rates can be as much as N$1 000 and more in an arbitrary manner. We have concrete examples if needed, but we are certain the Law Society will not dare to dispute this. If Murorwa’s and Ndauendapo’s bills are public property then so should be the Avid Inquiry’s legal bills; the Smart Card’s legal bills; the NamPower inquiry’s legal bills; etcetera be public property together with a scrutiny of the complexity of the case in review. The public will find that Ndauendapo and Murorwa were rather cheap in comparison. The only question which then remains is what are the real reasons behind the innuendo and expressed accusations of excessive greed and corruption directed against the two lawyers. In our view the answer is both straightforward and complex. It is common knowledge that many black officials and the press are perpetuating white racism as in this case. One stares into the face of a racial inferiority complex on a daily basis in public offices and most disturbingly even in the judiciary in which the tendency to please whites is glaring. Numerous complaints against white lawyers for unprofessional, irregular and even criminal conduct are simply quashed by the Law Society and the Ministry of Justice’s Disciplinary Committee. The complaints are definite, well circumscribed complaints such as corruption of court records in contradistinction to this apparent indictment against Murorwa and Ndauendapo without a clear charge as to what specific ethic, rule or practice had been violated. The press is conspicuously silent on this myriad of serious complaints. The interesting thing is that the Law Society and the Disciplinary Committee were awash with these complaints while the Law Society was directing what could only be described as a hypocritical witch-hunt against black lawyers and consultants. It was in our view meant to discipline the legal fraternity to toe the old line and value system to protect the old social-economic interests still in force. The reason why a pitch black presiding officer would respectfully if not submissively concentrate on the more than often nonsensical submissions of white lawyers or corporate managers while treating with contempt a black exponent trying to enforce the new constitutional order and rights is simply because white racism is the vehicle which delivers benefits to both its white and black proponents. It may not even have anything to do with the racial categorisation in reality. Bribery is an indispensable part inducing this selective demeanour. Of course, this whole incident reflects the weak position of the black lawyer both professionally and organisationally and its inability to contribute to the enforcement of post-colonial principles and standards. Before the Namibian Law Society can display integrity of sorts, its actions against its members and in general will remain suspect. In our view, Murorwa and Ndauendapo should not reduce the bill by as much as one cent. This does not mean that we for one moment consider the Law Society’s rates as a true measure of value created. Let us be frank. The Namibian Constitution’s Bill of Fundamental Rights will be confined to paper for as long as the Law Society maintains its control over judicial standards or lack of standards outside the courts and many a time inside the courts. This heavy weight enjoyed by the Law Society no doubt is a reflection on the Government, the Cabinet, the Parliament with its standing committees, and indicative of the perception that we are being governed through “white intransigence and black incompetence.” Hendrik Christian Jacobus Josob (Khoisan Social-Political Movement)