The Ugandan Law Society must focus on the members, the country

I have always believed that lawyers are God’s favorite sons and daughters who do God’s work daily.

This view is rooted in the scriptures in Titus 3:13 about Zenas the advocate. Paul writes: “Bring Zenas the advocate and Apollos diligently, that they may lack nothing.”

Zenas was also considered among the 70 disciples Jesus sent to Galilee. Honorary recognition is not to be taken lightly, no wonder Zenas is a revered saint in Christian churches. But as usual, lawyers are not free from controversy, as seen in Luke 7:30 where the Pharisees and lawyers rejected God’s counsel against themselves, not being baptized by him.

The legal profession is so old that we can barely trace its beginnings, but its end in the foreseeable future is next to impossible. This is by no means an indication that the profession has not evolved over the years.

We cannot yet predict the nature of the evolution in the years to come, we remain hopeful that we will adapt to the ever-changing nature of legal practice.

Due to the nature of our work and the sophistication of legal language, the profession is trapped in the circle of blackmail with talk like “lawyers are liars” and yet we have to carry out our clients’ instructions.

John Kennedy noted that “a good lawyer will try to protect his client”. In doing so, we are cursed and blessed by opposite parties in equal measure. Sometimes it becomes difficult not to become a native in cases involving human rights violations.

Like any other profession, legal practice involves risks, threats to life, property, mental health issues and abuse both inside and outside the profession. Some trivialize these struggles by calling them “professional risks”.

Janet Reno noted that “being a lawyer is not just a calling. It’s a public mandate and each of us has an obligation to give back to our communities,” but what does society give to lawyers in the capitalist environment in which they practice? Ridiculous?

Lawyers meticulously solve problems, but who then solves lawyers’ problems? Who defends the rights of lawyers? Who protects lawyers?

In a fight for workers’ rights and protections, collective bargaining is key to achieving better wages, benefits and working conditions. It dates back to the formation of the Trade Guilds as early as 2334 BC until 198 AD and finally to the modern trade unions from 1848. Historically, trade unions were powerful and influenced all aspects of governance.

In Uganda we have the Trade Unions Act 2006. There are mixed feelings and reactions about the relevance of trade unions in contemporary Uganda.

In the wisdom of the British colonial masters, they found it imperative to establish a statutory body called the Uganda Law Society (ULS) with an Act of the Ugandan Legislative Council (Parliament), Uganda Law Society Act Cap 276 commencing on 27th December 1956. This Act to IMHO is outdated.

Sixty-five years later, it cannot offer protection to defenders or enable a relevant and dynamic ULS. That said, we are enlisted to be members of the ULS by law without the ability to dissociate. Ironically, this conscription contravenes and violates the full benefit and breadth of freedoms and rights of association and expression enshrined in Section 29 of the 1995 Constitution.

To be clear, the right and freedom of association by default includes the right and freedom to dissociate.

On September 10, members of the Uganda Law Society went to the polls. The issues were the welfare and protection of members, the unrest of young lawyers, large firms – the division of small firms, the rule of law and unity in society.

I congratulate Mr. Bernard Oundo, the other members who emerged victorious, and all those who offered themselves. However, the real work begins now to situate the relevance of the ULS for the members, the country and perhaps for the ULS itself. Without it, the ever-changing nature of legal practice will cause the ULS to collapse, as lawyers are never short of disruptive tools.