Questions Surge Over Young Lawyers’ Pay

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“One would ask why pay for what you are not bringing in” – Law Society President


The greatest movements of the modern age start from the unlikeliest of places. Case in point is the MeToo Movement, which started in 2006 under Tarana Burke on social media platform MySpace in order to campaign against sexual harassment. It was only a decade later that it truly took off however, with the stories of actresses making it boom in the film industry and subsequently leading to the downfall of powerful executives like Harvey Weinstein.

It was not a huge deviation from the norm, therefore, when the question of pay among young lawyers boomed on Twitter last week. What was surprising, and unlikely, was that it started from ex-TV presenter turned socialite Sheila Gashumba and her war against her former employers. She launched a tirade that berated her employers for paying her a meagre shs. 50,000 per show, a sum that can hardly take care of a day’s expenses in the modern economy.

That turned out to be the thunder before the storm.

Tweet after tweet by young lawyers that have seemingly had enough of their employers and their stingy monetary habits followed. It all started as a joke, trying to empathize with Sheila Gashumba and others who are paid low wages and salary in the entertainment business. But many a truth is said in jest, and just like that jokes and jibes turned into harsh truths and, at points, vitriol, with young legal minds questioning a legal system that did not provide opportunity to the youth and instead let them suffer through long hours of tedious work with little to no pay.

Like the MeToo movement, experiences turned into emotion. And if the revolutions have taught us anything, it is that these two are a spark for change.

A young Lawyer employed at a law firm in Kampala, who we will call Tom ( not real name) for job security purposes, told the The Legal Reports about his plight and the dilemma faced by young lawyers in their day to day work.

“450,000 Uganda Shillings is what I would say is the average salary of a young lawyer.” He started off.

“The few exceptions I think are those friends of mine who work in NGOs. These tend to pay slightly better. There are more young lawyers who earn over a million in NGOs than in law firms.”

Shs. 450,000 put in context cannot foot most of the bills one is likely to incur in a month. How is a young lawyer supposed to take care of food expenses, water and electricity bills and a host of other expenditure schemes while saving up for future investment? Another question that is begged by this revelation is how much they actually take home after tax.

Tom went on to say that the biggest problem is that there are firms that even pay less and do not give a young lawyer chance to build their own clientele or have the so called “side-gigs” like registering companies for a little extra income. This time, according to him, is in abundance for people who work in NGOs who do less and are normally not as busy with drafting paperwork and court errands.

If the firms are the source of the problem and the clientele can be built by young lawyers, as implied, why don’t young lawyers start their own firms?

“That’s the problem,” Tom said. “You need money and I think by law a required number of years in practice to open up a firm so basically you can’t jump out of LDC and you start a firm. I don’t even think it’s what most young lawyers want. We all want the experience in order to not jump into the deep end but the problem is, at the end of the day experience doesn’t pay bills.”

A complex equation is formed by this whole situation, and it appears almost unlikely that we can solve for X.

The President of the Uganda Law Society(ULS), Mr Simon Peter Kinobe, in response to the matte, told The Legal Reports that it was a “real challenge” since young lawyers are really put through some sort of a “furnace” with low pay and huge expectations from their employers.

He reasons that certain logical solutions such as the minimum wage, suggested by Tom and mamy like him cannot be enforced at the moment.  “We don’t have a minimum wage in Uganda. ULS cannot enforce a policy that does not have the force of law because no matter how justified, a lawyer will always challenge anything and everything. We are accursed to our ways.” He said.

According to Mr Kinobe, there are many young lawyers who are not really qualified.

“Our school training is terrible. This means that many a time employers need to train graduates afresh. That translates to value.” He told us.

” One would ask why pay for what you are not bringing in.”

This problem could become even worse with the removal of measures like the pre-entry, Kinobe says, which could culminate into more ground for exploitation.

Asked for possible solutions, the Law Society President suggests “energizing” the ULS SACCOS and to making it a compulsory fit.  This, he argues would see lawyers benefit from their savings despite meagre pay.

Additionally, he roots for the strengthening of goodwill policies and best practices like the Anti-Sexual Harrassment Policy, Better Pay Policy and Social Corporate Responsibility.

“For this to work, there has to be a return, forexample, continuous appraisals and marketing for compliant firms.” He said.

A look at the facts one can conclude that the problem at hand is nearly unsolvable. But one can also conclude that lawyers deserve better pay, to match the ever-increasing cost of living in the Ugandan economy and ensure their wellbeing.

Otherwise, like the MeToo Movement, the young lawyers’ demands for better pay may re-surface years later with a ferocity that will be impossible to ignore and that will shake the legal sector.

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