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Should lawyers be free to advertise?

By Vision Reporter

Added 27th August 2003 03:00 AM

The Disciplinary Committee of the Uganda Law society has issued a press statement reminding its members about the society’s regulations. In particular, the regulation that forbids lawyers from advertising their services.

The Disciplinary Committee of the Uganda Law society has issued a press statement reminding its members about the society’s regulations. In particular, the regulation that forbids lawyers from advertising their services.

By Chibita wa Duallo

The Disciplinary Committee of the Uganda Law society has issued a press statement reminding its members about the society’s regulations. In particular, the regulation that forbids lawyers from advertising their services.

This warning followed a similar warning that the President of the Law Society, Mr. Andrew Kasirye, issued to some of his members over the same habit. Mr. Kasirye was in turn reminded that his firm had a website, which could also be categorised as advertising in a sense.

Indeed a number of lawyers have discovered the media and for better, or for worse, have been doing the rounds both in the print and the electronic media. This has been done notwithstanding the regulation, number 22 of the Advocates (Professional Conduct) Regulations, that the Law Council is reminding the advocates of.

The fact that lawyers have been breaking their own law may be explained in at least three ways. Firstly, the lawyers may have hitherto been ignorant of the law that regulates their conduct. In which case, they are guilty but ignorant, since ignorance of the law is no defence.

The second possibility is that the lawyers have been aware of the law but have willfully and deliberately gone ahead and done the contrary. They have counted the cost and decided that the benefits of breaking the law far outweigh the sanctions that may follow from such breach.

Thirdly, the lawyers may be expressing a desire to have the law reformed. They have decided that the particular law is unrealistic and instead of waiting for it to be reformed or repealed, the people concerned would take notice of how often it is broken and amend it accordingly.

Regulation 22 provides that an advocate may not knowingly allow articles to be published in any news media concerning him nor shall he give any press conference or any press statements, which are likely to make known or publicise the fact that he is an advocate.

It further adds that an advocate may answer questions or write articles that may be published in the press or in the news media concerning legal topics but shall not disclose his name except in circumstances where the law Council has permitted him to do so.

The regulations bear a date of publication of 1977, which is more than 20 years ago. Since then a number of developments have taken place. In 1977, there was only one television station operating from around 4:00pm to midnight. There was only one radio station in the whole country. There was one daily newspaper. Nobody knew about the Internet. Only UNEB had a known computer in the whole country.

In 2003, there are at least five public television stations operating twenty-four hours a day. With a satellite dish one can access even more stations. The number of FM radio stations in Kampala alone is well over 20. Each school, office, law firms inclusive, has at least a computer or access to one.

There is also something called Internet and E-mail whose full implications on the legal profession, as well as other areas of life, are yet to be known. People and organisations have websites advertising their services.

Yet the websites and the Internet are not just advertising agents, most importantly, they are sources of information, where people of different professions make their references. The line between providing information and advertising is too fine for me to try and draw in this article.

The point is that between 1977 when the Regulations were made and 2003 when the struggle to enforce them is being waged, a lot has happened.

Unless the Law Council recruits an Internet expert whose detail will be to Police the Internet and ensure that no member of the Society is breaking the law; Unless they recruit a full time member of staff to tune into all the radio stations, armed with the most up-to-date roll of advocates, to cross check guests on every talk show against the Roll of Advocates; Unless the Law Council works very hard to resist technological advancement, enforcing this regulation is going to be more costly than taking an option of amending it.

However, after all is said and done, the law is supposed to be enforced as is and not as ought to be. Hence, for now, Regulation 22 is what holds sway.

Should lawyers be free to advertise?

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