The Troubling Shortage of African Lawyers: Examination of a Continental Crisis Using Zambia as a Case Study
47 Pages Posted: 5 Jan 2013 Last revised: 22 Aug 2014
Date Written: January 4, 2012
This article examines the critical shortage of lawyers in Africa, using Zambia as a case study. The article draws on information from a variety of sources, including field interviews, survey data, and case data from Zambian courts, in addition to secondary-source material. Though other work has dealt with access to justice in Africa broadly and with issues that affect access to justice, including African legal education, prison conditions, and alternatives to formal legal representation, this article is the first comprehensive analysis of the causes of the scarcity of African lawyers, the effects of the shortage, and potential avenues for addressing the crisis, including measures for making more efficient use of currently available legal resources and reforms to increase the size of the African bar. Now, because of the extreme scarcity of African lawyers, most criminal defendants go without representation, and most Africans with civil claims have no reasonable possibility of hiring a lawyer. The causes of this crisis date to colonial policies that discouraged higher education for native Africans. More recently, donor fatigue and the limited availability of public resources for education, compounded by World Bank and IMF austerity measures, have perpetuated the problem. Likewise, poor policy choices at African law schools and African bar admissions programs have exacerbated the dilemma. Zambia, and other countries in the region, could enhance the impact of their limited legal communities by allowing the use of contingency fees, reducing or eliminating the civil caseloads of overburdened and understaffed legal aid departments, and making more extensive use of paralegals. African law schools could improve the quality of their graduates by implementing policies to combat rampant dereliction of duty by their faculties, pedagogical reforms, and policies to increase student access to learning materials. Additionally, low bar pass rates would likely improve if bar admissions programs reformed their curricula, changed hiring practices, and implemented transparent grading practices. Ultimately, growth of the African bar is crucial to ensuring adequate safeguards of the rights of criminal defendants, litigating complex civil claims, negotiating the balance between the competing traditions of the dual legal systems of most African countries, and building and sustaining societies subject to the rule of law.
JEL Classification: N40, N47
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation