The Malawi Law Society (the Society) is created under the Legal Education and Legal Practitioners Act, (the Act.) It has a responsibility, among other things, to protect and assist the public in Malawi on all matters concerning or relating to the law. As a key player in the regulation of law practice in Malawi, the Society has an interest in ensuring that members of the legal profession in Malawi observe standards and rules of professional conduct. In this regard, the Society is committed to ensuring that there is an effective and robust regime for enforcing the said professional standards and rules. To aid members of the public, the Society publishes this public advice on the relevant procedures to be followed whenever any member of the public has a bona fide complaint or grievance against a licensed legal practitioner relating to such legal practitioner’s conduct in the provision of legal services.
Responsibility of the client: Dealing with licensed legal practitioners only.
While the Society is committed to protecting members of the public who deal with its members, it is also imperative that consumers of legal services take responsibility for their actions by ensuring that they are dealing with licensed legal practitioners. In this regard, the public is advised that legal practitioners, with the notable exception of those employed in the public service, are required to take out a practice licence annually, from the first day of February to the 31st day of January of the following year. The license is only issued to lawyers who have been duly admitted to practice law in the country, after satisfying the relevant requirements, and who have complied with the Society’s rules and tax requirements. The public should especially be on guard against people who masquerade as legal practitioners. Kindly note Society also issues identity cards to its licensed members which card is only valid for the year in which the licence has been renewed. A member of the public wishing to engage the services of a legal practitioner is entitled to demand the production of this card. Further, the Society publishes a list of licenced legal practitioners in newspapers of wide circulation at least twice a year. The public is advised to consult this list. Should any prospective client be in doubt about the status of a legal practitioner, he or she should get in touch with the Society’s Secretariat for confirmation. The Society would wish to particularly highlight the importance of following this advice as steps taken by non-licensed legal practitioners, including the drawing up of important legal documents, may not be legally valid.
Understanding the fee/cost structure.
Except for practitioners in the Legal Aid Bureau or where instructions are expressly accepted on a pro bono (without charge of legal fees) basis, prospective clients should expect to pay for legal services. Fees that Legal practitioners charge for their services will principally be guided by a Scale of Charges for various categories of legal services which are listed under the First Schedule to the Act. Under the said Schedule, the law fixes the fees to be charged for each category of legal services. The prescribed charges are the minimum a legal practitioner can charge. A legal practitioner is not allowed to charge, and acts unlawfully when s/he charges, less than the prescribed minimum.
Where no specific provision has been made under the Scale of Charges in the Schedule, the amount of fees is fixed by agreement between the client and the legal practitioner engaged. Generally, legal practitioners charge such sum of money as may be fair and reasonable having regard to all the circumstances of the case and in particular to, among others: (a) the complexity of the matter or the difficulty or novelty of the issues to be addressed; (b) where money or property is involved, its amount or value; (c) the importance of the matter to the client; (d) the skill, labour, specialized knowledge and responsibility involved on the part of the legal practitioner; (e) the number and importance of the documents prepared or read, without regard to length, or other things considered; (f) the place where the circumstances in which the business or any of its part is transacted; (g) the time spent by the legal practitioner; and (f) the direct costs incurred by the lawyer in providing the services.
It is advisable for clients to insist and it is an ethical and professional duty on the legal practitioner’s part to ensure that the fees being charged in a particular case have been well explained and understood. Clients are also informed that it is their right to seek the review of a bill of cost by the Registrar of the High Court should they be so minded.
Making a complaint against a legal practitioner
Any member of the public wishing to make a complaint against a legal practitioner relating to provision of legal services is advised to contact the Secretariat of the Law Society in either Blantyre or Lilongwe. Upon receipt of the complaint, the Secretariat will conduct a preliminary assessment of the complaint and on being satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that a legal practitioner is in breach of professional standards and rules, the Secretariat will promptly transmit the complaint to the Society’s Disciplinary Committee. The Disciplinary committee, which comprises the Solicitor General and two other elected members of the Society, will then inquire into the complaint. Upon inquiry, it will either dismiss the complaint or on a finding of a breach of professional standards and rules recommend to the Attorney General for him or her to move the High Court for disciplinary action to be taken against the errant legal practitioner. It is only the High Court that has got powers to discipline legal practitioners in the country.
Kindly note that the Society does not, under the current legal framework, have any powers to suspend a legal practitioner from practicing law while the disciplinary process is on-going.
The Society is committed to upholding professional standards and rules as they apply to members of the legal profession in the country in order to provide satisfactory services to the public.