opinionBy Patience Akumu
Last week, I spent time with a friend set to graduate with the prestigious degree in Law, come Thursday January 24.
Like most law graduates not yet at the Law Development Centre, she looked at me with just a hint of envy. She took in the dark suit and sleek looks that is the trademark of lawyers and sighed ever so slightly.
She is among the over 600 lawyers who sat for the LDC pre-entry exams and failed. She is among the hundreds of lawyers who feel like they have not quite arrived because they lack this one fundamental diploma in legal practice. Next year, she says, she will try her luck at the LDC pre-entry exams again. But in the meantime, what can she do without a diploma in legal practice?
I felt sorry for her - a lawyer who is not quite a lawyer. I had walked three years in her shoes and it was not always fun. When after Law School I chose to practise journalism instead of going to LDC like all my peers, some declared me insane.
Some of my former classmates passed me by on the streets, others jiggled from the Bench when they saw me taking their photos in jeans. My mum was accosted by friends and relatives who advised her that in Uganda I had no future without LDC and that I had wasted time doing the LLB.
"Women cannot handle LDC," a male classmate I met on the streets said to my face.
Another asked: "How many times have you failed pre-entry exams?"
So, after three years of doing journalism, I decided to try out this place called LDC, apparently the alpha and omega of every lawyer. I sat the pre-entry exams and happened to pass them. And now I am at the LDC, from where I pen this piece.
I had expected lecturers to talk about the limitless opportunity that lawyers have. But instead, just a few days before graduation, one of the lecturers told the students to stop being overly anxious and excited about their trivial LLB because: "That degree is nothing without this diploma. There is nothing for you to celebrate."
This was not the first time I was hearing a remark like this. While the course might be well meaning in its stringency, determined to shape lawyers into the most hardened advocates they can be, the fact remains that there are many lawyers who may never graduate from the centre. This, however, does not mean that they cannot do anything with their law degree, as another lecturer told me.
"Yes, there are other things lawyers can do," he told me. "But it is not our duty to promote this. Maybe if we had funds...."
Is it then the job of the great LDC to pedal lies? To go around telling young men and women that all the years at university were a waste? To sanction a sense of inadequacy among lawyers who are not advocates?
LDC prides itself in being practical and trying to reach out to society, a feat I deem highly impossible if they do not empower society to realise that there are lawyers of different kinds - advocates, consultants, researchers, journalists... each with an important role to play in society.
Should they not be counselling the high number of students who fail the course into realising that there is life without LDC? Not just any life, but a dignified, respectable and productive life. For each time that a person in authority rubbishes other members of the legal profession as not being of much worth, my heart constricts in pain.
I think about the numerous opportunities my law degree (without LDC) opened for me as a journalist, about how some of my stories have received more hits than cases lying dormant in dog-eared law reports and about the fact that so many people need the help of lawyers.
And so many lawyers want to provide their services but feel impotent simply because they have not drunk from the chalice of LDC.
The writer is a lawyer and journalist.