The Kenyan guide to becoming an advocate

The Kenyan guide to becoming an advocate

Bruce Coville once said, “withholding information is the essence of tyranny.” This is no different from the pursuit to join Kenya’s legal fraternity, where disinformation or lack of information has led to more than its fair share of disillusioned lawyers. More often than not young men and women set out to become “Lawyers” without taking into consideration what this actually takes. The first distinction that should be taken into consideration is the difference between a lawyer and an advocate. A lawyer is a person that has successfully completed an LLB degree, on the other hand, an advocate is a person who has attained admission to the bar. One may ask, why do I need to become an advocate? The answer is simple, to put it bluntly, a law degree is essentially useless without it being buttressed by a diploma from the ATP (Advocates Training program). This is because most legal jobs, as a basic requirement will need a person to be an advocate of the high court, which cannot be attained without the rigor of the Kenya School of Law.

The decision to become an Advocate is an onerous affair, one that should be made with all information at hand. It begins with acceptance into a university that has been accredited by the Council of Legal Education, or in the case of foreign students, recognition of an LLB obtained in a foreign university. The Legal Education Act spells out the core courses that should be offered in order to gain admission into the Kenya School of Law Bar program. Students studying an LLB abroad should pay special attention to the courses offered at their university and ensure that they mirror what the Legal Education Act stipulates are core courses without which, there will be no admission into the bar school;
  • Legal Research
  • Law of Torts
  • Law of Contract
  • Legal System and Methods
  • Criminal Law
  • Family Law and Succession
  • Law of Evidence
  • Commercial Law (Sale of Goods, Hire Purchase and Agency)
  • Law of Business Associations (To include insolvency)
  • Administrative Law
  • Constitutional Law
  • Jurisprudence,
  • Equity and the Law of Trusts
  • Property Law
  • Public International Law
  • Labour Law
This point cannot be belabored enough. The subjects stipulated above must have been studied at the undergraduate level failure of which will lead to additional time spent at CLE accredited institutions in order to ensure that the student in question is compliant.

Attendance at a CLE-compliant university is not the only requirement needed for admission to the bar program. As of 2018 prospective students wishing to join KSL will have to undergo the Pre-Bar program, a benchmark test that looks to test lawyer’s aptitude in the core areas of law with a pass mark of 50 percent to make one eligible for admission to the program. Studying for this exam can be grueling as it consists of one five-hour paper that tests core understanding of the pillars of the LLB program.

Upon meeting all the above-mentioned requirements KSL (Kenya School of Law) begins. The bar program can best be described as a melting pot of legal training. Students from all over the country and more often than not region arrive in Karen to begin their tutelage. The first thing that is most apparent is “how little you actually know as a lawyer.” Question after question, asked by course instructors presumptuous of what was learned in university may lead you to believe that the course is insurmountable, but as a student navigates their way through the first couple of weeks and adapts to the difference in climate the course is no different from any other.

Kenya School of Law is bedeviled by rumors regarding low pass rates, that more often than not can lead to unwarranted anxiety about the course. What a student will immediately learn upon inception is the essence of KSL is in studying smart and not studying hard. KSL is split into 3 forms of assessment;
  • Group Project Work (20 Percent)
  • Oral Examinations (20 Percent)
  • Written Examinations (60 Percent)

Group work is done in firms that are delineated at the beginning of the academic year. It pays to be organized from the beginning and have an understanding of each member’s weaknesses and strengths. Each firm will vote in a firm leader as well as a secretary. These two people will note down the minutes and organize the manner in which the group project work will be tackled. The most difficult part with regards to group work is a standardization of quality amongst all the group members. This all depends on a student’s “luck” at the time the administration picks firm members, some may have a symbiotic partner with whom doing corporation work is easy and others may be forced to carry the load for “free riders”.

The next form of assessment is an amorphous oral examination whose examination latitude is limitless and the criterion for grading purely at the discretion of the examiner. In this category, a student will be assessed on a number of factors, namely but not limited to;
  • Content
  • Confidence
  • Etiquette
  • Presentation
  • Dress code

The most honest advice given with regards to this exam is to cross your fingers that you go in with God. It is a ten-minute interrogation of a student’s grasp of what has been taught in both undergraduate and KSL and most times no amount of studying or reading is sufficient. Secondly, the lack of uniformity in questioning and examination style can lead to less than fair outcomes, causing what could have otherwise been diligent students grief and students who were barely present jubilation. The last form of assessment is the written examination, composed of 9 exams sat in 9 days in all the units taught at KSL, students will need to ensure that they attain a grade of 50 percent in all subjects weighted out against the three forms of assessment. Because of the course load, it is advised to do as well as possible in the course work rather than rely on the written examination to pass the bar.

Subsequent to completing the theoretical section of KSL, a student will need to undertake a further 6 months of pupillage at either a law firm or an accepted institution such as KPMG, PWC in order to complete the bar program culminating in a petition to the Chief Justice to be admitted onto the roll of advocates. The timeline for admission of all post-undergraduate legal requirements is normally 2 years.

All in all, the Kenya School of law is an enriching process that will expose students to the realities of legal practice. The biggest takeaway is the difference in what is taught at the undergraduate level vis a vis what a student is exposed to at the bar. Getting through KSL is a mixture of diligence, luck, and perseverance and is the biggest hurdle one faces in their transition between being a lawyer and becoming an Advocate.

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