Friday, April 3, 2020

Judge’s comments raise questions about fairness of lawyers’ fees

Comments by Justice Gaopalelwe Ketlogetswe at the just-ended trial over 2019 elections raise serious questions about the business practice of some lawyers.

With a statutorily-mandated 90-day period within which to hear and dispose of the election cases, the High Court worked at break-neck speed in a host of cases in which opposition candidates alleged rigging by the ruling Botswana Democratic Party and acquiescence by the Independent Electoral Commission. That manifested itself in terms of the three-judge panel asking lawyers to ensure productive use of time. Part of the time was taken up by having to read through bulky documents that have been submitted to court by various parties involved in the matter. In imploring lawyers to make productive use of time, Ketlogetswe said that some of the documents repeat what had already been stated in some other documents.

That statement would have caused those familiar with the commerce of lawyering to raise their eyebrows. Lawyers charge clients for all the resources (time, money, effort and materials) that they put into putting together and arguing a case on behalf of a client. That includes the amount of time they spent drafting and photocopying documents as well as the cost of the stationery. What Ketlogetswe said means is that clients are charged for documents that the court has no need for, documents that should never have formed part of the record in the first place. In the same week that the judge made those comments, former Gantsi North MP, Noah Salakae, complained about having paid more than P20 000 to a law firm for photocopying only.

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