Kenya takes first steps towards legal market liberalisation

Kenya’s notoriously closed legal market is taking the first steps towards liberalisation with confirmation that a committee has been established to review its Advocates Act.

The review could pave the way for foreign firms to open their own offices in the jurisdiction. Currently, independent firms associated with foreign outfits are not permitted to use the branding or name of their international partners.

The committee has been convened by the Kenya Law Reform Commission and the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) wrote to practitioners last week asking for their views.

According to the LSK, the committee has been asked to review the act “with a view of reforming and updating it or making proposals for its repeal and re-enactment as a new Legal Practitioners Bill. The legislation is to take into consideration emerging challenges in the training and regulation of the legal service sector.”

Kenyan website Standard Digital reported earlier this year that attorney-general Githu Muigai told a meeting in Nairobi: “I have been telling the LSK that we cannot keep this legal market closed forever. We must and will open it up for competition. And our members must be ready for that competition.” 

A recent court judgment has removed a ban on advertising, with judges ruling that the profession had developed to such a state that banning firms from marketing their services was pointless. The ruling is set to be codified into law later this year, although advertising will remain limited.

Meanwhile Kenya has just gazetted an amendment to its Advocates Remuneration Order, which sets minimum fee levels for a wide range of legal work. The amendment raises fees across the board by around 40 per cent, less than the 80 to 100 per cent originally proposed.

A number of firms, including South Africa’s Bowman Gilfillan and ENSafrica as well as global firms such as Dentons and DLA Piper, have affiliates in Kenya. The country’s largest firm, Anjarwalla & Khanna, employs around 50 lawyers including 16 partners and is the founding member of the Africa Legal Network, a group of independent firms across the sub-Saharan continent.

In total there are around 6,600 active advocates listed on the LSK’s roll of lawyers.

For more on East Africa’s legal market, see the Africa Elite 2014