Businesswise | Legal education, the practice of law and business
ADVISORY COLUMN: SMALL BUSINESS
QUESTION: Yaneek, I think you should give some advice to the Norman Manley Law School on how to find a way, innovatively, to capitalise on the hundreds of people who want to be trained by them but are turned away each year. It is nonsensical and unfair, yet every year it gets worse and there are no plans to improve access to the profession.
BUSINESSWISE: I've been more than a little tardy in answering your question because I wasn't sure this was the appropriate medium to address your concern.
You've put forward a very interesting proposition that raises critical issues from the equity of barriers to entry for certain professions, to proper career planning, to understanding the business side of legal education and the practice of law.
I'm not sure Norman Manley Law School (NMLS) is interested in exploring innovative ways to profit from the overwhelming demand for spaces at their institution because they are bound by the Treaty of Chaguaramas, which is biased in favour of University of the West Indies graduates with Bachelor of Laws degrees, and they maintain that the vast majority of external LLB holders who sit the entrance exam don't meet the matriculation criteria.
From a strictly business perspective it would make sense to expand the law faculty and school to meet the demand, develop effective initiatives to help graduates find employment opportunities, and offer remedial courses to external candidates preparing to sit the admission exam, while being faithful to the highest academic standards.
However, offering remedial courses, which may be most applicable and helpful for you, could be perceived as a conflict of interest, given the financial incentives that would result from an unduly hard exam, which would drive increased course enrolment and repeat examination sittings.
The other perspective you should consider is the business of the practice of law. Particularly, the factors affecting the demand for and supply of legal services and the opportunities for you to make the highest and best use of your education and expertise.
Whether you view law as a business or service, the laws of economics still apply.
On the supply side, there has been a sharp increase in the number of lawyers admitted to practice in Jamaica in recent years. In 2000, the Norman Manley Law School admitted 62 persons by 2010. That number increased to 178, and in 2014, 267 persons received a coveted space at the institution, just three shy of the current 270 maximum.
While not all these people would have stayed in Jamaica, it is still a significant increase in the supply of legal professionals. Many of the lawyers who do stay, however, can't find jobs in their fields.
This is not unique to Jamaica as in the US, as many as 60 per cent of college graduates are not able to secure work in their disciplines in many states. Interestingly, the cost of legal services locally remains relatively high when compared with our Caribbean counterparts.
In Jamaica, a litigant can expect to spend 35 per cent of the value of a claim on legal fees, compared with 15 per cent in Barbados, 22.2 per cent in Guyana, and 30.4 per cent in Trinidad. Of note is that most other Caribbean countries are seeing declines in the cost of legal services while it remains constant in Jamaica.
On the demand side, there is great cause for concern. Here are a few facts you should note: over 70 per cent of the 1.3 million persons in the labour force have no vocational training or specialised skills, which directly affects their earning potential; GDP per capita is just over US$5,000 per annum; we have one of the highest levels of income inequality in the region, and it would take about 80 per cent of the annual salary of a minimum wage earner to bring a claim in the Supreme Court of Jamaica, most of which comprises legal fees.
To make matters worse, many people are unaware of their legal rights, lawyers have strict limitations on how they can advertise their trade, and many people are frustrated with the slow pace of justice.
When you take in those facts, and assess the situation, it becomes clear that most people can't afford legal services; law in the traditional way of practice may not enable the economic comfort one would expect; and you will need to explore other non-traditional opportunities, in other jurisdictions, to maximise your training.
If this is your passion, you believe you can make a difference and thrive against all odds, then you should continue to push for access. However for others who are seduced by the supposed prestige and expectation of wealth, the external realities paint a contrary picture.
Yaneek Page is an entrepreneur and trainer and creator/executive producer of The Innovators TV series. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @yaneekpage Website: www.yaneekpage.com