Nqobile Tshili, Chronicle reporter
COUPLES planning to divorce should first consider if they can raise a minimum of $80 000 for lawyers to handle their cases in line with new Law Society of Zimbabwe (LSZ) tariffs.
The LSZ on Tuesday announced new tariffs premised on what lawyers were charging during the US dollar era in 2011.
The fees are with effect from last month.
Under the latest tariff regime, the most senior lawyers will earn up to $17 000 per hour for consultations.
Notable under the new tariffs is that uncontested divorce will cost a plaintiff $50 000 while a defendant will fork out $30 000 for the process to be finalised.
Lawyers will charge $25 000 or equivalent to one percent selling price in sale agreement on residential stands or farms.
Lawyers with 30 years and more experience will now charge between $10 000 and $17 000 per hour while those who have served the profession for 20 to 29 years will charge anything between $8 750 and $15 500.
Legal professionals with 15 to 19 years in the field can demand between $7 500 and $13 500 per hour for services rendered while those who have practiced for 10 to 14 years can charge hourly from $6 250 to $10 500.
Lawyers with five to nine years’ experience will charge $4 250 up to $7 500 per hour.
Junior lawyers with two to four years’ experience can peg charges between $3 500 and $6 000 per hour, while those who have served for less than a year can charge anything between $2 500 and $3 750.
Unregistered law graduates that fall under (LSZ) can offer services from $1500 to $3 000.
The public can avoid legal fees through self-representation but in cases such as murder and sale agreements for farms, land or businesses where change of ownership is needed, it is mandatory to have legal representation.
The same applies to notarial works such as simple ante-and post-nuptial contract ($15 000), change of name now costs $12 500, and simple authentication $5 000.
While individuals can opt to represent themselves on some civil and criminal matters, they usually lose on technicalities in cases where they are contesting against opponents that have lawyers.
In a statement, LSZ executive secretary Mr Edward Mapara said the new tariffs were arrived at after considering that the country’s economic challenges were hampering the day-to-day survival of lawyers.
“In order to aid you in achieving the above, your society has revised the tariff in a manner that addresses the twin objectives of giving members an opportunity to earn a fair income and also ensuring affordability of legal services. In coming up with the tariff random consultations were done and varied and helpful responses were received from the members consulted,” said Mr Mapara.
He said the new tariffs are pegged against charges what lawyers were charging during the US dollar era in 2011 while also observing challenges in the currency market.
“The society notes that it cannot adopt a tariff based on the parallel market rate as it will be deemed illegal. It also realises that the official rate, as it is currently pegged, will lead to absurd outcomes which will result in the impoverishment of members. In order to achieve a somewhat middle of the road approach, it has adopted a tariff premised on the 2011 USD$ tariff converted at the official exchange rate plus a rationalisation percentage. Further in order to counter the effects of the unrealistic exchange rate the society adopted a wider interpretation of the premium charges as well as widening the premium bands,” he said.
However, the new fees could hinder access to justice as most people may not afford legal service.
Bulawayo lawyer Advocate Kucaca Phulu said although the new legal fees appeared high, they are reflective of the challenges in the macro-economic environment.
“I can tell you that people are paying expensive rentals and in certain instances people are paying rentals in foreign currency.
“So, these are the things that we need to look at holistically. Government needs to address the underlying problems urgently as people can’t access legal service and hospitals among other services,” said Adv Phulu.
He said while lawyers are obliged at law to provide free legal services from time to time, the increase in legal fees, will pile pressure on Government’s Legal Aid Directorate department and some civil society organisations, to represent those who cannot afford lawyers.
Adv Phulu said while there are instances where the public might not need legal representation, there are some processes that strictly require mandatory lawyers’ advice.
“There are legal provisions that only a lawyer can provide that specialised service. You have to use a lawyer when transferring a property from one person to another, but there are some instances that you don’t need a lawyer and can self-represent in the court of law, especially on minor criminal issues or small business agreements where specialised lawyers input is not necessary,” said Adv Phulu. — @nqotshili