Newspaper reports are a terrible way of identifying good lawyers. I had just been admitted to the bar when I was asked by my employer to defend a contentious land matter. The lawyer on the other side, a renowned counsel of seniority scared the hell out of me. As this was the first time to do a case against him, my knowledge of his skills were largely gleaned from what I read about him in the Newspapers. It turned out the the matter was not really contentious but simple and straight forward masked in prolix pleadings, numerous documents and annextures, drowned in a mass of irrelevant authorities. To cap it all, the counsel 's platitudes in court excited the public and journalists but we never finished the case as the counsel, taking advantage of his seniority, took years to complete his submissions. In the end, his clients approached mine clients directly and requested that the matter be settled without the knowledge of their counsel.
Last week, the Star newspaper published its version of top lawyers in Kenya. The list by the Star included; Jean Kiragu, Thomas Letangule, Evans Monari, Diana Kilonzo, Gibson K. Kuria, Kibe Mungai, John Chigiti, Kioko Kilukumi and Wanyiri Kihoro. The list has good lawyers but it leans in favour of those litigating public law cases in Nairobi. These cases, by their very nature attract newspaper publicity. One will not hear of the many excellent lawyers who practice outside Nairobi and those who do the boring, difficult and complex cases which do not have news value. There are also those lawyers, who by virtue of the nature of specialty do not go to court.
In Kenya we have not had a formal ranking of lawyers. Client's will generally identify a good lawyer from the newspapers or by word of mouth. The well known Chambers Global normally conducts its annual survey of lawyers and law firms. For the firms involved, the rankings are a marketing tool for international and multinational clients. International surveys are skewed in favour of major corporate and commercial law firms and lawyers. International ranking firms insist on a fee from firms to be included in the rankings. This obviously locks out some lawyers and firms which are unable to afford the hefty fees charged.
In my view, a good survey or ranking system must be fair and transparent. The methodology should be made public. Such methodology should include ranking lawyers according to speciality or area of practice, provide objective indicators for evaluation, take into account peer review and client satisfaction. For the client though, the ranking can only be a starting point for identifying the lawyer who will meet your specific need.