The Pro-Poor Legal Practice book is a valuable resource for lawyers from all corners of the legal profession, drafters of laws, and even law students, legal secretaries, and government officials. The book connects all these different persons by highlighting the difference between the law as it is in theory, and the law as it is in practice. Laws, as written about in textbooks and contained in government gazettes, often don’t take into account the realities of ordinary citizens, including the inability of poor people to exercise the rights those laws create.
The Pro-Poor Legal Practice book helps to bridge the gap by empowering its readers to appreciate the various ways in which they could effect change. If you’re in the profession (or want to be), especially in a country where there are many people without access to justice, buy it, keep it close and refer to it while you practice the law. This includes all lawyers, not just those who have the poor as their clients. Also buy it, read it, and keep it close by if you’re not in the legal profession, but wish to understand how you could possibly make a difference.
The Gap between Rich and Poor is Huge
We live in an unequal world where the gap between the rich and poor is huge and getting bigger every day. Some countries (like South Africa) have a bigger problem than others. And despite this book focusing on the issue in South Africa, it will be very applicable to lawyers in many countries that have a high Gini coefficient.
Without Pro-Poor Legal Practice, the Poor will Suffer
If you don’t have access to the law, you don’t get the benefits of the law. This is the challenge facing many poor people across the globe, not just in South Africa. The law is helpful and empowering. It protects people from harm, it builds relationships. But what must happen for those who don’t have access to the law to reap some of its benefits? The answer to that question is central to this book.
In this country, the poor have responded by coming up with largely informal and extra-legal solutions. These solutions operate outside of the courts, lawyers’ offices or a number of other formal establishments. The biggest limitation that these informal and extra-legal solutions face is that the law government gazettes, textbooks and courts cover generally operates to the exclusion of those solutions. A good example is where neighbours agree to informally sell each other a patch of land, not knowing that the law prescribes certain procedures that they need to follow before that sale is enforceable or legally effective. Because they didn’t follow the set procedure, a problem arises when the buyer dies, and his heir wants the land, but the seller takes it back, denying that there was ever a sale. The Deeds Registries Office will not have a record of the sale, and the legal protection that such records provide will be lost. The buyer’s heir will suffer harm. But the heir can probably completely avoid that harm if the law recognizes his father’s purchase of the land.
This excerpt from the book also illustrates how the poor can suffer:
“Faith, a single mother of two children is awarded a housing subsidy and obtains sole title. She is a model citizen; working hard, supporting her two children (eight and three years of age), paying her municipal bills, and just managing to keep her head above water financially. She falls in love and decides to marry, resulting in a marriage in community of property. Due to her not having the economic freedom necessary to enter into a prenuptial contract, her husband automatically acquires a half share in the house.”
“The marriage breaks up rapidly after Faith discovers her husband accumulated considerable debt before the marriage, does not wish to work, and is directing his creditors to her door. With the benefit of hindsight, she feels that all poor landowners should realize there is no free choice open to them, other than marrying and taking on the risk of sharing debts and assets, or not marrying to avoid risk. She also realizes that she has entirely failed to protect her children’s rights to security of tenure in her house. No one explained these matrimonial risks to her, or that is it is possible to avoid them with a cohabitation or prenuptial agreement.”
Do you accept the Challenge of Providing Practical Legal Solutions?
All persons with a role to play must take it upon themselves to ensure that the law is as good in practice as it is in theory. Lawyers with poor clients, for example, must successfully navigate the challenge of needing to make money for their practices, while at the same time adding value to their clients. Something similar will apply for lawyers with corporate clients as well, because corporates are also interested in quality legal services with affordable legal fees.
Techniques to overcome these challenges include using templates, plain language legal drafting, building systems and processes that improve, simplify, automate, and delegate tasks to cheaper resources. Additionally, Ministers may need to make new laws, regulations or policies that further strengthen the efforts of all role-players. In such a case, it is also important to keep up to date with those legal developments, in so far as they relate to hot-button issues such as identity theft and data protection.
Actions you can take
- Read the Pro-Poor Legal Practice book by buying a copy.
- Find out how we can assist you embrace simple law by asking us to advise you.
- Improve your legal documents and protect rights more by asking us about all the practical legal solutions we offer regarding plain language law.
- Understand the land issues facing the poor by asking us to advise you on Land information Systems (LIS).
- Find out how we can assist you in protecting information by asking for the practical legal solutions we provide for data protection.