The Law Society of Zimbabwe (LSZ) has shut down 16 law firms whose principals failed to produce on demand money deposited by clients into their trust accounts, took fees without doing any work, or could not pay their bills and were even using borrowed chairs.
Setting up a law firm by a graduate lawyer who has worked briefly under supervision after graduating only demands a practising certificate, a desk and a chair.
The practising certificate is issued when LSZ is confident the lawyer or legal firm has proper audited accounts and can hold money for other people, such as is almost always required in a property transaction.
Misuse of trust funds tends to happen with young lawyers who crave for a higher life before they are well established.
They dip into the funds they hold for others, meaning to repay, and then get caught during an audit. Even if they can repay, they are still not allowed to practice law.
In a notice published last week, the Law Society listed 23 law firms whose curatorship had just been wound up, 16 of which were shut due to abuse of trust funds and other disciplinary issues.
The other seven were all respectable law firms, but the principal had died and so they could not continue.
The 16 are: MS Chinyenze & Associates, Allen Moyo Attorneys, Machokoto & Partners, Obedience Machuvaire Attorneys, James Mutsauki Legal Practitioners, Cheda & Partners, Tawona & Jaravani (Harare branch), Maganga & Company, Hute & Partners, AR Chizikani, Gonesi & Partners, Mutebere & Company, Muskwe & Associates, M Chasakara Law firm, Marondedze & Makuku legal Practitioners and JP Oberholzer.
The seven firms shut due to death are: Dumbutshena & Company, Chibune & Associates, Rugwaro & Associates, Zvinavakobvu Law Chambers, Takundwa & Company, DW Mhiribidi & Company and Khanda & Company
The Law Society invited clients to visit the curators of the 23 law firms for collection of their case files so they could take these to whoever they selected to offer them legal advice.
The LSZ offices are at 5th Floor, Law Society House, 46 Kwame Nkrumah Avenue, Harare.
While winding up of curatorship may lead to either permanent closure of the firm or its sale to others, no one can buy a tainted law firm. Effectively the 16 closed through disciplinary action were shut permanently.
A check with the files at the Legal Practitioner’s Disciplinary Tribunal registry at the High Court shows that MS Chinyenze & Associates’ operations were affected after the principal, Mr Moses Shingiriro Kanyenze, was de-registered for converting to personal use US$8 450 which was in the firm’s trust account.
According to the file, a client paid US$8 450 into the law firm’s account for transfer of the immovable property from the late Christopher Chimbumu to new owner Joseph Ngondonga but the money could not be accounted for and no transfer was effected.
Tawona and Jaravani (Harare branch) was shut after Simbarashe Ekem Tawona, who was engaged for debt collection, reportedly collected US$7 742 but failed to remit the funds upon demand.
Tawona and Jaravani received US$4 350 from another client for onward transmission to Wintertons legal practitioners in a civil case but the funds could not be accounted for.
The other cases were more work not done after payment was made. Client Mr Edmore Manjiche, who bought property in February 2018 through the same lawyers, reported to the Law Society that Tawona was paid $47 055 into the firm’s trust account for conveyancing purposes but no work was done as it turned out that the property sale was fraudulent; but then efforts to recover the $47 055 from the lawyers failed.
Tawona was also accused of failing to execute his clients’ mandate after failing to transfer ownership of three newly-purchased properties despite receiving payment.
James Mutsauki of James Mutsauki Attorneys reportedly abused US$16 000 that had been deposited into the law firm’s trust account by a client for transfer of ownership of property.
Ms Nokuthula Nembe complained to the Law Society that she deposited US$1 500 into Mutsauki’s trust account for transfer of ownership of a property, but the money could not be accounted for.
Mr Toendepi Tanganyika, who was embroiled in a civil dispute with POSB claims to have put US$5 000 into the law firm’s account for onward transmission to the bank, but the money never reached its destination.
A taxi operator also filed a complaint with the Law Society after Mutsauki reportedly failed to pay him US$82 for services rendered.
A visit by the Law Society revealed that Mutsauki had no furniture of his own and he was actually using other people’s chairs and desks. A check with the business and trust accounts showed that James Mutsauki Attorneys had no funds and that he had rental arrears.
It also turned out that he was operating without a valid practising certificate.
Lawyer Oscar Hute of Hute & Partners had a number of cases where money was paid into his trust account during property deals but he could not produce the money later and so had his firm shut.
He failed to produce a client’s US16 250 on demand when Mr Hlanganiso Mahlasela sold a house for US$18 000 through Hute & Partners and kept US$16 250 with the lawyer for the purposes of buying another property. But when Mr Mahlasela signed the agreement to buy another property, Hute failed to produce the US$16 250.
Mr Admire Brian Mutenda paid US$7 232 to Hute for transfer of a property into his name but the money was never accounted for and the work was never done.
Mr Ndandise Nyama sold a property for US$48 150 through Hute and he received US$24 000. Hute has since failed to pay him the balance of US$24 150.
Raphael Maganga of Maganga & Partners failed to account for about US$120 000 that was in his trust account after a client sold a property.
Reports were also made against Maganga & Partners that they were asked to recover a debt on behalf of a client.
The firm received US$930 but it only managed to remit US$300.
Mr Maganga also reportedly allowed someone who is not a lawyer to represent clients.
In one of the cases, a man called Timothy Sangarwe did some legal work at the law firm and the matter came to light when a client’s file went missing while in the man’s custody.
Mr Tayengwa Dugmore Muskwe of Muskwe & Associates was deleted from the legal practitioners’ register and had his law firm shut after he failed to produce US$68 000 deposited into his firm’s trust account when it was needed.
Mr Obedience Machuwaire of Machuwaire Law Firm was several times paid for legal services that were never subsequently done.
He was paid US$370 to represent a client in a land dispute and although he promised to prepare the necessary court papers, he failed to deliver despite being paid.
Another client Mr Liberty Madamombe engaged Mr Machuwaire to help in recovering a vehicle that had been impounded. He paid US$350, but no work was done.
Another client Mr Stephen Marambe engaged Mr Machuwaire to represent his brother who had been convicted of rape.
The lawyer was instructed to file an application for condonation of late filing of an appeal. He received US$450 and became evasive without updating the client on the progress of the case.
In another case Mr Zvinavashe Matanganyidze engaged Mr Machuwaire for conveyancing services in a property deal. the lawyer was paid but the transaction turned out to be fraudulent. Instead of refunding the client his money, as normally happens when lawyers discover this sort of problem, the money could not be accounted for.
Mr Machuwaire is said to have received US$690 from Mr Ronald Chiwara for transfer of a newly purchased property but failed to do the work.
Mrs Angeline Kupara also raised a complaint against Mr Machuwaire after losing US$4 589. She engaged him to effect the transfer of ownership in respect of two immovable properties and paid US$4 589. Despite payment, the lawyer did not do the work.