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Court Allows Law Firm to Retain Deceased Partner's Name

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Court heard that Godfrey S. Lule, one of the former partners of Sebalu and Lule Advocates left the law firm more than ten years ago while the other partner Paulo Sebalu passed on more than five years ago. They faulted the law councils for the continued to issuance of certificate of Inspection and approval of chambers.
17 Apr 2021 14:15
Justice Musa Ssekaana
The current partners of Sebalu and Lule Advocates can still use the name despite the fact Godfrey S. Lule and the late Paulo Sebalu, the original partners are longer with the firm. The Civil Division High Court Judge, Musa Ssekaana ruled this in an application filed by Community Justice and Anti-Corruption Forum, a legal aid clinic.

In 2016, the Community Justice and Anti-Corruption Forum sued the Law Council and Sebalu and Lule Advocates, arguing that its continued use of the surnames of partners who ceased to practice law with it contravenes the Advocates (Professional Conduct) Regulations and Advocates Inspection and Approval of Chambers Regulations.

They noted that there are two law firms approved by the Law Council namely Sebalu and Lule Advocates and Godfrey S. Lule Advocates bearing the name of lawyer Godfrey S. Lule. Court heard that Godfrey S. Lule, one of the former partners of Sebalu and Lule Advocates left the law firm more than ten years ago while the other partner Paulo Sebalu passed on more than five years ago.

They faulted the law councils for the continued issuance of a certificate of Inspection and approval of chambers. The Community Justice and Anti-Corruption Forum acted on before of Ebrahim Alarakhia Kassam, who sought to recover Shillings 120 million from Sebalu and Lule Advocates that was unlawfully retained by the law firm arising from the costs of a 2006 suit.

As such, the organisation asked the court to revoke the certificate of Inspection and approval of chambers and restraining the Law Council from approving their continued use of the name of Sebalu and Lule Advocates.  The respondents asked the court to disregard the application since the applicant didn’t lodge a complaint of professional misconduct with the Disciplinary Committee of the Law Council.

In an affidavit James Mukasa Sebugenyi, one of the partners in the law firm, said that they acquired the law firm and its name through goodwill and for many years they have gained local, regional and international recognition. The firm also noted that they have secured clients on account of the goodwill gained under the name Sebalu and Lule Advocates and that forcing them to change it would tantamount to denying them their Constitutional right to practice their profession.

According to the law firm, by Community Justice and Anti-Corruption Forum, demanded Shillings 120 million at a commercial interest rate totalling Shillings 743 million, which they say amounted to extortion, blackmail and an attempt to embarrass them.  Now in his April 16th, 2021 judgment delivered via email, Justice Musa Ssekaana concurred with the respondents and dismissed the application.

Ssekaana said the application was driven by selfish reasons with the sole intention of trying to arm-twist the law firm in paying money received as costs in civil matters and legal work they did for Ebrahim Alarakhia.  According to Ssekaana, this is contrary to the Advocates Act, which bars Advocates from sharing professional legal fees with non-advocates or allowing a successful party from making a profit out of the employment of an Advocate. 

He said that the applicant as a Non-Governmental Organization has no direct or sufficient interest in challenging Sebalu and Lule Advocates for using the names of their former partners.  Quoting the Partnership Act, the Judge further explained that although one of the partners died, the remaining ones have every right to continue operating under the name of the firm because they have been part and parcel of the success story in making the brand of ‘Sebalu and Lule advocates’.

“It can never be construed that the only persons appearing in the firm name should be allowed to carry on business in the firm name or that upon death they should cease to enjoy the use of the brand name they have been part of for some time,” said Ssekaana. He dismissed the application and ordered the applicants to pay costs to the respondents. 

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