The Development of Legal Education in Kenya

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The development of legal education in both the traditional and modern Kenya has been tremendous. It has so far addressed many issues linked to education and training for a more competent legal profession in Kenya.

The development of legal education will be highlighted in three phases:

  1. Pre-Colonial, which majorly embodies the traditional setup of Kenyan communities before colonization
  2. Colonial, which encompass developments during the colonization period through ordinances enacted
  3. Post-Independence through Acts
  • Pre-Colonial Period

The legal education in pre-colonial period Kenya was based on customs, having its origin in the practices and traditions of the Kenyan people. The education was based on ethnicity and they operated only in the jurisdiction occupied by ethnic groups.

This education was informed ,substantive law was recognizable, binding, and obligatory. However, it was not codified. Legal education often took place under a big tree in the village squares . The communities chose a group of people to undergo this training so that they could help in arrests and trial procedures.

The education mostly dealt with personal issues in regard to matters such as marriage , inheritance and property rights. The people who taught this type of education included kings, chiefs , orderlies, diviners and witch doctors.

  • Colonial and Post-Independence Period

Legal education in colonial Kenya was introduced by the British. It was divided into three which is, colonial, legal service, and judiciary. Private legal profession was introduced around 1901.Indians were allowed to practice and the disciplinary was exercised by the high court. Lawyers were the only ones who were practicing law but senior judges had the power to license other people based on good character. The ordinance mandate council and exercise of general supervision had control over legal education in Kenya for the purpose of the advocates act and advise the government in relation to all aspects thereof.

The first organized group within legal profession started at Mombasa law society. The first high court was built in Mombasa in 1911 and later there was one established in Nairobi. In 1920 they merged to form LSK. The Advocates Ordinance was promulgated in 1961 which was meant to institutionalize legal education.

The LSK was formed in 1920 which propounded dynamic change in Kenya. Its representation to the colonial administration is under the Law society and advocates act 1994. This body was instituted to implement the recommendations of the Denning Committee on legal education which adressed the challenges within legal education in East Africa.

Development of legal education in KenyaThe committee recommended the legal training be university based. As a consequence, a faculty of law at the university was established which is now, University of Nairobi. The advocate ordinance established the Council of Legal Education which was an administrative body. The colonial government intended to use the body to streamline admission to the bar. The ordinance mandated the council to exercise general supervision and control over legal education in Kenya. Kenya established its own institution for legal education in 1963, shortly before independence.

  • Relevance of Legal Education

Law School is charged with preparing men and women for professional legal service by imparting knowledge. It ensures that the graduate has good general knowledge of Law and its importance in society. It inculcates students with the operative legal rules (both substantive and procedural) and provides them with equal experience to apply these rules.

The curriculum must also ensure that Law is taught as it exists at any given moment, and that every Law student will be comparative in his approach to legal studies bearing in mind that there are many systems of Law (Statutory Law, Common law, Customary Law, International law, Hindu and Islamic Law) currently in operation.

Development of legal education in Kenya

The LL.B program should equip the students with adequate knowledge of the historical background of its country’s legal system, comparing it to other countries in the world. It has the responsibility of developing skills by producing graduates who are able to perform legal tasks.

The graduate should be prepared to plead in courts, be a competent judge, a responsible prosecutor, prepared to counsel an agency and negotiate on behalf of clients. It is to create an environment that encourages students to discuss and challenge the legal concepts and their applications.

Legal education should act first, as a stimulus to stir the student into critical analysis and examination of the prevailing social, economic and political systems of his community and, secondly, as an intellectual exercise aimed at studying and assessing the operation, efficacy and relevance of various rules of Law in the society. It seeks to develop the attitude of future lawyer’s skepticism, self-criticism, self-reliance flexibility and creativity. Law school is to prepare graduates equipped to serve more effectively as agents of change, since the process of development surely entails dislocation, sacrifice and commitment.

  • Challenges

Legal education in Kenya faces different challenges. One is in finances. Law school is expensive! This is especially for students who are not sponsored by the government. Tuition fees vary depending on the University. Mount Kenya University is 70,000ksh per semester, University of Nairobi pay and average of 85,000ksh per semester, Catholic University pay 120,000ksh per semester and Strathmore university charges a whopping 220,000ksh every semester. Books, accommodation and other living expenses yet to be factored in.

Even with HELB loans(which are difficult to get), it still puts a strain on students who want to pursue this career and many of them are locked out due to lack of funds. Further, too many students graduate with student loan debt that seriously affects both their career choices and quality of life.

The second issue is reputability. Degree holders from Kenyan universities are at times viewed less competent because of the notion that they do not offer quality education. This may be in terms of the curriculum which is not exhaustive or practically tailored to the working world.

In 2015, Moi University was ordered to close down because it failed to meet quality standards. The committee which is under the Council of Legal Education determined that the school did not meet the standards as required by the Constitution under Section 19(1) of the Legal Education Act and Inspection Guidelines.

Development of legal education in Kenya

The schools are also plagued with cases of exam cheating, fraud and bribery. Two students from Catholic university were recently arrested for attempting to bribe the academic registrar 800,000ksh in order to graduate. Such instances make potential employers lose faith in the capability of students.

Trained professionals are also difficult to get. Most of those who teach courses on legal education do not have the necessary skills in the areas being taught. If the aim of legal education is designed to equip the student with tools and skills necessary for a would-be lawyer to acquire practical skills, then, the teacher must himself be acquainted with the practice both as a solicitor and advocate. More so, the ones available lack integrity. Some don’t attend lectures while others place their financial greed ahead of the student’s education.These same lecturers may also feel overwhelmed by the large number of students because it becomes difficult to monitor their progress.

The large numbers also make employment difficult once one graduates. About 50,000 graduates are churned out of public and private universities in Kenya every year according to the Ministry of Education The market is already flooded with little room for assimilating new advocates. Furthermore, hiring firms outsource certain types of legal jobs which has led to fewer opportunities for law school graduates.

Development of Legal education in KenyaWith the introduction of the parallel program, it became easier to pursue a law degree. It lowered the high standards required to pursue the course. Attorney General Githu Muigai blamed this program for producing under qualified lawyers. “Since the entry of parallel degree module, the country has been producing half-baked prosecutors and lawyers who have no knowledge of the law,” he stated.

Lack of facilities has an adverse effect on the performance of students in the less endowed schools. Access to books in the library, e-books, internet, moot court, well trained staff, clean classrooms and washrooms impact a student’s performance. Our facilities in Kenya need to be upgraded in order to realize student’s full potential.

  • Remedies

There should be improvements in the content of legal education. It should critically examine the nature and content of courses. Law schools ought to give greater attention to teaching generic and legal skills, that are applicable in the working field. The curriculum should reflect the traditions practiced long ago and those practiced today that are not repugnant.

Law lecturers should be held to a higher standard. Teachers who are well read, informed and have vast experience in the field. This will reflect in their teaching content and method. Additionally, there should be a provision for assessing lecturer’s performance at the end of the semester and they should be reported to a board for misconduct.

The government should prioritize higher education by funding varsity development. It should promote, set standards and assure relevance in the quality of university education as stated in Article 5(1) of the University Act of 2012. This is through building varsities that are exclusively for law students, facilities such as moot courts, providing books, investing in competent staff and offering more loans and scholarships for underprivileged students. It should enforce stricter rules for cheating and enforce them consistently which will result in fostering the culture of honesty, hard work and disdain for corruption.

In this paper, we have outlined the progress of legal education in Kenya. How it was before colonization, after colonization, post independence and its features in modern day. We have highlighted the challenges and prescribed possible remedies for future development. Although recent changes seem impressive, there are more strides to make for law education in Kenya to achieve quality worldwide status.


1.Tudor Jackson, The Law of Kenya, 3rd Edition

2.William Burnett Harvey, An introduction to the legal system in East Africa,

3.Dr Bagoni A. Bukar, Ll.B (Hons.), B.L, Ll.M, Ph.D, Legal Education And Challenges Of Contemporary Developments In Nigeria

4.William Burnett Harvey, An introduction to the legal system in East Africa


6.Mary Keyes and Richard Johnstone, Changing Legal Education: Rhetoric, Reality, and Prospects for the Future


This Paper was done by:

  1. Corina Oyier
  2. Antony Waziri
  3. Gladys Wambui
  4. Alex Musymi
  5. Stephanie Yogo