As 2016 draws to an end we ponder on the happenings of the year. This is an opportune time to lament on the many instances the attorneys’ profession has been encroached upon. One such instance is the proposed business model by Proxi Smart Services (Pty) Limited (Proxi Smart).
Proxi Smart seeks to render certain conveyancing-related services, which are currently exclusively performed by conveyancers – who are regulated by the statutory, provincial law societies. The view of the Law Society of South Africa (LSSA), the provincial law societies and the Attorneys Fidelity Fund (AFF) is that the proposal by Proxi Smart cannot be supported as the full conveyancing process is regarded as reserved work, and should remain so in the interest of the public. Proxi Smart has been informed accordingly.
An application to the Gauteng Division of the High Court has subsequently been served on the LSSA for an order to the following effect:
Declaring that the steps in the transfer process identified by Proxi Smart do not contravene the Attorneys Act 53 of 1979, the Legal Practice Act 28 of 2014, the Deeds Registries Act 47 of 1957 and the Regulations made under the Deeds Registries Act and that it does also not constitute the performance of conveyancing work reserved to attorneys or conveyancers.
The LSSA is opposing the matter and, by agreement, must submit an answering affidavit by 28 February 2017. The AFF, the Chief Registrar of Deeds and the Justice Minister are also respondents. The AFF has filed its notice to oppose. At this stage, a joinder of the four provincial law societies as regulatory bodies of the attorneys’ profession is being considered.
During the annual general meeting of the Free State Law Society, Co-chairperson of the LSSA Jan van Rensburg said that if Proxi Smart manages to split the conveyancing work, then surely any other litigation can be split into reserved and non-reserved work for attorneys, which will mean that there will be very little left for attorneys to do. He added that some attorneys support it, especially those starting out. Mr van Rensburg stressed the fact that if the money does not go into trust accounts and goes to banks instead, the AFF will not have money to protect the public and to assist the profession (see p 12).
The matter is, understandably, of grave concern to the profession and the LSSA is prioritising the matter and is dealing with the interests of both the profession and the public. Attorneys are cautioned against participating in the Proxi Smart initiative and other initiatives of a similar nature and are advised that those who participate in such initiatives may find themselves acting in contravention of the Attorneys Act and the Rules of conduct of the Law Society.
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This article was first published in De Rebus in 2016 (Dec) DR 3.