Female legal practitioners in Mpumalanga celebrated at SAWLA’s annual chairpersons dinner

November 18th, 2019
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South African Women Lawyers Association’s (SAWLA’s) National Treasurer, Nomahlubi Khwinana (fifth from left), and the Chairperson of the SAWLA Mpumalanga branch, Nomaswazi Shabangu-Mndawe (sixth from left), with the female legal practitioners who were honoured at the second annual Chairperson’s dinner held in Nelspruit.

By Kgomotso Ramotsho

The South African Women Lawyers Association (SAWLA) Mpumalanga branch held its second annual Chairperson’s dinner to celebrate female legal practitioners who passed their Board Examinations and their Conveyancing Examinations, as well as those who have been practicing for their own account for five years and less. Senior legal practitioner, Lerato Bam, was the motivational speaker for the evening. Ms Bam shared her experiences and some of the challenges she has encountered in the legal profession from when she was admitted as a legal practitioner. She said that when she was admitted, she was one of two black female legal practitioners in the Mpumalanga region where the languages spoken were predominantly Afrikaans and Zulu.

Ms Bam said she is a Sotho speaking person, who did not know how to speak Afrikaans and her Zulu, at the time, was also not good, adding that litigation felt like a nightmare for her. She pointed out that during that time that the legal profession was highly male dominated. Ms Bam said things were so bad that after consulting with a male client, the client asked her if he could speak to a real legal practitioner. ‘It used to be so difficult to convince people that you are as capable as your male counterparts,’ Ms Bam added.

Ms Bam noted that she did not want to talk about the issue of money. She said that one should not go into the legal profession with the mindset that it is a lucrative business. She pointed out that practicing law is about delivering a service. She said if legal practitioners worked with that in mind, the rewards will fall into place.

Ms Bam shared a few tips with the guests. She said that to be a good professional legal practitioner, one needs to work hard, because the legal profession is not a glamorous profession. She added that university does not really prepare one for the actual practice of law.  She noted that practising law is about truth and reality, adding that the reality of law in South Africa (SA) is about the kind of clients the legal practitioner serves, the people who really need help.

Ms Bam pointed out that the role of female legal practitioners is becoming more important as they have a naturally sensitive side, however, she added that it did not mean that male legal practitioners do not have a sensitive side. Ms Bam said female candidate legal practitioners and female legal practitioners must refuse to be confined to a particular way of practice due to stereotypes, such as having to deal with cases of maintenance and domestic violence. She said female legal practitioners must also have a slice of lucrative commercial litigation that is typically conducted by male legal practitioners.

Ms Bam noted that female legal practitioners must fight to work in all areas of law and not allow some work to be suitable for certain legal practitioners and not others. She added that female practitioners must approach work in a professional manner, adding that they should always be on time for their appointments and make sure that they are on time for court. She said the concept of ‘African time’ must fall away.

Ms Bam told legal practitioners to choose their clients well, she said that there are clients who are prepared to pay money for legal practitioners to break the law for them. She pointed out that many legal practitioners have been struck off the roll because they broke the law. Ms Bam also encouraged legal practitioners to be visible in their communities, she said she does not mean being visible by the fancy car one drives or speaking high English in the supermarket. ‘Be visible by contributing to worthy causes in the community. Adopt one child in the community and buy them a school uniform, you will see the amount of difference you will make,’ Ms Bam said.

Ms Bam acknowledged that things have changed since she started working in the legal profession. She said that she hopes that today’s generation of legal practitioners will not have to deal with the disparities of gender and race. She pointed out that there are still pockets of stereotypes, however, she noted that women, not only in the legal profession, are holding their own.

Compliance

Legal practitioner, Johan van Staden, said when addressing compliance requirements as a legal practitioner it is vital to first do some introspection. He added that it involves an ‘honesty test’ conducted by the legal practitioner as to what motivates compliance. He pointed out that legal practitioners need to ask themselves if they regard compliance as a highly regulatory exercise and trying to comply or trying to determine what the terms of conduct this will entail?

Mr van Staden said if legal practitioners approach compliance in that manner, there is a chance that they will become negative towards compliance and there is also a risk that legal practitioners will not comply. He said part of the compliance honesty test that a legal practitioner should take, is to look at what motivates them to be successful and also what success means to them. He noted that if a legal practitioner could answer themselves while taking the honesty test it will indicate the manner of their relationships with colleagues, clients, the public, the court and the regulator.

Mr van Staden pointed out that there is a lack of appreciation by legal practitioners to timeously submit their annual reports. He added that legal practitioners must look at what the term ‘profession’ means to them as legal practitioners. He said profession means to instil public trust and admiration and that should be a legal practitioners motivation. He said if there is a buy in in one having to be a legal practitioner with a mindset to never compromise the core value of instilling public trust and admiration, then compliance will follow automatically.

Mr van Staden said that legal practitioners need to be clear on how they will be the guardians of dignity and integrity by taking a test in their practices on the following core values –

  • to maintain appropriate file records and management systems;
  • to communicate in an efficient and timeously manner;
  • to ensure confidentiality;
  • to avoid conflict of interest;
  • to give assurance to all clients that you are competent;
  • to charge appropriate fees;
  • to maintatin respectful relationships with stakeholders;
  • to work to improve diversity and equality;
  • to work towards the improvement of administration of access to justice; and
  • to have an effective management system in your practice.

Honoured legal practitioners

The following female legal practitioners were celebrated:

Female legal practitioners who started practicing on their own account for five years and less –

  • Van Rhyn Attorneys;
  • TE Mawelele Attorneys;
  • Tsotetsi Attorneys; and
  • Thenjiwe Nkosi Attorneys.

Legal practitioners who passed the Conveyancing Examination –

  • Thabisile Khoza.

Legal practitioners who passed the Board Examinations and have commenced with pupillage –

  • Xolile Ngwenya; and
  • Joy Mashigo.

 

Kgomotso Ramotsho Cert Journ (Boston) Cert Photography (Vega) is the news reporter at De Rebus.