Guest editorial – A united profession is stronger than the sum of its separate groupings

December 1st, 2017
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By Walid Brown and David Bekker 

We are now on the eve of what may turn out to be a pivotal year for the legal profession. The year 2018 will finally bring to life the Legal Practice Council (LPC) with the start of a new regulatory dispensation for the profession. It will be momentous as, for the first time, legal practitioners will be governed by a single, national regulatory body, as the Legal Practice Act 28 of 2014 (LPA) is intended to restructure the profession from a regulatory perspective.

There are many positive aspects to the LPC. The public will for the first time have one point of reference for all inquiries, relating to all legal practitioner, inter alia, such as checking their status and addressing complaints. There will also be greater transparency, which members of the public are entitled to in order to make informed choices about their legal representatives.

As much as the above is important, it does not address all that is required for the profession to be effective.

The concept of a ‘legal practitioner’, which encompasses both attorney and advocate, is entrenched under this dispensation. This first step towards unity must be supported. Attorneys and advocates will have to ensure that, through their own unified professional organisations, legal practitioners are represented to guarantee a strong and independent profession from which our independent judiciary is selected.

The LPA allows the LPC to have powers which cater for some of the needs of the profession, such as legal education and various committees. The LPC will, however, remain largely regulatory in nature. It has the interest of the public as a major part of its mandate and will report to Parliament. Once the LPC is elected, the LPA does not make provision for annual general meetings where the elected councillors can be held to account by legal practitioners. Some of the members of the LPC may be non-practising legal practitioners, and will include ministerial appointments and academics. For the first time in the history of the profession, complaints against legal practitioners may be heard also by representatives who fall outside of the practising profession.

So where does this leave legal practitioners from a non-regulatory perspective? Who will protect and promote their interests? Who will be their voice within the public space? Who will interact and negotiate on their behalf with the LPC? This calls for legal practitioners urgently to secure their voice and establish a platform through a nationally representative body that will provide support, representation and education. This body will need to fill the vacuum not covered in the LPA to ensure a strong, transformed and united profession.

The provincial law societies will cease to exist by late 2018 when the LPA is expected to be fully implemented. These were the provincial bodies that attorneys were all statutorily obliged to be members of, and which also performed a ‘trade union’ function for the profession. These provincial bodies are also the majority of the constituent members of the Law Society of South Africa (LSSA). So their demise will leave a void that can be filled only by a national organisation, which represents all legal practitioners.

Without such an organisation the consequences for the profession may be dire. The unity which the LPA seeks to engender may, in fact, see the profession fragmenting into many smaller groupings representing different specialisations, interests and affinities. The profession will lose its unified collective and independent strength with which to engage government, the public, the media and the international legal community. We may lose what sets us apart from the corporate world – collegiality, shared experiences, professional competence and a common purpose.

As a unified entity we will be stronger than the sum of our separate interest organisations. Legal practitioners will need a unified home – parallel to the LPC, not competing with it but complementing it – where their interests and concerns are attended to.

The LSSA has set up a Transitional Committee that is considering various scenarios.

As Co-chairpersons we have undertaken to visit practitioners across the country. We want to share our vision for a transformed, unified and representative (non-regulatory) body for legal practitioners with you. We also need to hear what such a body can do to assist and support you. In the first few months of 2018 we plan to hold two major conferences on the future of the profession. We invite you to join us on this journey.

Should you wish to contact us, please feel free to do so at e-mail: LSSA@LSSA.org.za

We wish you a peaceful festive season and good wishes for the coming year.

  • See p 6, 9 and 13 for the latest AGM news.

Walid Brown and David Bekker are the Co-chairpersons Law Society of South Africa.

The De Rebus Editorial Committee and staff wish all of our readers compliments of the season and a prosperous new year. De Rebus will be back in 2018 with its combined January/February edition, which will be sent out at the beginning of February 2018.
De Rebus staff, back from left: Shireen Mahomed, Kevin O’Reilly, Kgomotso Ramotsho, Isabel Joubert. Seated from left: Kathleen Kriel, Mapula Sedutla.

 

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2017 (Dec) DR 3.

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