LSSA information session roadshows kick-start dialogue on a new representative professional body for practitioners

April 1st, 2018

Krish Govender, Lutendo Sigogo and Richard Scott engage Pietermaritzburg practitioners.

By Barbara Whittle

Practitioners attending the Law Society of South Africa (LSSA) roadshows across the country have indicated their support for the continuation of the LSSA for a three-year transitional period in order to set up a representative professional body for legal practitioners. Outgoing LSSA Co-chairpersons, Walid Brown and David Bekker, as well as other members of the LSSA’s Management and Transitional Committees, have been speaking to practitioners about the changes that the full implementation of the Legal Practice Act 28 of 2014 (LPA) – expected to come into operation at the end of October this year – will bring about in the profession.

One of the most fundamental changes will be that the four statutory, provincial law societies will cease to exist on 31 October 2018 with the coming into being of the national regulatory Legal Practice Council (LPC) that will regulate both attorneys and advocates in terms of the LPA. The law societies have been the first point of contact for most attorneys, and with those gone, the LSSA will step into the breach to provide representation and support. During the three-year transitional phase from 2018 to 2020, the LSSA’s mission, role and core functions will be adapted to create a professional body to support, promote and represent legal practitioners. This will form a counterweight to the purely regulatory LPC, whose primary function will be to protect the public.

David Bekker addresses Bloemfontein practitioners.

During February and March 2018, roadshow information sessions were held in Pretoria, Kempton Park, Port Elizabeth, Kimberley, Bloemfontein, Rustenburg, Potchefstroom and Pietermaritzburg. Further sessions will be held in April and May. The LSSA’s annual conference, scheduled to be held in Cape Town on 23 and 24 March, also focused on the transitional role of the LSSA.

Presenters at the roadshow sessions outlined the current service provided by the LSSA to practitioners, including providing De Rebus, other communication channels, cost-effective training through LEAD for attorneys and candidate attorneys, stakeholder and government liaison through its Professional Affairs department, as well as the guidance and legislative comments provided by the 32 specialist committees (see also ‘So what does the LSSA do for you?’ 2017 (Dec) DR 20).

Presenters then dealt with the timelines for the implementation of the LPA, as well as other challenges in the Act, such as the difficulty that practitioners may experience in applying s 35 of the LPA, which introduces a new fee regime, as well as changes to the disciplinary process, which will see lay representation on disciplinary committees, open hearings, the publication of outcomes and the role of the Legal Services Ombud.

The role that a future representative body ought to play was canvassed. This could provide –

  • practice support for practitioners, along with cost-effective compulsory professional training courses;
  • assist practitioners facing disciplinary processes, particularly during the investigation stage, as well as providing a national, united voice for the profession;
  • undertaking litigation on behalf of the profession (such as the LSSA has done with the Proxi Smart matter); and
  • lobbying the Legal Practice Council, governments and other stakeholders in the profession’s interest.

Practitioners were also asked whether the representative body should include attorneys only, or other legal practitioners such as advocates, corporate lawyers and government lawyers; or whether membership should include interest groups in the profession, as well as individuals. There were different views on this.

Practitioners attending the sessions raised their concerns about the reputational damage that could be suffered by individual and firms through open disciplinary hearings, the costs related to the increasing practice compliance – including the possibility of practitioners having to carry the cost of professional indemnity insurance as the Attorneys Insurance Indemnity Fund intended to reduce free basic cover and phase in payment by attorneys over the next few years – and subscriptions to the LPC; the impact of advocates with trust accounts who would be permitted to take instructions direct from the public.

The LSSA is collating all the issues raised at the information sessions and will produce a comprehensive guide of responses. It will also send out electronic surveys to enable practitioners to make a direct input into the consultation process, which will shape the future representative professional body.

Barbara Whittle, Communication Manager, Law Society of South Africa,

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2018 (April) DR 11.