LSSA Synergy Link empowerment and mentorship initiative launched

August 1st, 2012
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By Barbara Whittle

Webber Wentzel links to Malefo Attorneys in pilot link

The Law Society of South Africa’s (LSSA’s) Synergy Link initiative was officially launched in June this year when the promoters of the LSSA empowerment drive – former co-chairpersons Nano Matlala and Praveen Sham – attended the introduction of pilot ‘transferring’ firm Webber Wentzel to its ‘growing’ firm Malefo Attorneys from Pretoria.

Mr Matlala said that he and Mr Sham were ‘extremely proud’ to officially launch the initiative. He paid tribute to attorneys’ firms making themselves available as skills ‘transferring’ firms to mentor and support ‘growing’ firms. He especially acknowledged Webber Wentzel, which had proactively approached the LSSA to make itself available as a mentor firm in the LSSA empowerment initiative.

The LSSA launched Synergy Link in May 2012 and publicised the criteria for a ‘growing’ firm to link to Webber Wentzel. Malefo Attorneys – run by sole practitioner Reshoketsoe Malefo – was singled out by a selection panel from a list of strong applicants for the ‘link’ with Webber Wentzel. Mr Matlala urged Ms Malefo to actively participate in the mentorship programme arranged for her by Webber Wentzel.

Mandy Stobart from Webber Wentzel indicated that the firm was privileged to be part of the initiative and had prepared a comprehensive, one-year programme for Ms Malefo. Ms Malefo had noted in her application that she required mentorship in commercial and corporate law, and that she had an interest in mining law. Ms Stobart advised that Ms Malefo was invited to participate in all the firm’s training and mentorship initiatives, but could opt to focus on her preferred areas of skills development only. She would have access to mentors whom she could contact for information and advice. In addition, besides legal technical training, Webber Wentzel would assist Malefo Attorneys with practice development, information technology and marketing support.

LSSA chief executive officer Nic Swart said that the Synergy Link initiative was an ‘exciting learning experience’ for the LSSA. From feedback received from regular reports on progress from ‘transferring’ and ‘growing’ firms, the LSSA would be able to build up knowledge on various forms of mentorship and skills transfer. Firms participating in the Synergy Link initiative must provide regular reports to the LSSA in terms of a contract entered into between the three parties.

Mr Sham, who started the LSSA empowerment initiative with Mr Matlala in 2011 by visiting financial institutions and parastatals, said that the next step involving the direct link between the attorneys’ firms was a project close to the former co-chairpersons’ hearts.

‘We are delighted that the LSSA council mandated us to continue with this initiative beyond our term as co-chairpersons,’ he said.

He added: ‘The response we are receiving from firms who wish to come on board as “transferring” firms is gratifying and much better than what we had anticipated. We are grateful to them.’

Bowman Gilfillan provides construction law skills secondment for Masephule Dinga Commercial Attorneys

Bowman Gilfillan has provided a three-month secondment in its construction law group to candidate attorney Diesel Masia from Pretoria and Polokwane firm Masephule Dinga Commercial Attorneys under the banner of the LSSA’s Synergy Link initiative. Bowman Gilfillan partner Graham Fehrsen gave credit to Eskom’s general manager (legal) Willie du Plessis for facilitating the link between his firm and Masephule Dinga. Both firms serve on Eskom’s panel and Mr du Plessis approached Bowman Gilfillan to transfer relevant skills to Masephule Dinga.

The three-month full-time secondment will see Mr Masia being based at Bowman Gilfillan’s Sandton office to gain hands-on exposure to the construction law environment. He will receive training through a programme that covers information technology and systems, corporate, litigation and employment law, as well as legal English and personal development. Mentorship will be provided by an allocated formal mentor and by other less formal opportunities with a variety of mentors in the firm, allowing him to form professional and mentor-type relationships that are envisaged to continue beyond the secondment period. General commercial exposure will include client management, supervising attorneys and understanding the practice of law as a business.

Eskom finds resonance in Synergy Link

The ethos behind the LSSA’s Synergy Link initiative – which envisages creative relationships where one firm transfers competency and skills to another by providing guidance in business models, systems and strategy development – has found resonance in Eskom general manager (legal) Willie du Plessis’s range of skills development partnerships.

‘In my position I am aware of which areas of work some firms do not get exposed to and I am constantly looking for opportunities to create a working synergy between firms,’ Mr du Plessis said. Both Bowman Gilfillan and Masephule Dinga are among the approximately 70 firms on Eskom’s panel. About ten of the firms are large firms, mainly from Pretoria and Johannesburg, with the rest of the firms being smaller black and women-owned practices. Knowing Bowman Gilfillan’s training programmes, Mr du Plessis approached the firm to consider a secondment for candidate attorney Diesel Masia from Masephule Dinga.

‘There was no hesitation on the part Bowman Gilfillan to participate in this initiative,’ said Mr du Plessis.

He added that such a secondment not only created a synergy between the larger firm and the smaller firm, but also equipped the small firm with better skills and opportunities to attract other clients besides Eskom.

The Synergy Link secondment is but one of the empowerment initiatives undertaken by the Eskom legal department. Mr du Plessis is of the view that there is an obligation to develop the skills required by firms that did not traditionally receive instructions from state-owned enterprises or corporates. However, the obligation does not lie solely with legal practitioners, but corporates have a responsibility to develop strategies to expedite such skills development. This also broadens the pool of available legal practitioners that can render services to Eskom.

Mr du Plessis has a number of skills-transfer initiatives in place. In-house seminars by legal practitioners and Eskom legal advisers are, for example, arranged to provide training to Eskom’s legal department and to other law firms on Eskom’s panel.

Besides ongoing workshops in new areas Eskom may venture into, Mr du Plessis arranges an annual project finance workshop held in conjunction with international and local Eskom panel law firms. All firms on the panel are invited to participate in the two-day interactive workshop, which comprises short, focused presentations followed by breakaway groups with participants assuming different roles in the project-finance transaction process. The solutions are then presented to the entire group.

Other skills transfer initiatives include instructing two law firms on a joint basis on major projects in order to provide exposure for the less experienced firm; a graduate-in-training programme for two to four graduates annually; and the appointment of a ‘baby junior’ counsel in cases that require senior and junior counsel, on the basis that the first two counsel reduce their fee and the reduction is paid to the ‘baby junior’.

  • The LSSA welcomes other providers of legal work to associate with its Synergy Link project. Corporates and parastatals wishing to do so can contact the CEO, Nic Swart, at nic@LSSALEAD.org.za

Compiled by Barbara Whittle, communication manager, Law Society of South Africa, barbara@lssa.org.za

These articles were first published in De Rebus in 2012 (Aug) DR 13 – 14.