The profession celebrates the immense contribution of Nic Swart as it mourns his passing

September 1st, 2017
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Nic Swart 1954 – 2017

 

By Barbara Whittle and Nomfundo Manyathi-Jele

Speaking at the memorial service for Law Society of South Africa (LSSA) Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Nic Swart, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng paid tribute to the role played by Mr Swart in his leadership of the profession, legal education, judicial skills training and in the briefing pattern initiative ‘to make sure that South Africa becomes what it is envisioned to be in the Constitution’.

He said: ‘Nic so cared about our constitutional order that he was committed to making sure that there is normalcy in the manner in which quality work is distributed to lawyers. He was so committed to equality and to healing the divisions of the past, that he made sure that there was a Briefing Summit in 2016, and he made sure that a protocol was signed so that even women and even black lawyers receive quality work. He did not see himself as distant from the solution.’

The Chief Justice said Mr Swart fought hard to have the procurement protocols for the legal profession realised so that these would contribute to the normalisation of briefing patterns. ‘He wanted to make a contribution to the attainment of a normal situation for meaningful participation by all, black and white, men and women.’

The Chief Justice said: ‘Nic Swart was a man who never made you feel small. A true South African who knew that power means nothing; that we are just human beings. We all belong to this land and this land belongs to all of us, united.’

Mr Swart passed away on 10 August in Gaborone, Botswana while attending the SADC Lawyers Association conference. He was 63 years old.

On learning of his unexpected death, the LSSA said it was deeply shocked and saddened to announce the untimely death of its CEO and Director of Legal Education and Development (LEAD). LSSA Co-chairpersons, David Bekker and Walid Brown said in a statement: ‘The LSSA council, staff and the profession have lost a colleague, a dear friend, a mentor, a leader and an innovator passionate about the legal profession in general and legal education in particular.’

The Co-chairpersons said: ‘Nic has led the LSSA and its various departments ably as CEO since 2011 through times of growth and achievement locally, regionally and internationally, but also through the difficult and at times contentious and uncertain processes around the transition to the new dispensation under the Legal Practice Act [28 of 2014 (LPA)]. A consummate educationist, he strove to ensure that practical vocational training and continuing legal education, which he has spearheaded and nurtured since 1989, continue to be accessible and affordable for aspirant legal practitioners and those already in practice. Nic was especially passionate about the empowerment of young lawyers and of the LSSA staff.

‘Our profession owes an incalculable debt of gratitude to Nic Swart, as do the thousands of attorneys who have received training, guidance and support from his beloved School for Legal Practice and the LEAD department over nearly three decades.’

Mr Swart joined the LSSA’s predecessor, the Association of Law Societies, in 1989 to start a pilot school for legal practice. That small pilot project, with only 51 candidate attorneys, has grown immensely since 1990 to one of the premier legal education institutions in the country, which has trained over 26 000 candidate attorneys through Mr Swart’s vision, unstinting dedication and hard work. There are now nine centres of the school throughout the country and a distance school run in cooperation with Unisa. In 2002, after the death of Renate de Klerk, the practical legal training and continuing legal education sections of the LSSA were combined into the LEAD department, under the leadership of Mr Swart. More than 11 000 practitioners and their support staff receive continuing education training through LEAD every year.

Mr Swart had the BA and LLB degrees from the University of Pretoria and a BCom from Unisa. He was an admitted attorney and an accredited assessor and moderator. He also served as a member of law faculty boards at Unisa, the University of Fort Hare and the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and was a professor extraordinary at the University of Pretoria.

From the BLA

In a press release, the Black Lawyers Association (BLA) said it was heartbroken by this loss and that it believed that Mr Swart still had a role to play in the transition to the new dispensation. BLA President, Lutendo Sigogo described Mr Swart as an ‘intelligent person, full of vision, with his mind always focused on the future.’ He said that Mr Swart applied his mind earnestly on the affairs of the legal profession. Mr Sigogo said: ‘Under the leadership of Nic, LEAD developed many educational programmes to empower young lawyers and new entrants to the profession. Continuous legal education was also at the centre of his heart. Nic’s efforts and strategic direction made LEAD the world-class legal education service provider it is today.’

Mr Sigogo added that in the pursuit of transforming the legal profession and developing attorneys through practical legal training and continuing legal education, Mr Swart worked closely with the BLA and that on issues where the BLA and he did not agree, they disagreed with respect. ‘Nic was a man of good work ethos and was not a procrastinator. His colleagues and subordinates can confirm his high work ethic, for instance the night before his passing, Nic was busy at work giving strategic directions and leadership through e-mails on some of the LSSA projects. He took pride in his work,’ he said.

The BLA President added: ‘Nic leaves us at a very crucial time in the transformation of the legal profession in South Africa. He was very instrumental in directing the future of legal education under the LPA dispensation. He produced copious, well-researched legal education documents giving expert advice to the LSSA members in the National Forum [NF], a transitional body responsible for the transformation of the legal profession in terms of the LPA. Nic was very eager to see the success of the NF and the ultimate composition of the Legal Practice Council [LPC]. Nic invested a lot of his time and energy doing comparative studies in respect of the regulation of the legal profession in other jurisdictions. He attended all the plenary sessions of the NF in order to have a first-hand account of developments intended to shape the legal profession. At the time of his passing, Nic had just assembled a team of attorneys to visit the Nigerian Bar Association in the last week of August 2017 to conduct a fact-finding mission and for the two Bars to exchange notes on each other’s experiences. This he did to find workable templates which could be applied in South Africa.

‘The BLA will miss counsel from Nic who was always available to share his wisdom with whoever wanted to tap therefrom. Nic had great listening skills. He listened with patience and interest without interjecting. He gave respect to all people he interacted with, irrespective of their social and educational standing in the community,’ Mr Sigogo concluded.

From the CLS

The Cape Law Society (CLS) said that Mr Swart would be missed and that he had left a vacuum in the legal profession. In a press release CLS Acting President, Lulama Lobi, said that Mr Swart dedicated his life to the legal profession and its structures, and particularly to the education of its membership and prospective membership. Mr Lobi said that Mr Swart never lost sight of the difficulties, particularly financial, experienced by previously disadvantaged students. He added: ‘Mr Swart’s contribution to the development of the legal profession over his years of devoted service has been profound and he will be remembered for his passion for the profession and as a stalwart of the profession.’

From the KZNLS

KwaZulu-Natal Law Society President, Umesh Jivan, noted that Mr Swart had served the attorneys’ profession for several years as director of LEAD and as CEO of the LSSA. ‘He was committed to the improvement of the attorney’s profession and especially young attorneys who were entering the profession. His wise counsel will be missed by all who worked with him,’ said Mr Jivan. He said that the staff, councillors and members of the KZNLS had learnt of Mr Swart’s death with great sadness.

From the LSFS

The Law Society of the Free State (LSFS) said it had received the sad news of the untimely departure of Mr Swart, with a heavy and sore heart.

President of the LSFS, Cuma Tabo Siyo, said: ‘An innovator and trail blazer par excellence, Nic was much respected in the legal fraternity for his visionary leadership and mammoth contribution in the legal education sphere, more in particular in matters of development of young lawyers and vocational training. He departs at a time when the legal profession is in transition and needs his visionary and strategic leadership more than ever. He leaves behind a plethora of innovative projects that he has been working on in the development and advancement of the profession. His untimely death is not a tragic loss to his family only, but also the legal fraternity at large.’

He added: ‘We can all take solace from the fact that Nic did not lead a meaningless life but one well-lived and beneficial to his family and every one of us in the legal fraternity.’

From the LSNP

The Law Society of the Northern Provinces (LSNP) said it was greatly saddened by the news of Mr Swart’s death. LSNP President, Lutendo Sigogo, said ‘Nic was highly respected in the legal fraternity for his leadership qualities and specifically for his contribution in the legal education field as well as his proactive involvement in issues such as young lawyers and vocational training.’

Mr Sigogo added: ‘Nic showed leadership in assisting with the transitional arrangement relating to the implementation of the new dispensation under the Legal Practice Act. Nic was a friend of the profession and all his colleagues, we will miss him for his many talents, energy and can-do spirit. Nic was truly a very special and unique man. He was one of those extraordinary people that many loved and wanted to be around for his great warmth, grace, integrity and friendship.’

From NADEL

The National Association of Democratic Lawyers (NADEL) said that Mr Swart was passionate about the transformation and development of the profession, especially the development of female and young lawyers. In a press release, NADEL’s Publicity Secretary, Memory Sosibo said:  ‘NADEL has throughout the years partnered with Nic in various development projects within both the LSSA and LEAD. Our latest joint project was the Judicial Skills Training Project. One recalls, while working on this project, his disappointment at the low number of females who had registered to attend the course. We sat and strategised on ways to improve female attendance. He understood fully and shared our vision that transformation of the profession was going to have to be intentional and that there was still a lot of hard work to be done in order to achieve it.

His high level of skills, efficiency and compassion made working with him an absolute pleasure. The work he has done in the LSSA and LEAD is truly appreciated. The legal profession is indebted to him for his dedication and sacrifice.’

  • The LSSA thanks the numerous practitioners, institutions and organisations, local, regional and international, that Mr Swart had worked, interacted and cooperated with in his three decades of service to the profession, for their messages of condolence and support.

Barbara Whittle and Nomfundo Manyathi-Jele Communications Department, Law Society of South Africa

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2017 (Sept) DR 16.

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