Letters to the editor – April 2022

April 1st, 2022

PO Box 36626, Menlo Park 0102

Docex 82, Pretoria

E-mail: derebus@derebus.org.za

Fax: (012) 362 0969

Letters are not published under noms de plume. However, letters from practising attorneys who make their identities and addresses
known to the editor may be considered for publication anonymously.

My experience as a candidate legal practitioner in South Africa during the COVID-19 lockdown


On 2 March 2020, I started serving my articles of clerkship with Phukubje Pierce Masithela Attorneys in Johannesburg. Prior to starting out, I was mentally preparing myself for a typical experience as a candidate legal practitioner. The work of a candidate legal practitioner includes working late at night, meeting with clients, counsel, colleagues, and attending to matters in various courts in the province and of course not forgetting the stress of having to re-print and re-file missing papers from a court file. Little did I know that the world was on a different trajectory from what I pictured in my mind.

During the first week of my articles, South Africa (SA) had its first COVID-19 case. I remember reading the news and the panic that ensued. People were confused and worried, especially with the news of knowing that scientists did not understand the virus and it would take time for a vaccine to be produced. Within the week, South Africa’s COVID-19 cases started multiplying. At that time, what was clear was that COVID-19 was highly contagious. As a law firm, which prides itself in promoting technology and being paperless, our seniors made the decision to work from home for the foreseeable future. All physical meetings were converted to online meetings, and we were required to report on our matters on a weekly basis via Microsoft Teams. We had to be available online and be accountable for a full day’s work. I wondered about other law firms and their practices during the lockdown. I must say the paperless culture in our law firm had already prepared us for what was soon to become the ‘new normal’. Just shy of four weeks after I started my articles of clerkship, the President announced the national lockdown on 27 March 2020.

Since we were already working remotely, my first concern was what did this lockdown mean for my job security. I was concerned that if all our clients were impacted by the lockdown and they decided not to give us work, that would directly have an impact on me. Normally, companies will retrench staff that are new if they are in trouble – last in, first out. Reading the news about the rising cases, and major companies that had to shut down and cut budgets made me very depressed about my future. Not only was I a new employee, I was also new to the city and I had left my family behind just a few weeks back. I was alone and in unfamiliar territory. I do not think I was the only one feeling this way. In times of uncertainty, people feel isolated and not in control of their future. I read countless articles about people suffering from various mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety.

They say what does not break you makes you stronger. Instead of focussing on the depressing news, I ignored it and focussed my attention on learning from my experienced seniors and doing my work to the best of my abilities. A few months into the lockdown, everything was online. Every meeting was held via Teams or Zoom. ‘You are on mute’ was the first sentence we would say to each other. It was a unique experience but also a learning experience.

A few months later, working from home became more normalised. I was thriving. Being an introvert, helped my situation. Everything was online, even attending to High Court processes on CaseLines had become simpler. At least now we do not need to worry about missing papers in a court file. I preferred remote work as opposed to working from the office. Overall, this ‘new normal’ situation worked for me, and my training was not lacking, as I was in constant contact with my seniors.

I am about to complete my two years of articles. Here are some lessons that I have learned during my experience:

  • It is important to plan ahead. I believe that because of the foresight my seniors had, none of the firm’s employees took pay cuts or were retrenched. We managed to maintain a stable working environment and by looking towards the future, we were more prepared for the lockdown than most firms.
  • It is important to read and keep updated and relevant with new changes. During the lockdown, courts had to continue to operate. This meant that new directives for each court had to be issued, and to continue to assist our clients, we had to adhere to new directives and practices at court. Keeping updated means being up to date with new laws and regulations. We had to read and understand all regulations passed in respect to the Disaster Management Act 57 of 2002 and advise our clients on things such as remote working policies, the new workplace health and safety requirements, and later, COVID-19 mandatory vaccine policies.
  • Continuous learning. In the absence of billable work, we were required to complete courses on Microsoft Office tools, marketing courses, etcetera. It is important to continuously upskill and supplement your knowledge.
  • Foster good working relationships. It is important to obtain guidance from colleagues. They possess a wealth of knowledge from their years of experience.
  • Leveraging technology in the fourth Industrial Revolution is the way to go. Digital transformation is inescapable. Law firms and other businesses need to leverage technology and apply innovative solutions for their businesses and clients.
  • Learn how to use technology. The pandemic will be with us for the foreseeable future. Although things have normalised, there are still clients who will prefer online meetings. Learning how to use these platforms will help you maintain a professional relationship with clients.

Although it has been a tumultuous and disruptive period of lockdown, ultimately, I believe my experience as a candidate attorney allowed me to think on my feet and learn how to practise law differently. It allowed me to absorb more knowledge from my seniors because I did not have to spend exorbitant amounts of time on administrative tasks. I also think I adjusted well to the culture of the firm. Every day has taught me something new and I thoroughly enjoyed my experience.

Sadia Rizvi LLB (UKZN) is a candidate legal practitioner
at Phukubje Pierce Masithela Attorneys in Johannesburg.


This article was first published in De Rebus in 2022 (April) DR 4.

De Rebus