LSSA AGM: Envisioning the future of the legal profession

May 1st, 2024

The Law Society of South Africa (LSSA) held its Annual Conference and Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal on 19 and 20 April, under the theme ‘Envisioning the future of the legal profession’. The AGM was attended by legal practitioners from various provinces. Delegates were addressed by the outgoing president of the LSSA, Eunice Masipa, with guest speakers, including Judge President of KwaZulu-Natal, Thoba Poyo-Dlwati.

In her address Ms Masipa, gave a highlight of what the LSSA has been doing for the past year. She said that there has been a change, and there have been challenges in the past year in the legal profession. Ms Masipa pointed out that these challenges have tested not only the leadership of the LSSA, but has also tested the mandate and objectives of the LSSA. She added that there has been an advancement of artificial intelligence (AI), increased compliance costs and fees, reduced economic capacity, as well as increased regulatory fees.

Outgoing President of the Law Society of South Africa (LSSA), Eunice Masipa, speaking at the LSSA’s Annual Conference and AGM in Durban.

Ms Masipa said that all these changes have put a barrier in terms of practice costs. She pointed out that the mandate of the LSSA has always been to push the agenda on transformation, which is more than just demographics. She added that the cost of legal practice and sustainability is an aspect that integrates everything that is done within the LSSA. Ms Masipa pointed out that part of the mandate and objective of the LSSA is to foster inclusivity and unite the legal profession. ‘In everything that we do the underlying principle is that we do not want to see the profession collapse. We need to ensure that we are united’, Ms Masipa said.

The Chairperson of the Legal Practice Council (LPC), Janine Myburgh, started her speech by conveying appreciation to the LSSA for its continued contributions to advancing the legal profession and advocating for legal practitioners at the LPC. Ms Myburgh said the LPC acknowledges the LSSA as a key stakeholder in the legal profession and appreciates the LSSA’s views, inputs, and engagements. ‘I have no doubt that the legal profession would not be advancing as it has been had it not been for our stakeholders,’ Ms Myburgh said. However, she pointed out that by saying this she was by no means indicating everyone agrees on everything. However, she added that robust debate is healthy and is often required to achieve the desired outcome.

The Chairperson of the Legal Practice Council, Janine Myburgh, giving a message of support to the Law Society of South Africa.

Ms Myburgh said that it is imperative at this juncture to stress that the role of the LPC to legal practitioners is as the regulatory body and the role of the LSSA differs to that of the LPC. She said that she believes that the LSSA and LPC must work together where required for the betterment of the profession. However, she pointed out that it is regretful at times to see that many legal practitioners have yet to fully grasp the role and the objectives of the LPC, specifically the objectives of the Legal Practice Act 28 of 2014 (LPA) articulated in s 5. Ms Myburgh said every action of the LPC is guided thereby to realise and maintain the 12 objects of the LPA.

Ms Myburgh said: ‘It seems to me that the role of the LPC is more critical today than ever of the challenges we continue to grapple with is ensuring that we are strong and effective in achieving our key objectives of the LPA as envisaged, which includes amongst others, protecting the members of the public, being an independent regulator that enables and facilitates efficient functioning of the legal profession, facilitating access to the profession and to justice, upholding the independence of the profession, maintaining the integrity and the status of the profession. As a profession, we face many an uphill battle or as former President Nelson Mandela said, “after climbing great hills, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb”. I believe it would be true that the existence of the LPC imitates life.’

Ms Myburgh said that the past years in the existence of the LPC can, at best be described as being challenging, complex, demanding, yet exciting. She added that she was privy to the fact that there was extensive groundwork done and work continues to be done by the LPC and the staff to ensure that they adhere to the mandate in terms of the LPA. ‘The LPC continues to go about the business of ensuring that our structures and processes are in place while striving to actively improve the efficiency of attending to the work we are required to do,’ Ms Myburgh added.

Ms Myburgh said the LPC notes the lack of appropriate conduct of some legal practitioners. She added that the LPC continues to see too many legal practitioners that are on the wrong side of the ethical divide. She pointed out that as legal practitioners, one’s integrity and ethical conduct must at all times be top of mind. Ms Myburgh added that lack thereof is often at the heart of the complaints the LPC receives especially regarding the misappropriation of trust funds. She said that it is imperative that all legal practitioners conduct themselves ethically with integrity and, at all times, act with decorum.

Ms Myburgh noted: ‘It pains me when we have to apply for the suspension or the striking off of legal practitioners. Believe me, decisions such as these are never taken lightly. As members of the Council, we are painfully aware that legal practitioners spend many years working to qualify and to be admitted as legal practitioners. In this context, it is particularly important that we place a strong emphasis on legal practitioners adhering to the Code of Conduct.’

Judge President of the KwaZulu-Natal Division of the High Court, Thoba Poyo-Dlwati addressed delegates at the Law Society of South Africa’s Annual Conference and AGM on 19 April 2024.

Judge President Poyo-Dlwati, in her address, took the attendees back to basics. She said that there were few things the legal profession takes for granted. She pointed out that the attorney’s profession is very important in the country and elsewhere. She noted that the Chief Justice of this country was an attorney and the President of the Supreme Court of Appeal was an attorney. She named a few other judiciary members who had practised as attorneys including herself, namely, the Judge Presidents of the Mpumalanga Division of the High Courts, the Northern Cape Division and the Competition Appeal Court.

Judge President Poyo-Dlwati said that it saddens her because nowadays there is lack of respect for the courts. She pointed out that people do not address the court as they should. That people backchat magistrates, judges or judge presidents. She pointed out that the legal practitioners ought to respect the court, that the duty owed by legal practitioners to the court has been summarised by Lord Reid in the English judgment of Rondel v Worsley [1967] 3 WLR 1666 as follow: ‘As an officer of the court concerned in the administration of justice, [the legal practitioner] has an overriding duty to the court, to the standards of [the] profession, and to the public, which may and often does lead to a conflict with his client’s wishes, or with what the client thinks are his personal interests.’

Outgoing Vice-President of the Law Society of South Africa (LSSA), Matshego Ramagaga.

Judge President Poyo-Dlwati said that at a judicial conference in Australia, the colloquium elaborated on this duty and stated that ‘the lawyer’s duty to the court is an incident of the lawyer’s duty to the proper administration of justice’. She added that this duty arises as a result of the position of the legal practitioner as an officer of the court and an integral participant in the administration of justice. The practitioner’s role is not merely to push his or her client’s interests in the adversarial process. Rather, the practitioner has a duty to assist the court in the doing of justice according to law. The duty requires that lawyers act with honesty, candour, and competence, exercise independent judgment in the conduct of the case and not engage in conduct that is an abuse of process. Importantly, lawyers must not mislead the court and must be frank in their responses and disclosures to it.’

Judge President Poyo-Dlwati said legal practitioners must do what they can to ensure that the law is applied correctly to the case. Judge President Poyo-Dlwati also spoke about legal practitioners assisting the Bench. She said that in her division they are short staffed. She pointed out that she often writes to the Ministry of Justice with regard to that. She added that legal practitioners need to be reminded of their duties and their role in the proper administration of justice.

Master at the KwaZulu-Natal Division of the High Court in Durban, Edric Pascoe, touched on the letters of executorship during his presentation at the Law Society of South Africa’s AGM held in Durban.

In his presentation, Master of KwaZulu-Natal Division of the High Court in Durban, Edric Pascoe, said that the Office of the Chief Master has been receiving complaints directly without the complaint having gone through the office for the area that the complaint originates out of.

He pointed out that the Office of the Chief Master has now developed a complaint register and when it comes to the escalation of those, the Masters’s office ask that legal practitioners abide by the protocols. The protocols state one should contract the estate controller who deals with the estate first.

He added that should one not receive any satisfactory response within 15 working days, which is the standard turnaround time to deal with correspondence and or queries that are raised, then legal practitioners ought to deal with the assistant master who is responsible for that file or manages the file, and as the supervisor of that particular estate controller.

Mr Pascoe said that failure to respond in time by the assistant master and timeous response there, one can then contact the Deputy Master and if one does not receive a reasonable response, one can directly complain to the Office of the Chief Master through a platform on their website. Mr Pascoe touched on the letters of executorship. He said to curb fraud, they have now introduced a QR code system, which can assist in linking to the Justice Department and can tell if one has a valid letter of executorship. He said the Master’s office also did a presentation on the online deceased estate system.

Legal Services Ombud, Judge Siraj Desai, spoke at the Law Society of South Africa’s Annual Conference and AGM on 19 April 2024.

In his talk at the LSSA AGM the Legal Services Ombud, Judge Siraj Desai, said that Ms Myburgh was quite right when she mentioned the number of complaints that are emanating against legal practitioners. He said that the problem is the manner in which the complaints are dealt with. He said that he was not accusing anybody of tardiness, but that there must be a quicker way of dealing with these complaints. He pointed out: ‘The new tactic now in the Western Cape, if a judge lodges a complaint, they subpoena the judge to give evidence at a disciplinary hearing’. Judge Desai pointed out that judges do not have time to sit in disciplinary hearing giving evidence. Secondly, he added that it is unbecoming for the judge to be cross examined because somebody misbehaved in his court. He said thirdly, it drags out the proceedings.

Judge Desai said that South Africa came about in an attempt to create a society that protects and advances the interests of the poor. He added that legal practitioners as members of the legal profession have a duty to protect the rights of society. He pointed out that the legal system, which is not only representative of the diversity of our country but the legal profession, is excellent, and advances the rights of the most disadvantaged.

In his presentation, the Director-General of the Department of Justice, Doc Mashabane, spoke of a few issues he wanted to raise. He started with the Master’s office, stating that action will be taken against some officials in that office. He added that the post of the Chief Master is still vacant and that he had written to the legal profession asking them to nominate a name of the person who can take over. Mr Mashabane pointed out that the DOJ has a mandate of administration of justice, however, the legal profession and the judiciary plays a critical role in that.

Director-General of the Department of Justice, Doc Mashabane,
pointed out that the Department
of Justice has a mandate of
administration of justice, however, the legal profession and the judiciary play a critical role in that.

Mr Mashabane said the future of SA’s constitutional democracy will depend to a greater extent on strengthening the judiciary, but the role of the legal profession is critical. He added that in the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security Cluster regarding the issue of SA being grey listed, the role of the legal profession has been identified. ‘It would be sad if SA continues being grey listed and the legal profession is part of the reason,’ he commented. He noted that the legal profession must lead by example. With regard to access to justice, Mr Mashabane said that the Justice Department will convene a national symposium in July and August 2024, to discuss a few things. He noted that President Cyril Ramaphosa has already assented to the traditional courts, and the Justice Department is finalising the regulations. Other courts that will be looked into are small claim courts.

At the AGM, there were the following panel discussions were held –

  • Compliance: Risk management as an introduction to the Financial Intelligence Centre Act 38 of 2001.
  • Unity of the profession includes fusion.
  • The future of legal education.
  • Empowering Provincial Associations – practitioners’ expectations and needs.
  • Guidance on practical implementations of artificial intelligence in the legal practice.

All the panel discussions that took place at the LSSA Annual Conference and AGM will be published in the next issue of De Rebus.

New LSSA President

The newly elected president committee of the LSSA, Vice President, Eunice Masipa, President Joanne Anthony-Gooden and Vice President Nkosana Francois Mvundlela.

The newly elected President of the LSSA, Joanne Anthony-Gooden, thanked delegates for their meaningful participation at the AGM. In a few words she said that it has been important for her in her legal career to have a mentor. ‘And I know we talked about unifying the profession and we talk about our young lawyers. There are so many young lawyers out there that are looking for mentors, so please within your province, within your cities, the old circles, the way we used to know them’ said Ms Anthony-Gooden.

Ms Anthony-Gooden added that talking about before the advent of the LPA, there are so many of those smaller towns, especially in the Eastern Cape, where they have been doing their homework to try and rebuild the circles. Ms Anthony-Gooden pointed that ‘the young lawyers need mentors and for myself, I know that I wouldn’t be where I am today without the help of so many people.’ 

Ms Anthony-Gooden further said: ‘I hope that I am going to be worthy of this position and I’m very thrilled with the nominations that has your new Presidents Subcommittee I look forward to an excellent year.’

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Kgomotso Ramotsho Cert Journ (Boston) Cert Photography (Vega) is the news reporter at De Rebus.

­This article was first published in De Rebus in 2024 (May) DR 5.



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