Significant leadership: A programme for senior women lawyers

April 1st, 2015

By Jeanne-Mari Retief 

Although an increasing number of women graduate and comply with the School for Legal Practice programme, the profession does not retain a sufficient number of women in leadership positions, or women involved in education or other initiatives of the profession.

The Law Society of South Africa (LSSA) supports growth in the number of women heading firm management and women in the judiciary. Therefore, Legal Education and Development (LEAD) (in association with the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University), launched a pilot project in November 2014 aimed at equipping, and empowering female attorneys to understand certain key concepts to demonstrating significant leadership in the legal profession.

This is an intensive programme that goes further than a mere seminar or one-day course. The women participating in the programme must demonstrate potential for leadership and be committed to participating in all facets of this programme. After an initial application process that includes a letter of motivation, the women are accepted to this inter-active programme.

The programme is currently aimed at senior women lawyers (with at least eight years’ practical experience) who are interested in growing their leadership skills. However, due to the lack of female mentorship in the profession, and recognising the needs of young female attorneys, the LSSA is considering expanding this initiative to include young women lawyers.

The programme deals with the following topics:

• understanding ‘branding’ and how to develop your own brand;

• leadership styles and how to apply your own style;

• managing professional power, relationships and politics;

• understanding personal mastery;

• how to think and act strategically;

• powerful legal writing;

• leadership presence; and

• the challenges/obstacles for women leaders and how to overcome these.

The programme runs over two sessions of three days each and experienced, dynamic presenters in their areas of specialisation have been called on to facilitate the discussions.

The women are required to submit various assignments before the first session and further assignments between sessions. These assignments add value to the course and assist in growing their leadership skills and potential.

The first assignment to be completed is additional reading on leadership styles, followed by a Belbin Self-Perception Inventory. Belbin is a means of measuring the candidate’s preferred behaviour when working in a team and is designed to pinpoint the candidate’s unique leadership style. It further assists the candidate in understanding the different leadership styles and how to communicate, and work with different types of leaders.

The women are also required to complete an emotional intelligence questionnaire. The outcome is discussed during the first session and lessons learnt are carried over to the follow-up session.

Between sessions the women are encouraged to apply what they have learnt and to reflect on:

• where they improved;

• where they feel there is further room for improvement;

• challenges they faced and how they handled them; and

• goals for continuing on this path in future.

The second session of this programme concluded on 5 February 2015. A gala dinner was held, on request from the women, to celebrate the launch of the programme and the significant impact it will have on the legal profession.

Apart from learning valuable skills and building a support structure for themselves, the women also had the opportunity to network and cement new business relationships.

Women travelled from across South Africa to attend the programme and confirmed that the programme did not disappoint. Here are some comments from the women who attended:

Krishni Naidu said ‘Today I walked into my office as an inspired, empowered leader with a totally different approach and it felt good!’

‘I have learnt a lot and most importantly I feel not only empowered, but also inspired to work even harder towards my goals. I look forward to using the tools I gained during the past three days,’ said Daphne Mahosi.

Khanyisa Mogale said ‘I am convinced that we are destined for greater things in our profession. This is only the beginning.’

There will be a follow up session with the women in six months to track their progress and give support where necessary.

• The LSSA invites all women lawyers interested in attending this programme to contact Jeanne-Mari Retief at

Jeanne-Mari Retief is a facilitator at Legal Education and Development (LEAD)

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2015 (April) DR 15.

De Rebus