Strengthening the legal profession: The North Free State Attorneys’ Association’s Annual Report

October 1st, 2023
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Delegates at the North Free State Attorneys’ Association.

By Martus de Wet

The year in review has been marked by significant growth for the North Free State Attorneys’ Association (NFA), a regional legal organisation that emerged in the midst of the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic in Parys in 2021. Since its inception, the NFA has been dedicated to serving as the voice of legal professionals in the Northern Free State, addressing practice-related challenges encountered by attorneys. Over the past two years, we have witnessed substantial expansion, both in terms of our membership and the scope of our activities.

Delegates at the North Free State Attorneys’ Association.

Amid our achievements, we also take a moment to remember esteemed colleagues who are no longer with us. The passing of our colleagues including John Andrew, Buks Oberholzer, Marius van Lingen, and others has left a void not only in our hearts but also in the legal community. We pay tribute to their contributions to the legal profession.

Commitment and dedication

The NFA’s success over the past year can largely be attributed to the unwavering commitment and dedication of our management committee. Additionally, we extend our congratulations to Thabo Molete and Matt Willemse on their election to the management committee.

We also honour the following practitioners who achieved 40 years of practice: TV Matsepe, NPJ Steyn, A Podbielski, PJ Haasbroek, JF Smith, and Dr JP Coetzee.

Collaboration and partnerships

Collaboration has been a cornerstone of our work, and we acknowledge the invaluable partnership we share with the Goldfields branch of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers (NADEL). Gift Morolong and his team have played a pivotal role in our collaborative endeavours, and we express our gratitude for their dedicated contributions.

Committees serving the profession

The NFA operates through various committees that cater to our members and the legal profession at large. Under the leadership of Liesl Louw-Van Wijk, our Courts Committee has been diligently addressing challenges and developments within the judicial system. We have effectively tackled issues such as courtroom facilities, consultation spaces, and document processing, thanks to our strong relationships with court management and the judiciary. The Property Law Committee has been actively engaging with municipalities to tackle challenges in the field of conveyancing, acknowledging the difficulties faced by practitioners such as obtaining clearance figures and certificates.

Looking ahead

The geographical reach of our committees has also expanded to encompass the entire Free State region, reflecting the growing demand for our services. We encourage active participation from all NFA members, including candidate attorneys, as we collaborate to address the profession’s challenges.

Challenges and realities

Despite our growth, the challenges confronting attorneys remain substantial, and the work of the NFA has only just begun. We are acutely aware of the increasing difficulties faced by practitioners in sustaining their legal practices. Despite the perceived prestige associated with being an attorney, the reality of managing a practice presents a less glamorous picture. In the Free State, a staggering 74% of attorneys in private practice with one to five years of experience earn less than candidate attorneys in the public sector. Similarly, 70% of attorneys with six to ten years of post-admission experience in private practice earn less than candidate attorneys in the public sector or entry-level government employees. A mere 28% of attorneys practicing for more than ten years earn more than
R 25 000, with 48% charging no more than R 330 per hour in reality.

Delegates at the North Free State Attorneys’ Association.

A few years ago, it was reported that only four out of ten applicants for candidate attorney positions were fortunate enough to commence their practical vocational training within one year after obtaining their law degree. Contrary to one of the primary objectives of the Legal Practice Act 28 of 2014, access to the legal profession has become increasingly restricted over the past decade, presenting us with these harsh realities daily.

We have witnessed a decline in the legal profession’s presence in rural areas and access to justice appears to be diminishing for the average citizen. The NFA acknowledges these challenges, particularly as they manifest in the Northern Free State.

The NFA’s response: The Young Lawyers Training and Mentorship Initiative

In response to these circumstances, the NFA has launched the Young Lawyers Training and Mentorship Initiative. This program aims to provide free training, guidance, and mentorship to young practitioners, leveraging the knowledge and experience of our senior members. We are grateful for the support received from the corporate sector to facilitate this initiative.

Preserving the legal profession

A strong and independent legal profession is essential for upholding justice, safeguarding individual rights, and maintaining the rule of law. We must stand united as colleagues to ensure the preservation of the legal profession for future generations.

Conclusion

In conclusion, we eagerly anticipate strengthening our relationships with key stakeholders, including the judiciary, government departments, and sister organisations. Let us unite in upholding the highest standards of our profession, ensuring a legacy that confidently passes the baton to future generations.

As Judge Michael Kirby wisely observed, ‘where there is no independent legal profession there can be no independent judiciary, no rule of law, no justice, no democracy, and no freedom.’ It is our collective responsibility to uphold these principles and secure the future of the legal profession in the Northern Free State and beyond.

Martus de Wet is the Chairperson of the Northern Free State Attorneys’ Association.

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2023 (Oct) DR 7.

 

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