The attorneys’ profession needs the Law Society of South Africa

December 1st, 2022

The Law Society of South Africa (LSSA) serves as the voice of the attorneys’ profession. It represents and promotes the rights of attorneys in all matters affecting the profession. The LSSA also protects and grows the professional services of attorneys and identifies and serves the common interest of attorneys.

The LSSA brings together the Black Lawyers Association, the National Association of Democratic Lawyers and the independent attorneys. Established in 1998 as a voluntary association having perpetual succession, it changed its constitution in 2018 to be a members’ interest organisation with an extended mandate, which includes the establishment of provincial associations in all nine provinces, with a focus on a transformed profession that acts in the interest of both the profession and society.

The establishment of provincial associations has been a critical function to ensure that attorneys on the ground have an association in the province to deal urgently with matters affecting their region and talk on behalf of all practitioners in that town or region.

Where there are difficulties, the LSSA will speak with one voice to support the resolution of challenges facing practitioners. In absence of the LSSA, there will be no national representative body for the attorneys’ profession, as the Legal Practice Council (LPC) is a regulatory body established by statute.

Functions of the LSSA

Legal Education and Development (LEAD): The LSSA, through its (LEAD) department, continues to be the premier provider of affordable, quality vocational training and profession development to legal practitioners and candidate legal practitioners. It offers Practical Vocational Training (PVT) programmes to candidate legal practitioners via the PVT Schools, and the 23-day PVT short course to prepare candidates for the attorneys’ admission examinations. LEAD also offers post-admission training programmes to practising legal practitioners to keep abreast of developments in the profession and ensure the profession’s standards of practice are maintained and enhanced. The LSSA is an accredited provider of subsidised Practice Management Training in terms of the Legal Practice Act 28 of 2014. It intends introducing an entrepreneurship module to assist legal practitioners to run their practices as businesses.

De Rebus: The journal is available free of charge to practitioners, and it has been digital since March 2019. Important legal developments are highlighted in regular columns. Above all else, the journal’s goal is to be an educational tool for legal practitioners and be used for research and reference purposes. As a professional journal, De Rebus seeks to provide leadership to the profession and keep legal practitioners abreast of professional developments, including the activities of the LSSA and its constituents and key stakeholders in the legal profession.

Professional Affairs and Members’ Benefit: The primary functions of the department include stakeholder engagement and intervention on legal and other issues affecting the profession (and by extension, the public), with the view to promote, preserve and uphold the rule of law and the administration of justice, and preserving and upholding the independence of the profession and enhancing and maintaining its integrity. It also coordinates members’ benefit initiatives, manages litigation and informs practitioners of relevant developments. The LSSA has several specialist committees and task teams, focusing on the different branches of the law and legal practice. The committee system forms an integral part of the advocacy and decision-making process regarding professional matters. Committee members, who are full-time practising attorneys, are appointed primarily based on their expert knowledge in a particular field of the law, diligence and availability.

Practice support: Under the Professional Affairs and Members’ Benefit department, this unit, among other, provides guidance to assist members to manage their practices and comply with legislation and rules of the LPC. A number of guidelines can be accessed on the LSSA website, including as regards to the Protection of Personal Information Act 4 of 2013, the Financial Intelligence Centre Act 38 of 2001 (FICA) and Risk Management. The conveyancing fees guidelines are also on the website.

What does the LSSA do for the profession

Submissions: The LSSA makes submissions on behalf of the profession on issues that affect the profession, the administration of justice and the rule of law. Below are a few submissions, others can be accessed on the LSSA’s website:

  • The South African Law Reform Commission’s recommendations on its investigation into legal fees (s 35 of the Legal Practice Act 28 of 2014) will, if implemented, have serious and far-reaching consequences for the legal profession and the public. Although some of the recommendations will ensure a more effective and efficient system, those regarding a fixed tariff with limited targeting cannot be supported. The LSSA noted with disappointment that its comprehensive submissions on this crucial aspect were not accepted, the organisation will engage the Minister in this regard.
  • The draft Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Legal Sector Code of Good Practice (LSC) is another piece of legislation that will have a serious impact on the legal profession and the public. The LSSA submitted extensive comments. The LSSA supports, in principle, the development of a tailor-made Sector Code for the legal profession but believes that there are fundamental issues that need to be addressed before the LSC can be considered for adoption.
  • A concerning development is the proposed Conduct of Financial Institutions Bill, 2020, which seeks to regulate legal practitioners who provide debt collection services. The LSSA has made substantial submissions and is closely monitoring developments.
  • A number of issues relating to the Road Accident Fund (RAF) are of concern to the LSSA, including the directives and notices prescribing the terms and conditions upon which claims for compensation shall be administered. The LSSA’s submissions were disregarded and it is now considering other options, including litigation. The LSSA is also challenging the introduction of the RAF medical tariffs, which will preclude injured road accident victims who are without medical aid or financial means from assessing private health care.
  • Comments on property-related issues, including the Electronic Deeds Registration Systems Act 19 of 2019 and the Property Practitioners Act 22 of 2019 and Regulations. As regards the latter, the LSSA successfully opposed efforts to bring attorneys into the ambit of the Property Practitioners Act and to legislate their conduct.
  • The Debt Collectors Amendment Bill, 2016 will make attorneys and their staff subject to the jurisdiction of the Council for Debt Collectors. The LSSA has raised its strenuous objection and will continue to do so.
  • The Companies and Intellectual Property Commission is of the view that incorporated attorneys’ companies holding fiduciary assets in excess of R 5 million, must have their business accounts audited. The LSSA’s position is that this is not necessary, by virtue of the exclusion of s 30(2A) of the Companies Act 71 of 2008 and made submissions to this effect.
  • Submissions to the LPC, including on the draft criteria and procedures for the conferment of senior counsel and senior attorney status.
  • Various submissions to the Rules Board for Courts of Law on the Magistrates’ Courts Rules and the Uniform Rules of Court, including on the statutory tariffs for legal practitioners and the proposed e-Rules.
  • Submissions to the Judicial Service Commission on the suitability or otherwise of shortlisted candidates for appointment to the Bench.

Litigation: The LSSA has an excellent track record as far as litigation is concerned. It participated in a number of professional interest and public interest cases, either as party or as amicus, including the following:

Engagements with stakeholders: The LSSA regularly engages with relevant stakeholders, including government departments, quasi-government structures, Parliament, the judiciary and other organisations, to lobby for constructive laws, policies, process and procedures impacting the profession and the public. Such engagements are also aimed at promoting the rights of attorneys and enhancing the image of the profession.

Cybersecurity insurance: The LSSA recommends the cybersecurity policy developed by Marsh to practitioners. This is a discretionary provider, and practitioners can choose any other insurance provider, as competition will reduce the premiums.

Cybertheft and phishing: The LSSA has developed resources to assist and provide general guidance to firms to protect their information and communications technology systems to mitigate the risks of potential cyber intrusion, phishing and ultimate theft or ransom. This is freely available on the LSSA website.

Risk Management and FICA: The LSSA has developed a guide for the compliance to the Financial Intelligence Centre new compliance framework based on a risk management approach called Risk Management and Compliance Programme. The framework ensures a risk approach and deals with anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing.

Mental wellness: In collaboration with PPS and the Reality Wellness Group, the LSSA established a telephonic wellness programme where practitioners who are stressed or have other mental symptoms can confidentiality call the special call number, which is manned by trained consultants, to discuss issues and, where necessary, the consultant will refer the practitioner to a professional psychologist or other mental health specialist (NB: the referral will be for the practitioner’s own cost).

Marketing of the profession and reputational management: The LSSA has embarked on a number of projects to attract work for the profession, while providing access to legal services for the public. Examples are:

  • The national LSSA Wills Week, which is now an established highlight among the profession’s social outreach and access to justice initiatives.
  • De Rebus publishes articles that promote the profession and puts legal practitioners in a positive light. Inasmuch as the journal is for attorneys, many members of the public read it and use it as a source of research to search for attorneys that will deal with their specific problems.
  • Joint events with key stakeholders where legal practitioners participate. This gives exposure to the profession.
  • Through its media interventions, including press releases, communication and engagement, and stakeholder relationships, the LSSA protects the image, reputation and integrity of the profession and positively influence negative public perceptions.
  • Appointment of arbitrators, liquidators, receivers, etcetera. The LSSA regularly updates its panel of legal practitioners, which is used as a primary source when the LSSA is called upon to make nominations for these services.
  • The LSSA nominates attorneys to serve on various statutory boards and other organisations for the benefit of the profession.

Mentorships: To support the profession’s quest to provide the highest quality of legal services to the public, LEAD facilitates a mentorship programme between attorneys at different law firms. The objective of the mentoring programme is to elevate the competence, professionalism and success of attorneys through positive mentoring relationships. The LSSA also facilitates a conveyancing mentorship programme.

Gender transformation: The Women’s Task Team deals with the challenges faced by female practitioners and devises strategies to take gender equity in the legal profession forward, to ensure that women are equally capacitated to fairly compete and thrive in the workplace.

Young lawyers: The LSSA is in the process of reviving and resourcing its Young Lawyers Task team to ensure that this critical segment of the profession is serviced, with many young lawyers struggling to financially survive both in their practice and those in small practices.

Practice and compliance related resources and guidance: Practitioners are advised to visit the LSSA’s websites, including the De Rebus and LEAD websites, for information on practice-related assistance.

  • Many collaborative free webinars are being held jointly with key stakeholders.
  • The daily and weekly court rolls in respect of some jurisdictions appear on the LSSA website. The LSSA also receives directives and notices from certain divisions, to which it alerts members via social media platforms and newsletter.
  • De Rebus introduced candidate attorney placement and advertising on its website.
  • The LSSA offers brochures and video clips on matters of interest to the profession and the public.
  • To fill the gap left by the former provincial law societies, the LSSA provides guidance to legal practitioners on ethics and rules related issues.

Representation on Regional and International Fora: The LSSA has international, regional and national recognition and has the leverage to represent the profession and speak on its behalf. It is a member of the Southern African Development Community Lawyers’ Association, the Pan African Lawyers Union, the International Bar Association, the Commonwealth Lawyers Association and the BRICS Legal Forum. It also has bilateral agreements with some international Bar Associations. This presents a forum for a unified approach to members’ interests with regard to the future, based on research, trends, and analysis of views. It also promotes the expertise of members with national and international bodies to ensure practice rights and standards are benchmarked and enhanced at regional and international level.

The LSSA performs a substantial amount of duties that are critical to the attorneys profession. Without the LSSA, there would be a lacuna in the professional representation of attorneys, which would hamper the work of attorneys which is already heavily regulated. The LSSA exists to remove the friction or red tape attorneys experience while in practise so that attorneys can serve the public and play the important role needed in society.

The De Rebus Editorial Committee and staff wish all our readers compliments of the season and a prosperous new year.

De Rebus will be back in 2023 with its combined January/February edition, which will be available at the beginning of February 2023.

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2022 (Dec) DR 3.